The night was so black that I could barely see my hand in front of my face. As we crossed the worn soccer field that overlooked the Andes Mountains I wrapped my arms tighter around myself and wished I had brought more than a thin hoodie.
Just before stepping into the tiny church, I stole one more glance at that unforgettable night sky. That unfamiliar, velvety black sky that sparkled with the constellations of the southern hemisphere that I never learned in school.
The church was lit by one bare light bulb that hung down in the middle of the room, and cast tall shadows onto the bare concrete walls as our very tall, very gringo group entered. The tiny church couldn’t have fit more that 60 people and it was filled beyond capacity.
As the sweet Bolivian pastor preached, I leaned over and proudly whispered my very broken translation to my dad. With no official translator, our small mission team sat quietly, drinking in the whole experience. The cold night. The altitude. The layered, yet simple dress of the campesinos. The unique sounding Quechua. The awe-inspiring alps and immense poverty that surrounded us.
As the church service ended we headed for the door to get back to our bunk beds and mosquito nets (not for mosquitoes, mind you, but to protect us from the terrible, fatal poop of a bigger crawling bug whose name escapes me).
As I reached the threshold of the door, I felt a hand grasp my shoulder tightly, and I instinctively turned. An elderly woman who barely reached my elbows slid her calloused hand down my arm and took both my hands in hers. The skin on her face was wrinkled from years of working outside in the Apillapampa sun. She wore the typical layered skirts, apron, and long-sleeved llama wool sweater. Her thin gray hair lay in a long braid down her back, almost reaching her skirts. She pulled me close and spoke one word.
One word, that crossed our multilingual boundaries. One word that she and I both knew in Spanish. One word that impacted me deeply.
My 17 years of life up until that point had been drastically different from her much longer lifetime in the Bolivian Andes. We were two women who had nothing in common. Nothing except that church. Nothing except a life-changing, immensely huge God.
I’ll never forget that night. Or her face. Or, more importantly, what she taught me.
*This was on a mission trip to Bolivia in 2004. We went with Food for the Hungry International, an NGO that I have an immense respect for and support to this day. Apillapampa is a tiny town at 12,000 ft. nestled away in the Andes Mountains.
Here are a few pictures I took on that trip in 2004.