One by one, staff and volunteers arrive at the drop-in center bundled in scarves and puffy jackets and are herded into the living room to practice some shaky Christmas carols. Some first-timers look nervous, but most of us are excited to see our friends. Laughing, we don Santa hats and sling 300 fruitcakes in sacks onto our backs to deliver along the Red Light District. It’s the event of the year: Christmas Caroling in the Brothels!
Caroling in the brothels is nerve-wracking. It’s never easy ducking through the doors into the low lights and the grimy cement rooms under the curious, hopeful gaze of the girls, or the suspicious, hostile gaze of the clients. But it’s harder still when you’re wearing a Santa hat and asking the bartender to turn down the dance music so you can burst into song.
Yet, caroling in the brothels is prophetic. It shines the brightest light the world has ever known, the most intense hope that has ever broken into the world, into the darkest, most hopeless places man has created. It can leave the girls weeping for the hope they forgot existed.
Caroling is never boring. We may be a group of 15 singing to one lonely girl on a corner, or the women in a brothel may come out of their rooms and join us in song. A friend I hadn’t seen for months clung to me and made me promise to pray for her.
Caroling is, for me, the most holy night of the year. I’m always overwhelmed that God has entrusted us, a ragtag band of motley singers, with this matchless mission. I’ve never met a Christmas pageant, a candle-light service, or a Christmas Eve sermon that pierces my soul the way this joyful proclamation of hope in the Red Light District does.
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices.
O night divine
O night when Christ was born.
May that same unquenchable hope break into every Christmas season.
By Cara Contreras
Word Made Flesh Bolivia, in partnership with The Mission Society, hosted a national mission conference for 135 pastors, missionaries and church leaders, representing 95 congregations from throughout the country; some had traveled over 24 hours by bus to arrive. In a successful and challenging time together, we confronted realities within Bolivia and beyond our borders.
Monday morning, the group huddled into the conference room for our first full day. We sat in rows with our puffy coats, as the temperature outside had barely climbed above freezing. Missiologist, Dr. Darrell Whiteman, began with what appeared to be a safe-enough doctrine: the incarnation. For those of us who have spent decades warming pews, we were plenty familiar with the idea of God becoming man to reach man. Whiteman however, explained that the incarnation was a model to follow. Just as God adopted the Jewish customs and limits to show us His love and truth, we were to take on the customs and limits of those around us to show God’s love and truth.
The idea of eating, dressing and talking like those outside our door was a new idea for us, to say the least. Over the following three days, Dr. Whiteman and Dr. Denny Heiberg continued to challenge our preconceptions and give us the tools to begin to “incarnate.” As a group, we brainstormed social groups in our midst that we’ve mostly ignored as a church. The list sprawled across the whiteboard: “street performers, the LGBT community, members of the military, shamans, ex-inmates…” The idea of reaching our neighbors had become quite real.
As we grappled to rediscover the meaning of the gospel (the “naked gospel” as we called it), many reflected on the rules that had replaced it. One man commented, “We always taught that the dances of the Jews were holy, and that our traditional dances were evil.” Another shared of his frustration that young men who found the courage to enter a church were often rejected and told their baggy, low-hanging pants were “unbiblical.” One young woman teared up, recognizing the oppressive set of guilt-inflicting rules over her own life.
This wasn’t a pursuit of liberation in and of itself, it was God freeing us as He showed us His plan to restore and transform our cultures (and our neighbor’s cultures). His plan was not to belittle or condemn culture. It occurred to me that this was what Jesus wanted to show us all along, but we too were much like the teachers of the law to really listen. And the false beliefs and prejudices that had clouded our view of the gospel could only be changed through years of discipleship, Heiberg explained.
After the last day’s meal, we rolled up our sleeping bags and climbed onto the buses to head home. The dry, mountainous landscape rolled by on the road back to La Paz. The areas to change in my life seemed endless, and I repented for my carelessness in my interactions with others previously. The power to change would have to come from God and from the refining process of community. And more than anything, I wanted to share it with others. I quickly identified with a comment on one man’s conference evaluation: “My only complaint is that I didn’t bring my wife!”
Over the last few months, we’ve been praying – quietly, fervently, patiently awaiting the Lord’s provision.
And then the ground began to rumble as I started to receive a string of e-mails, “You’ve been nominated,” “We’ll need a personal bio” and “Yes, you need to be present to win.” So the next few weeks were full of excitement and activity, nailing down details and nervously wondering about what might lie ahead.
Still reeling from long flights and a bit of cultural re-adjustment, I’m getting a manicure with flashy red nails and pondering it all.
I was that girl — comfortable being sassy and all prettied up. The doctor’s daughter who for the majority of her growing up years, didn’t realize that most people don’t have their own swimming pool in their backyard. And then….. I moved to Bolivia. And I saw the world for what it is. My nails got dirty, my heart broken. I confronted evil in the lives of my friends and within myself. Lived in the midst of the suffering.
By Andrea Baker
Then I walk into this Gala, in the Fox Theater no less, where I once dreamed of performing on stage there. My family nearby, because this is my old stomping ground. And like many who return home changed, I felt like a fish out of water. Numb, overwhelmed, wide-eyed.
I smiled, I chatted, I enjoyed the amazing food and loved briefly connecting with these world changer’s whose bio’s and work I had poured over.
I teared up as we sang,
“Your plans are still to prosper, You have not forgotten us.
You’re with us in the fire and the flood.
Faithful forever, Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us.”
For all that our community holds, all that we’ve seen and lamented and fought for. I prayed and declared again, “Yes, Lord. You are faithful.”
(and then I worried about all my smeared mascara….)
I’ve spent a good portion of this year reflecting on God’s faithfulness. My husband and I recently celebrated 10 years of service in Bolivia. And I’ve reminisced over the hundreds of ways the Lord has manifested His goodness. I don’t ever want to forget.
I wish now that I could have soaked it all up a little more – enjoyed that incredible lobster and all the glamour. And as I sit back and reflect on it all now, I can’t help but be impressed with how surreal it was. All that pomp and circumstance for…. loving Diana? Choosing to enter in? How do other people do it? Move in and out of these drastically different worlds so effortlessly?
Maybe we won, because we don’t care about all the attention. I have no idea where I’ll pose that gorgeous hand-blown glass award. Maybe we won because Presence does matter. I had a speech ready just in case: Over the years so many people have asked us, ‘How many have you saved? How many have you rescued?’ And it’s always an awkward question, since we typically don’t boast big numbers. And at times, I’ve wanted to say, “No one has asked me how many I’ve loved.” And I have loved many. I think that counts for something, because in the end, love does matter. Beautiful, unconditional Love has transformed my life. And there’s nothing more significant than that. In the end, love wins; love transforms.
I’m still overwhelmed by it all. Honored beyond belief and extremely humbled. But mostly just anxious to return home to my simple life in Bolivia. I’d love for you to continue with us in this amazing journey.
In May of 2002, Word Made Flesh Bolivia officially launched ministry among sexually exploited women in El Alto, Bolivia – with a Mothers Day Party. We recognized even then, the enormous sacrifices women have made on behalf of their children and families. Here’s a photo of that very first party.
And we’ve continued to celebrate motherhood every year since. This year we had very own mariachi band!
Our goal is to support wives and mothers, aunts and grandmothers, daughters and sisters as they raise up the next generation. We want to see vicious cycles broken, as women of all ages are supported in becoming all that they were meant to be.
“Her children respect and bless her.” Prov. 31:28 MSG
Happy Mothers Day from Bolivia!