Monday, December 31, 2007

Getting Our Mail....A Cultural Experience

Here are the kids with the fruits of our labor! We have just opened five packages that we received in the mail. I think it took longer for us to get the packages after they arrived in Coch, than it did for them to get here.

Our day started when we received a phone call from our friend and co-laborer in Christ at the Mission, Lorna. Lorna calls us when we have mail, and we go get them from her. She told us that there was an envelope waiting for us at the post office, but that they would not give it to her since our name was on it. This is weird, because she is authorized to get all mail addressed to MAE, which is the address people use to send us mail. Now, let me give you a little information before I continue. Bolivia doesn't have door to door mail delivery, or mailboxes on the corner. All mail goes to the post office, and you have to go there to get it. You have to know that you are going to get a package so that you will know to go ask for it. In Cochabamba, a city of almost 1,000,000 people...there is one post office, and it is never crowded...this is because everyone knows that their mail will not be there. Denise and I have been expecting packages since August...packages that had not arrived. Every week entails a trip to the post office, a question about packages, and a postal worker telling us that they have no packages for us...to come back and again 'mañana'. So...background...one Post Office...no mail...since August.

Back to my story.

So, Denise and I go to the post office...actually behind the post office to an office that we did not know existed...and ask for the envelope. We are told that we cannot pick it up because it is addressed to MAE. Remember why Lorna could not get it? We persisted, and after talking to two employees we were rewarded with an affirmative. Meanwhile, person after person had walked up beside us and asked to see the official post office receipt file. They would be handed a stack of papers about 12" high, and then they would thumb through the papers to see if anything had been sent to them. I figured, "What do I have to lose?" So, I asked if we had any other packages waiting for us.

Another worker picked up the stack and he and I looked through them...and we found five other packages that had been sitting in the post office since September 6th! Eureka! I aske the man to give me those boxes as well. Only, there was a glitch. I had to pay 'storage' since they had been thrown in a backroom with the other 500 boxes. What were my options? So, they took 45 minutes and a two person conference, then came back and told me that I owed 300 Bolivianos ($40) for storage. Reluctantly I complied, and another lady took my money. Then I received my packages right? OHHHH NNNOOOOOO. I had to go nextdoor to an adjoining office so they could figure my taxes. It was now 11:40, we had been there over an hour. I walked up to the empty counter with three employees behind it and handed them my paperwork. I was told to come back at 2:30, because lunch was at noon. I pointed to the clock and told the man that it was not noon, therefore it was not lunch. He told me to come back at 2:30. And since this is the man figuring out my taxes I did not want to go North American on him and make him angry.

No problem. I returned at 3:00 and got my packages, right? OHHHH NNNOOOOOO. When we returned, and waited while the three employees behind the empty counter talked. After 10 minutes, they asked for my paperwork and I received my packages, right? OHHHH NNNOOOOOO. The computer system went down, so they told me to come back tomorrow.

Day Two and my third trip to the Post Office, I returned and found the system now working. So, I received my packages, right? OHHHH NNNOOOOOO. After one of the three employees behind the empty counter took my paperwork and entered things into the computer, he turned and handed them to another of the three employees behind the empty counter. She entered more information, and wrote in a black marker on the paperwork, which was filled out in, honest, quadrupulet. I could not figure out what they were entering, since all of the paperwork had a sending address, a receiving address, and a box number....however, I waited. Finally, she smiled and said she was finished. Now, at last (after about an hour), I could get my packages, right? OHHHH NNNOOOOOO. She told me that I had to pay my taxed. I said, 'Okay', and took money out of my pocket. She looked at me with a strange expression, and told me again that I had to pay my taxes. I mistakenly assumed that this meant go to the person at the adjacent empty counter that I had paid the storage fees to the day before. But no...this wasn't the case. I had to walk four blocks away to a bank and pay the teller there. So, I had her write down the general address and off I went.

I arrived on the street, but was not sure of the correct bank, so I asked the policeman standing on the sidewalk. I showed him my paperwork, and said what I needed to do, and also had him read the directions that one of the three employees behind the empty counter had written down for me. He told me that they were wrong, and I had to walk another two blocks to a different bank. So, I did. When I got to the bank, the bank teller told me that I had to go to another bank, and gave me exact directions. So....I went back to the bank that the policeman was standing in front of (really) to pay my taxes.

After paying my taxes, and receiving multiple receipts showing that I had done so, I went back to one of the three employees behind the empty counter and showed them that I had paid. Now, I could pick up my packages right? OHHHH NNNOOOOOO. After entering something more in the computer, I was sent to the only one of the three employees behind the empty counter that had not yet touched my paperwork. Now, he took my papers, and I discovered his specialty. He is a stamper. He stood up, walked to the counter, and stamped, stamped, stamped, stamped, and stamped. Now, finally...well not yet. I had to go back to the original empty desk in the adjacent office, and hand them the stamped paperwork. They put them in some type of shoebox, and let me walk into the back room and find my boxes.

