Bolivian Spirit Marches Adelante



This Tuesday the Catholic world feasts and does whoopla for Mardi Gras. I always thought Lent was a big deal because you had to rescind something for 6 weeks, and Easter was a celebration of resurrection and spring. But Bolivians celebrate Carnival, next Tuesday and Monday too. Here, Easter isn't related to spring, since spring starts in September and in March it’s technically summer.

I did find out that many Friends groups have retreats from Sat-Tue during Carnaval. They go to Lake Titicaca or Sucre. Isn’t it creative that Quakers here convert a time of drinking, costumes and wild parties to singing , games and support?  As Northeast Friends slog through the end of winter, remember Friends, to look for change without succumbing to drugs. Take a lesson from Bolivian quakers, you need Friends, not mood-changers.

Bolivian Quakers are all so different. One Sunday I came home from Santidad Meeting in El Alto and my mother, Ildafonsa was sitting on the wooden floor in her long satin skirt, apron with long braids peeling a sack of carrots with a knife. The potatoes, onions were spread around her in waves of farm produce, and the bits of carrot skin were flying from her knife. I sat down with the family to warm my hands with tea. Ildafonsa proudly quoted the Bible in Castellano, hebreos 11;24. We chatted about the day. 5 year old Sarita showed me where she cut her finger. The bandaid was transparent and seemed to fulfill the hygienic trick. Ascension, the father, picked up a primer with language comparing Aymara, Quechua and Castellano. Here in El Alto Quakers support the union marches, eat sheep for Christmas dinner, raise guinea pigs. My household of 5 people has one fork and 2 cupboards in the kitchen.

Another fascinating thing is that the Santidad Friends who come from rural areas, according to Bolivians at BQE, are the hardest working. The university students from the country are studious, get good grades, and often are committed to returning to their villages and work for change.

Friends in Cochabamba are a different class background. Most of them have cars, one per household, although they use public transport a lot. They send their children to private schools. They know about Indian restaurants. In Cocha I live with Hans and Ninfa Apaza and they have laptops and 12 kitchen cupboards similar to our abodes. Small parks abound alongside large, muddy football fields. At 5 years old Johan is proud to teach me English like fish, desk, and baseball hat. We ran to a kids’ park that is half climbing and half botany when a rainshower hit us. We turned into sharks and ran home.

The Spirit sprawls widely across Bolivian Friends. I percieve that the more diverse the land forms, the more diverse the Friends church. When you import US Christianity with mangers and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and snow on reindeers, Christians are teaching more than love your neighbor as yourself. Yet when Bolivians speak of burying llamas under a building, pictures of the balance between sun and moon, they aren't denying the one God, they aren't worshipping idols-they aren't breaking the 1st commandment. These Friends are practicing customs like we have of hanging mistletoe and making Christmas ornaments.

I'm rooting for Friendly health and education, and strict practices in speaking truth and living healthy. I'm never going to be a missionary that expects Friends to worship in one way. What have I learned In Bolivia? I don't  believe Christians should dictate practices as no abortion, no euthanasia, and no drugs, no plastic bags. I am clear about no war and no weapons, and no bullfighting (nor cockfighting, nor spouse beating).

I can't wait to hear how God is at work in your life and in the Meeting. Please send comments