Samaipata: “El Fuerte”

Over Christmas break I had the pleasure of making my first trip out of Santa Cruz de la Sierra to a small town called Samaipata. The name comes from the indigenous Quechua language and roughly means “place of rest among the mountains.” The great attractions of Samaipata–beyond its cooler climate for city folk like me looking to escape the subtropical heat of Santa Cruz de la Sierra–is its ruins called “El Fuerte.” The Chané lived in this region from A.D. 200-800 and used the grounds mainly for ritual and residential reasons, the Incan civilization dominated the region in the 1400s and used the site for religious, ceremonial, and administrative purposes, and then the Spanish arrived in the 1600s and used it as a fort until abandoning it in favor of establishing a fort in current day Samaipata.  Here are some pictures from the site:


The ceremonial sector behind me is about 720 feet long and 200 feet wide. You may notice that the large slab of stone declines slightly in my direction. At the top of the slab are two long, shallow columns dug into the rock. Our guide told us that the priests would sacrifice animals at the top of the slab and the blood would drain down into two little pools.


It’s too difficult to see in this picture, but carved into the rock are three jaguar emblems.


Niches in the side of the rock where priests likely stored religious items.


Our guide is pointing out into the distance, emphasizing how far one can see from this vantage point. For this reason, the Spaniards used it as a fort and would communicate using smoke signals.


Looking away from the rock toward a gentle slope below. People would gather in this area to hear pronouncements from the priests and/or ask questions of administrative officials.


El Alfarero Retreat


A group picture of workers from El Alfarero Santa Cruz and El Alfarero Sucre.

I recently had the pleasure of going on a retreat with many of my colleagues at El Alfarero. A few workers from the El Alfarero in Sucre, Bolivia were also able to join us. The retreat was a time of resting in the Lord, meditating on leadership in the context of Titus 1:7-9, and getting to know people on a more profound level.

We discussed what Paul is saying in the book of Titus when he calls on leaders to be above reproach, not arrogant, not irate, not given to much wine, not violent, not dishonest with money, but rather hospitable, a lover of the good, just, holy, and disciplined.

There were about 30 of us in attendance and each of us was given 5 minutes to share our reflections on 2017. I felt like I learned more about each person in 5 minutes than the past 3 1/2 months that I’ve been here in Bolivia. Each person was candid and vulnerable. I think that one of the common themes that emerged from this time was the faithfulness of God no matter how difficulty and trying the circumstances were last year. (My personal reflection is below).

We were also given an extended period of about four hours one day just to be with the Lord—whether to pray, read the word, listen to praise music etc. I spent this time mostly in prayer and reading from Thomas a Kempis’  “Of the Imitation of Christ” and Philip Yancey’s “Reaching for the Invisible God.”

Here is my personal reflection that I shared with the entire group (I haven’t translated it into English):

Uno de mis versículos favoritos es Hebreos 11:8: “y salió sin saber a dónde iba.” El versículo “y salió sin saber a dónde iba” se refiere a Abraham quien Dios llamó para que saliera de su casa hacia otra tierra. Abraham obedeció a Dios y comenzó su viaje confiando en Dios para su orientación.

Yo creo que este versículo con pocas palabras captura la vida de fe que andamos como cristianos. La mayoría del tiempo no sabemos adónde vamos ni lo que va a pasar ni como vamos a lograr las cosas que queremos hacer, pero tratamos de confiar en Jesús en cada paso.

Sabemos que Abraham era un hombre de gran fe, pero imperfecto. Se equivocó muchas veces en su viaje pero es un buen ejemplo de un hombre que siguió a Dios sin cesar. Además, Dios fue fiel y nunca lo abandonó. Me gustan las palabras que Dios le dijo cuando Abraham tuvo dudas acerca de los planes que Dios tenía para él. Dijo: “No temas, Abram; yo soy tu escudo, y tu galardón será sobremanera grande.” (Génesis 15:1)

No tengo la fe de Abraham, pero pensé en él mucho durante el año pasado porque como él, yo sabía que todo iba a cambiar en mi vida. Durante el año pasado, yo no era perfecto. A veces tenía dudas y frustraciones. En mi camino con Jesús, pequé. Pero quería ser más como Abraham con su fe y quería experimentar la presencia de Dios.