So, after two days, four trips, three offices, and 10 employees...I received my packages!

IT WAS WORTH IT! THE MORAL OF THIS STORY IS SEND MORE MAIL...WHY WASTE ALL OF THIS CULTURAL LEARNING BY NOT GETTING MORE PACKAGES?


Seriously, we have now learned when, where, and how to get our mail. We checked all of the date sent with the date received and it takes about three weeks to get stuff from the States.

But...when you send us something, LET US KNOW that you sent it. That way we can know when to go to the mailbox and thumb through the 12" high stack of papers. :)

Grateful To Get It,
Joe


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Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Great Toy Giveaway part 1

What did you do for Christmas? We had a great time, but probably one of the best the things that happened was the joy of giving. I have mentioned before the challenge of living among the truly poor, and how do you decide who and what to give to them. This was particularly pressing at Christmas, but our church answered the dilemna for us. Now, we go to a 'small' church if you use North American standards to judge it...there are only about 150 adults in attendance. However, this church has a great vision for helping the poor, and impacting the community for Christ. Therefore, we had a goal this year. We wanted to do something for Jesus, and for those who could not give back. Our goal...we wanted to purchase 2500 new toys and give them to the kids that live on the streets, in the orphanages, and/or in poor families. The idea was to give at least one toy to a child that probably would not receive any others. Can you imagine how that would feel as a parent? Having a child that, for Christmas, will get and give absolutely nothing? Wow.

Well...we did not meet our goal. Our church of 150 adults were only able to provide toys for about 2300 kids!!!! If you aim for the stars, you just may hit the moon!

The toy giveaway was more fun for us than the kids. We all met at the church at 9:00 in the morning to get ready. For those of you that know me, you know that this is not the way I usually do things...but, this is Bolivia and they get things done when they need to be done. So, we met and got the toys ready to giveaway at 10. This meant opening the boxes that had multiple action figures and putting one spiderman in a bag, and superman in another bag...it meant separating some toys, combining others, and then putting them in small bags with information about the church, and an invitation to come on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the truch that will be our stage is being set up outside the gate. Kids are already lining up at 9:15, while we are running sound cables, extension cords, microphones, and putting up speakers. The buses from the orphanages started coming, and the timing was getting tight. But we kept plugging away. Everytime one task was done, we would ask our pastor, who was coordinating things, ¿Como puedo ayundar? "How can I help?" and go do something else.

Then it was time. The pastor took the truck/stage, and gave the gospel to the over 2000 people standing in the street! Following the gospel, and an invitation to become part of our church (imagine just for a moment, inviting 2000 homeless people to join your church---a little bit different than we are used to isn't it?). We had two ladies that jumped up on the truck and started teaching the kids fun songs about Jesus complete with hand motions (Jesus is my super-hero, mejor que Spiderman, mejor que Batman, mejor que anyone....Life without Jesus is like living with a donut in your heart...and other songs). The kids loved thier enthusiasm and the hand motions.

We then prayed, and formed the mob/line at the gate. One by one the children walked into the West Gate, they were greeted by the Pastor and his wife, handed a toy, and then walked down the sidewalk out the East Gate, being told 'Que Dios te bendiga' (God bless you), and 'Feliz Navidad' by about 10 people as they left. Toys were grouped together and given to the leaders of orphanages, children were hugged and patted, and smiles were passed out to everyone.

After we had passed out toys to those that were there, we then cleaned up. I want to be honest with you. There was something holy about a 44 year old former pastor and his wife picking up the trash left on the street by homeless kids. It was just right, an act of service that to me looked more like Jesus than a lot of other 'spiritual' things that I have done. :) So, we cleaned up the neighborhood, and straightened up the church.

Then, another neat thing happened. I needed to purchase a Christmas present for Denise, so I drove downtown and parked. I took about 20-25 Bolivianos in my pocket, and as I walked down the street I gave money to the poor. We give money to beggars everyday, but today was different. Person after person had one of our toys! Here was a mom with three kids...and her kids were playing with our toys! Today was a special day, so with a smile on my face I walked up to one lady with three children and gave her 10 Bolivianos (this is about $1.40...the average gift to a beggar is 6 cents). I told her God loved her. I gave another lady a 20 B. Then, until I was out of money, I walked up to the poor on the street and before they could ask I told them 'Que Dios Le Bendiga' and gave them money.

It was one of the funnest things I have ever done for Christmas!

On the post below, I have photos of the toy giveaway.

It was a great CHRISTmas!

Joe

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The Great Toy Giveaway!!!

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