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What Happened in Bolivia?

"Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
"There is nothing there," he said.
Seven times Elijah said, "Go back."
The seventh time the servant reported, "A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea."
So Elijah said, "Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you."
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on.

1 Kings 18: 43-45

The final speaker at the 8th annual Bolivian Interdenominational Convention for Youth Leaders used this passage to encourage the leaders gathered there to persevere even when they didn't see results quickly in their ministry. Later that evening River Claure, the national director of the network of youth leaders in Bolivia said to Tim and me, "Isn't this the seventh time that we've invited you to come to the convention?" The answer is yes but this is the first time we'd been able to make it. Two years we were close; we were actually en route to Bolivia when the airline we had tickets with went under and we weren't able to make it across the Andes from Santiago, Chile to Cochabamba. We trust that this year the timing was perfect... that we were the right people in the right place with the right words for those Bolivian youth leaders.

One of our primary motivations behind the trip was to support River. He's had a rough time physically and emotionally over the past year and we hoped that our presence could encourage him but we had no idea what that would look like. When he met us at the airport River was distracted. The main speaker, an internationally known recording artist, was supposed to arrive on the flight with us but the airline said that he hadn't boarded his flight in Madrid, Spain. River was holding out hope that he had gotten on at the last minute and it hadn't been registered in the system. But the singer wasn't on the flight from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba, which meant that there was no way he could make the connections and get there in time for the conference. So at 11 pm on Thursday River finds out that not only does he have to tell the attendees that the artist they came to hear won't be joining us, but he has no one to speak in the plenary session at 9:30 the next morning.

We still don't know what happened to the singer, what sort of misunderstanding or accident made him miss the event, but we had the pleasure of walking alongside River as we watched God put the pieces of the conference together.

River had invited us to teach two workshops: one was six hours spread over three days, (it is a luxury for us to have so much time to develop the foundational principles of youth ministry based on the book I co-wrote called "Raices: pastoral juvenil en profundidad" by Zondervan); the other was based on my book The Portable Church. I was a bit tenuous about this last one for two reasons: we'd never taught it before and it puts the spotlight of scripture on some sacred cows of evangelical culture in Latin America. Because of this I had been praying especially about it...that God would lead direct how we presented the material.

When we saw the schedule Friday morning I noticed that The Portable Church wasn't on the list. "That's fine," I thought, "I guess God decided it didn't need to be heard here." Friday evening however River knocked on our door with the conference administrator, Susanna, and asked if we would be willing to cover the plenary session the next evening. Tim explained that we facilitate workshops, not preach, and besides we didn't have anything prepared.

"We do have the Portable Church workshop that we'd prepared," I offered.

River said, "You can condense an hour and a half workshop into a 30 minute talk?"

Tim said, "Really? We're going to do the main session?"

"I'm not sure, but this is something we came prepared to talk about," and I gave River a brief outline of the material.

Twenty four hours later we were standing in front of the 400 conference participants and staff encouraging them not to pour their life into the maintenance of a monument and not to follow every changing wind of ministerial trends like a weathervane but to be a compass steadily pointing to Christ in all situations. As we were preparing I was very aware of the fact that we don't know the particulars of the church in Bolivia so I was resting in the confidence that God can use his Word like an arrow to hit the target and sink in deeply. And based on the feedback we got, He did.

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