gladness and sadness in cochabamba

This was my third visit to Cochabamba, in Bolivia.

On this occasion we gathered for the annual meeting of our Global Leadership Team (GLT). We like to rotate around the ‘home-places’ of our team members, giving each one the opportunity to offer hospitality. We had planned to go in March 2020, but first visa troubles and then a troublesome virus, put an end to those plans. It has taken us four years—and with two weeks to go, three of our number were still without visas—but by God’s grace we did make it to Cochabamba, finally.

It has been the joy of a hope realised…

Gladness

Mountains are often identified with strength and security, even more so when a city is encircled by them, as is the case with Cochabamba. It is almost as if every time the head is raised, the gaze is drawn to the mountains. Wonderful.

This prompted us to start and finish the week together with Psalm 125.2—which Maggy, our newest member from Cairo, captured in her Facebook feed:

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and for evermore.

As the mountains surround Cochabamba, so the Lord surrounds our GLT from the first day of the week until the last day.

Within this ring of mountains, there is a hill, San Pedro Hill. Sitting atop this hill is a statue of Jesus—El Cristo de la Concordia, the Christ of Peace. It stands 33m high, larger than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio (information which the locals are only too happy to offer!)—with one metre for every year of Jesus’ life. It is spectacular, with arms outstretched to the north and to the south.

Mark’s photo of El Christo, taken from Igor’s home
Our four continental directors—Mark, Dwi, Igor, Femi—looking a bit like Mt Rushmore, but thankfully under Christ’s gracious arms.

On that first day, shaking off the impact of our long flights with a walk through both the markets (so like India) and the central city square (so unlike India) was such fun.

2 Chronicles 7.14 stuck to a tree caught the eye—”If my people, who are called by my name…”

I know fans of football like to go on about it. There is this bond which forms immediately among lovers of the sport, no matter how different they may be from each other. “Well, football fans—you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!” How much more is this true with the people of God! It is the stand-out gladness of these years for me. I can be so different—family, ethnicity, language, nation etc—and yet there is this deep, joy-filled bond that forms instantaneously with others who belong to Jesus.

Dwi came from Indonesia to Cochabamba, from the largest Muslim country in the world to a city in which there is not a single mosque. In reflecting on her experience, she wrote these words in our weekly prayer bulletin, “Even though I live far away, through Langham Preaching I feel like I have a family in Bolivia.  I am blessed.”

Why? How? It is because of El Christo.

As you come to him, the Living Stone … you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house … (1 Peter 2.4, 5)

— both locally and globally.

It is so true, so real—and ever so precious.

One of the experiences on Dwi’s mind was when we gathered in a church with all the members of Langham Preaching’s escuelitas (the little preaching groups in which preachers are formed) in the city. There must have been 60-70 people in the room. Each of us was assigned to a different table together with an interpreter. At one point we went around the table listening, one by one, to the stories of transformation and impact going on in peoples’ lives.

One final gladness was the joy of being together again in-person as a team, addressing the big issues in the work to which God has called us. Yes, we can and do achieve a lot on Zoom, but there’s nothing quite like being together…

Standing: Jennifer (Canada), Esteban (Bolivia), Ruth (UK), Dwi (Indonesia), Paul (NZ) and Maggy (Egypt).
Seated: Dionisio (Colombia), Mark (UK), Femi (Ghana) and Igor (Bolivia).

Sadness

Meanwhile, back home in New Zealand, life was engulfed in sadness.

While not a part of the inner circle of family and friends offering care and support, Barby and I have been holding in our hearts and prayers, for some years now, three families in which the mum has been battling terminal illness. Each mum is our age, even younger—while each family comes from a different season in our life serving the church in New Zealand.

In the 1980s, Yvonne’s family was the first family to come—and then remain!—in the little church I was pastoring in Invercargill. I remember Yvonne as gentle and strong. In the 1990s, Liz’s family came to Laidlaw College during the time I was on the teaching staff. I remember Liz as effervescent and attentive. In the 2000s, Fiona’s family came to Carey Baptist College in the time I was the principal. I remember Fiona as bright and beautiful.

Reading a story to Fiona’s little ones, Reuben and Emma, many years ago.

After all these years of suffering, and then in the space of just a few days, each one’s struggle came to an end. Yvonne and Liz and Fiona each went to be with Jesus, leaving their families to grieve their loss—and yet to do so as ones with a living hope. Because, as Fiona had tatooed on her arm, “this is not the end of my story.”

Incredibly, the three memorial services each occurred in the space of 11 days and during the 16 days I was out of the country, which created its own sadness for me, as I’d love to have been there in-person.

But I was in Cochabamba…

And just as those mountains surround Cochabamba, my prayer is that the Lord surrounds Martin and Paul and Mike, together with their families, ‘both now and for evermore’. Just as the outstretched arms of El Christo hover over the city of Cochabamba, my prayer is that those arms will be like wings under which Martin and Paul and Mike, together with their families, are hidden—and be granted His peace. Just as the bond with the people of God—across families and languages and ethnicities and nations—is so deep and strong, my prayer is that Martin and Paul and Mike, together with their families, will be supported by these precious ‘ties that bind’.

nice chatting

Paul

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About Me

paul06.16

the art of unpacking

After a childhood in India, a theological training in the USA and a pastoral ministry in Southland (New Zealand), I spent twenty years in theological education in New Zealand — first at Laidlaw College and then at Carey Baptist College, where I served as principal. In 2009 I began working with Langham Partnership and since 2013 I have been the Programme Director (Langham Preaching). Through it all I've cherished the experience of the 'gracious hand of God upon me' and I've relished the opportunity to 'unpack', or exegete, all that I encounter in my walk through life with Jesus.

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2 Comments

  1. Heather on April 23, 2024 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for this. I loved hearing about your time in Bolivia – and especially hearing the impact those pastor clusters are having 🙂 And so sorry for your losses – especially that you were unable to be at the funerals. Much love to you and Barby.

    • Paul Windsor on May 1, 2024 at 9:52 am

      Thanks, Heather. Glad you enjoyed reading it. A special time.

      Hope you and Martin are doing well and being wise with energy and well-being.

      I continue to enjoy your email updates and reading of the good work you are doing.

      Paul

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