The Beauty of Bolivia

As our church begins A1:8 Missions month, it is our hope that you will talk about missions and service together as a family. We are excited for you to hear a few first-hand accounts from our NCC missionaries who are serving in the countries about which your family will be learning!

It was during a 2010 short-term mission trip to the Bolivia Life Center with National Community Church, that God laid it on Brian McArthur’s heart to move back and work with the youth on a more permanent basis. Incorporating his love of the outdoors into a therapy program, he began to address the needs of trauma victims.  In February of 2011, Brian went to live and work in Bolivia.  We asked him to share about the work he is doing. Here is what he had to say.

Bolivia has many charms. Cochabamba is a city of about one million people in a high mountain valley with a climate similar to Tucson, Arizona. It’s dry most of the year, but we have a two month rainy season in December and January. That is my favorite time of year, because everything gets green and clean. It also happens to be when schools are out on summer vacation, which is when we run our summer programs with the kids!

The food here in Cochabamba is delicious, and it is said that people from Cochabamba “live to eat” rather than eat to live. One of my favorite meals is charque-kan, which is fried llama meat that looks like beef jerky, huge kernel corn, a couple of boiled potatoes, a piece of villager cheese, and some very hot sauce on the side. Cochabambans also love their pastries: we have salteñas, which are like soupy hot pockets; tucumanas, which are fried hot pockets stuffed with potato; and empanadas, which are like rolls stuffed with cheese, and sometimes ham or hot sauce.

One of the great things about living in a mountain valley is being surrounded by mountains! Many times throughout the year, the peaks get dusted with snow, making a breathtaking backdrop to the city. The mountains are also full of small clearwater lakes, and trout fishing is popular. Nothing like landing a trout on the shore while a dozen llamas watch you. Another great thing about people living all throughout the mountains is that there are little footpaths everywhere. Of course there is no map; you have to go looking! Bolivia is a very untamed country, full of wilderness ripe for exploring. Cochabamba itself is called the garden city, or land of eternal spring (not a bad place to be a missionary, right?) and if you drive one hour to the east, you crest over the very edge of the Andean mountain range and plunge into the Amazon basin. The foliage and climate change instantly (literally within 15 yards, I am not exaggerating), from dry and cold to warm and humid, with windswept alpine grasses giving way to palm fronds and tropical flowers.

The Challenges in Bolivia

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, with a poverty rate of over 36%. It is also the only majority-indigenous country in the Americas, with the largest group being the Quechua people (you probably know them for the ladies wearing bowler hats). Bolivia is also a very pagan country, with Mother Earth being the official deity, and the first Friday of every month being a patron saint day, when animal sacrifices are made in the mountains. Needless to say, we don’t go hiking on those days! One of the official dances is called “the diablada” (devil dance), and miners in Potosi pray to the devil for protection. We have a lot of work on our hands!

What We Do

I run a ministry here called Fundacion Aventura (the Adventure Foundation), and we organize all manner of adventure therapy activities for the children and young adults living in orphanages, jails or on the street. There are about 3,000 boys and girls under age 18 living in the city’s 20-some orphanages, while 107 are in juvenile detention centers. Another 724 live in the adult prisons along with their parents. Nobody’s quite sure how many young people live on the streets, but they are present at many traffic lights, washing windshields and sniffing glue (a common addition in Bolivia).

Our foundation uses participatory outdoor challenges or adventure therapy to help participants move through and beyond their struggles to experience the fullness of life God has for them. Adventure Therapy is a technique that challenges participants to face fears, build trust, take personal responsibility, and work with other participants to complete difficult tasks in a controlled outdoor environment. Participants must take part in each activity willingly and voluntarily for the therapy to have effect. As each participant’s realization of their own capacity grows, program leaders help them make the connection with other challenges from daily life, both past and present. We combine these therapeutic techniques with strong elements of Fun and Faith in order to create a more holistic approach.

I am blessed to be part of a vibrant community of missionaries from many countries, and all of them are doing incredible work! Many run orphanages or social programs, and many travel to the remote mountain villages to share the gospel in Quechua. All of us need your prayer and support! While Bolivia is not technically a “closed” country where being a Christian could get you killed, it is very anti-foreigner both in attitude and on paper. Missionaries have a very difficult time getting visas, and acquiring the proper documentation from the government to be able to run their ministries, myself included. Legal processes can be very expensive and take up a lot of time, but with an exchange rate of 7-1, every dollar counts!  

What You Can Do

On a personal note, thank you for being amazing parents. If everybody took care of the ones God entrusted to them like you do, there would be no need for orphanages or adventure therapy programs. Keep challenging your kids and helping them grow. Help them to see their place in the world and maybe give them an idea of some of those good works God has prepared for them to do. I also ask you to prayerfully consider adopting a child or becoming foster parents. No amount of social programs can compare with a loving family.

How to help your child learn about what God is doing in Bolivia:

  • Watch this video as a family to get a glimpse of daily life in Bolivia.
  • Talk as a family about some of the statistics that Brian shared. Specifically talk about what the terms orphan and poverty mean.
  • Take action:
  1. Pray for the children of Bolivia to have wholeness in their families. Brokenness in families leads to much of the crisis in the country.
  2. Visit to learn more about the adventure trips led by Brian McArthur.  Collect change or lead a fundraiser to make a donation to the adventure program, Fundación Aventura.
  3. Collect outdoor gear to donate to the kids who participate in the adventure program.

Brian McAurthur has a passion for discipleship, being real, and living life to the full.  He serves as the Director of Fundacion Aventura, running Adventure Therapy programs for the youth in Bolivia.