I had the privilege of traveling to Bolivia for the tenth time (since 2008) in February of this year. My job at the mission is to help in the school, to select teaching materials for the teachers, to help plan the school year, to teach the volunteers who are to be the teachers how to teach, and to be a support and resource to the new teachers during the first few weeks of school.
Via Gracia seems to be a place where a few families have put down roots, but where other families come to stay for a while and then leave, sometimes moving to Canada, sometimes to Mexico, sometimes to other parts of Bolivia, and sadly, sometimes back to the colonies. The population usually hovers around 40. In February, there were eight married couples plus 24 youth and children, for a total of 40 people.
The Carpenteria, which in previous years employed most of the men of Via Gracia, has for all intents and purposes closed. Now, most of the families have cows, and earn their living by selling the milk. To supplement their income, the men sometimes pick up small jobs in the surrounding community.
Most of the families have been able to earn enough money to afford a few luxuries. We in North America might deem them necessities, however, for the people of Via Gracia they are luxuries. Of the families living at Via Gracia in February, all but one owned a car, everyone seemed to have a cell phone, even the young people, and several families also owned a motorbike.
In school, in February there were two classes, a grade K/2 split and a 4/5/7/8/home school class. Corny is the only Kindergartner, and Susy and Justina, grade 2 students, share the classroom with Corny. Their teacher is Carlene Goertzen. The other class is taught by Tobias Mirau, who is from Barrhead, Alberta. Nancy is grade 4, Abram grade 5, Klas, Greta and Peter grade 7/8, Daisy is working on her Alberta home school curriculum, and Hans, Frank, Abram, Margrit and Henry were working on a Christian-based home school program. (I believe the latter five students are no longer attending the school).
One of the three classrooms has become a computer lab. Unfortunately, there are not enough laptops for everyone, so some students work in the computer lab while others are in their classroom. The Rosetta Stone program is used to teach Spanish, because Via Gracia has been unable to hire a competent Spanish teacher. When I left to return to Canada in March, things were running smoothly in school. I have confidence in Tobias and Carlene and believe they will do a good job teaching the students. Carlene loves the younger children, and it is evident they love her as well. Tobias related well to the older students, and was anxious to implement some of his many good ideas.
When I first traveled to Via Gracia in 2008, not many of the young people played musical instruments. Since then, the music program has been thriving. Most of the young people play at least one instrument. The girls seem to favor the piano or violin, while the boys play guitar or trumpet. This year, the donations I received were spent, for the most part, on musical instruments. We were able to purchase two keyboards, two violins, two trumpets, a guitar, an amplifier, and get a guitar repaired. The young people were thrilled with their new instruments. The “band” now consists of three trumpets and one tenor horn. Tobias, as he learns along with the others, leads the group. They practice several times a week. The orchestra consists of 4 violins, 3 guitars and 1 accordion. Accompanied by the piano, they play every Sunday morning, and it is a joy to see and hear them.
In January, Peter and Janice Goertzen along with their daughters Carlene and Daisy moved to Via Gracia from Barrhead, Alberta. After a year of mentorship, they will become the pastor family. Brother Peter is already doing most of the preaching. Pastor Thiessen is continuing to lead the adult Sunday School class. I believe the addition of the Goertzen family to the mission is a positive move. They are young, energetic, and eager to do their part for the Lord in Via Gracia. I had never heard Brother Peter preach before, and while I did not understand every word of his Low German sermons, I was pleased with his ability to preach. The basic structure of each sermon was well thought out; it had several main points plus explanations and applications of those points. Br. Peter’s sermons were not overly long; they were concise, to the point, and truly a blessing. Brother Peter relates well to the men of the mission, and they have shown him respect.
Sister Janice is putting her musical talents to good use. She not only plays piano and accordion, but gives music lessons as well. Several of the girls are excited to start piano lessons, and it will certainly be of benefit to the congregation to have more than one piano player. During the singing portion of morning devotions at school, I began giving some basic instructions on musical notes and singing in tune and in harmony. The singing of the students improved greatly, and Sister Janice planned to continue with theory and singing instruction during choir practice. There are many good voices among the people of Via Gracia and with some coaching I believe the singing will be an even greater blessing.
My prayer for the people living at Via Gracia is that they truly understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I pray that especially the young people and children who have found salvation continue to serve the Lord and let their lights shine in the darkness of the communities around them. I pray that the visits to the colonies would bear fruit and that some may yet be saved before it is too late. Please continue to uphold our three missionary families in prayer.