An eyewitness report by Lisa Peart, working with her husband Andrew and two daughters in Santa Cruz
We understand from friends in the UK that the Bolivian crisis has finally made BBC headline news. In Santa Cruz we are into the third week of the nation-wide strike following the presidential elections on 20 October, which the current President, Evo Morales, won…or did he?
Millions have taken to the streets to block roads, crying out against corruption, shouting for democracy, fighting (mostly peacefully, though there have been some deaths) for justice and truth. This is how Bolivians make change. Support for the current president seems to be waning, but that could just be my limited perspective.
Schools remain closed, grocery stores open for a few hours in the morning, there are very few banks open, most people are not able to work. There are some food and petrol deliveries allowed, a few hospitals open and ambulances operating for emergencies only, pharmacies the same. Our Bolivian WhatsApp groups have been overtaken with videos, photos, messages; it has been a challenge to sift through and discern the truth, especially when it’s not our culture nor our native language.
Before the elections, we were advised to stock up on necessities. I must confess, I was rather naive, perhaps even sceptical at the suggestion. Thank God Andrew was the proactive one.
Yet, it’s not all negative. Community spirit is all around us, and it’s not like anything we have experienced in our three years here.
Earlier this week I went by bicycle to help a friend and her family-she has not been able to work, like so many others, because of the strikes. As I rode down the middle of a road, nearly empty of traffic, I was taken aback by my own sense of freedom and the conundrum it brought as Bolivians fight for theirs. I walked my bike through blockades, met by friendly faces and polite salutations.
Food safely delivered to our friend along with hugs an prayers for her and her family and the country, I headed out to check on my friend Isa who works in a small market in the same area. Isa told me that the day before the market had been attacked by Masistas (supporters of MAS, the current government), which explained why the metal bars were lowered at every entrance. She’s been grateful that despite this, the market stays open for half days and she can work.
As my back tyre was low on air, Isa took me to get it filled. Right now, Santa Cruz is only accessible by bicycle, motorbike or on foot, so a whole new market for all things bicycle-related has emerged.
Heading home, I ended up being drawn towards a big tent. I asked what was going on and was told by the people inside: “We are being community!” I asked them how they were
Doing this and they said, “By being here.” I stayed. Soon, a plate of chicken with rice and a glass of somo (white corn juice) was served to me. I was being blessed by this group of people being communityas they fed me and 100 others.
Funny how we came to Bolivia to serve, love and be Christ to others and there I sat on the receiving end. However, in this culture, saying no to food and service would have been a rejection. It was truly an honour to ‘be’ and share together in a time of hardship.
Soon after, and still about 10km away from home, I had the bad fortune of a flat tyre, a ripped air valve for which my repair kit was no match. Eventually I found a repairman, who sent me to buy an inner tube… 90 minutes on and near the end of my tether, no such shop to be found, in desperation I asked another stranger for help…not only did he know where to get an inner tube, he offered to go and buy one for me. I gave him £40, my old inner tube and my hope and as he rode off on his bicycle. I collapsed in the dirt road and phoned Andrew, tears streaming down my face. \\Ten minutes later the kind stranger returned with a new inner tube, a receipt and £10 change. Hallelujah! I returned to the repairman and in five minutes I was on the road. I arrived home sunburned and shattered, yet encouraged and full of hope for what I saw and experienced in the community.
It’s not been a particularly easy time for us as family, but it’s not a hardship either. Although kids are not in school, they do have a fair amount of homework. I guess we do feel a bit side-lined or benched from our own plans and work. Nevertheless, looking around there is much opportunity to be community in a new way. We live next door to a home for children with disabilities, so as a family we have been helping the family who run it. We have hosted a prayer and praise evening and attended others in the area. We’ve shared what resources we have been blessed with others. Mostly we realise that being side-lined in our work has led us to rely less on ourselves and our plans and more on the Lord. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us:
“The mind of man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.”
Liliana, Anayah and Daniela are not worried, nor are Andrew and I. As a family we pray openly for the current situation together and with others. There has been a turn for the worse this week as violent clashes have left another person dead and 70 injured in other parts of Bolivia. Some of our missionary friends have chosen to leave until the situation settles. We respect and understand their decision, yet at the same time, we feel at peace being here. The fact that millions in our city alone have been gathering nightly in the Christ Redeemer intersection to get on their knees and pray to Jesus, seeking the will of God, is so powerful. We pray with confidence it will indeed bring major change. Although we are not able to get to our church, we are joining in with a 40 days of prayer organised by our church family via WhatsApp.
We’d love you to pray for us, the Church and community, we are so thankful that people are being drawn to love and serve one another in new ways in the midst of the unrest. We pray that this continues. Pray also for the strikes and demonstrations, that citizens and leaders would choose the path of peace and justice.