Por lo tanto, cuando reflexiono en el año 2017, pienso en la fidelidad de Dios en mi vida. Aunque dejé a mis amigos, mi grupo bíblico, mi familia, mi iglesia, mi trabajo, mi casa, y la familiaridad de mi país, el Señor es fiel. Dejé a mis amigos pero he encontrado a amigos acá en El Alfarero, dejé a mi familia de sangre pero he hallado a los creyentes en Santa Cruz quienes son la familia de Cristo y hace tres meses que vivo con la gente que llamo mi familia boliviana. Mi trabajo en El Alfarero es un gozo, y aunque he dejado la familiaridad de mi cultura estadounidense, tengo la experiencia aquí de una cultura muy rica y fascinante.

Le doy gracias a Dios por su fidelidad y les doy gracias a Uds. por su bienvenida muy amable y toda la ayuda que he recibido de Uds. Pablo dice en 1 Timoteo 2:13: “Si fuéremos infieles, él permanece fiel; El no puede negarse a sí mismo.” Experimenté eso en el año pasado y este año. Estoy agradecido de que sirvamos a un dios tan fiel y tan amoroso.



After everyone shared their 5 minute personal reflection on 2017, we would pray over them.


I am sharing my 2017 reflection.


In the evenings we would relax with board and card games. I’m wearing the silly hat because I was currently winning a card game.

January Update

Happy holidays!

I hope that all of you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. In the past three months since I arrived in Bolivia, I’ve heard stories from supporters of great joy (family members coming to the Lord, the announcement of pregnancies, new friendships formed) and stories of great sadness (terminal cancer and fractured relationships). I rejoice with those of you who are rejoicing, and I pray that those of you who are facing times of unfathomable difficulty would be comforted more than ever by our Prince of Peace.

English classes
It’s been quite the joy to have worked with a number of students who are taking classes at the master’s program here at El Alfarero. These are students who will be sharing the gospel in Bolivia and in other nations around the world. We are temporarily on a break due to the holiday season, but I’m happy to report that the classes ended on a high note–literally. For the final class, my students wrote and performed their own songs in English. I accompanied them on the ukulele.


Rebeca (left) is learning English because she is leaving this year to do ministry in Australia. Dina (middle) will be using her English to communicate with her ministry partners in Bolivia.


Angela (left) is learning English in order to read more books on Christian mentorship that are only available in English. Marcela (middle) is learning English so she can take a leadership course in the United States.

University students are currently on their summer break (what would be akin to our May-August break) and they return in February or March. I’ve been laying the groundwork for their return by completing my curriculum with faith integration components and making contacts with professors at two universities. Please continue to pray that students will come to a knowledge of the Lord through these classes. One of the biblical pillars that I am trusting in with all of my heart is 1 Timothy 2:4: “[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Please join me in praying that students will come to know Jesus.

Answered prayer
~ My three year residency visa has been approved! Thanks for your prayers!
~ God continues to put me in touch with professors, students, co-workers, and others who are helping me to prepare for the upcoming English classes for college students.

Prayer requests
~ I am in the process of looking for my own apartment.
~ Please pray that current political and social tensions in Bolivia would be resolved peacefully and justly for the sake of the well-being of its citizens.


Christmas dinner with volunteers and staff at El Alfarero.


Christmas Eve dinner with Todd and Graciela Spence who are visiting from Thousand Oaks, California. They are the ones who put me in touch with El Alfarero. I am living with Graciela’s mom and brother.


My Bolivian family on Christmas Eve. In Bolivia, Christmas celebrations start on Christmas Eve by eating a large meal late at night, taking to the streets at midnight on Christmas Day to set off fireworks and firecrackers (the entire city fills up with smoke), hugging family members and wishing them a Merry Christmas, and then opening gifts. The whole process ends around 2:00 a.m. on Christmas Day.


This week (the first week of January) the employees at El Alfarero and I have been focusing on the vision and mission of the organization in preparation for the new year. Fatima, one of the local directors of El Alfarero Santa Cruz, is up front. At the bottom of the board she wrote the phrase “No se admiten personas perfectas” – “Perfect people not admitted.” It’s the motto of El Alfarero as we strive to be a “come as you are” kind of ministry.