[This article was originally shared as a letter from 2019 SIM LAUNCH intern Ariana Bertolini, written to her financial and prayer supporters. Ariana graciously allowed SIM to share it here as encouragement and exhortation to those exploring missions, whether it be short, mid- or long term.]
My last few weeks in Bolivia were altogether hard and sweet. The engineering work continued as we had another hand pump workshop in Vacas with the community. Anna and I each taught portions of the workshop and helped wherever needed. We got the opportunity to install the widow’s pump that we had built which was truly special. The community also kindly thanked us with kind words and gifts. One of the things they gave us was a handwoven and hand-dyed slingshot; and let me tell you, when the widow slung a stone in that slingshot, she broke the sound barrier. I’d be terrified if I were a sheep in her herd.
Our last week in Bolivia was spent tying up loose ends of our engineering projects, like making videos and captioning them, writing appendices for the fabrication and installation manuals, and revising and finalizing this version of the manual. We said our final goodbyes and the three interns hopped on a night flight, Sunday, August 4 and arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday morning.
Throughout the rest of Monday, the rest of the interns (except those that could not make it to debrief due to other conflicts) arrived from all over the world, and the reunions were sweet. We spent the rest of the week together talking through our experiences and sharing what we had learned with one another.
This summer was hard, and I feel a strong responsibility to share my experiences with you all. I would love to tell you that I had a joyful, life changing, incredible summer; I’d love to tell you I feel called back to Bolivia, I’d love to tell you that I had a wonderful experience, I’d love to tell you that I felt the Spirit moving, I’d love to tell you that the fire in my heart was reignited – I’d love to tell you all of this and more, but I can’t.
I don’t find myself being lonely very often, but there was a lot of loneliness this summer – primarily in my relationship with God. He felt distant and I felt isolated. I woke up daily pursuing Him in the Word – some days very intentionally and prayerfully, and some days out of habit or guilt. I learned what it really felt like to trust God, when it felt like I was talking to a wall.
After talking through the experience during debrief, I realized that this is what I am most grateful for. I saw missions work through rose-colored glasses, I saw missionaries as the top of the top, but now I see that they are ordinary people who simply listened and obeyed. I saw missions as a spiritual high kind of experience. Nothing against the mission experiences that I had before this summer, they shaped me a lot and taught me so much, but every one of them was a mountain top experience, full of doing good things and feeling great and seeing God abundantly show up in our daily activities because they were so tangible and all the while being surrounded by a team of people.
This summer was exciting at times, but primarily the days were filled with the boring and mundane, and I saw little fruit. I often felt like more of a burden than a help, and there were many days where I did nothing and had no ability to leave my situation. I saw a raw side of missions that I had never seen before – I saw the messiness and the mundane and the boring. There was no mountaintop or spiritual high, but a series of day by day meetings in the early morning with the Lord, sometimes fully committed and sometimes half asleep, but altogether showing up. I think at the beginning of my time, I chose to show up in the mornings because it felt like the right thing to do while in a cross-cultural context, I felt like I needed to be a “good Christian” – and that meant reading my Bible and journaling. But as the days and weeks ticked by, it became instinctual, habitual, and necessary. It transformed from an obligatory time to a treasured time. If I missed it, I missed out.
This whole experience was not a mountaintop, but the Lord built a foundation in me that had not been there before. I desired – desire – to meet with Him and learn from Him. He gave me the gift of a foundation to build on, somewhere to go, a path to grow closer to Him, instead of an experience that gave me a fire that could be extinguished or a yearning that could dwindle or a mountain to descend – He gave me a foundation to build on, and for that I am grateful.
Coming back, it was not so difficult to leave Bolivia – of course I made friends there and cherish the people very deeply, but I was ready to leave the experience behind. However, it was much more difficult for me to leave North Carolina. The friends I made and the people there were a light and steadiness in the craziness of the summer. I did not want to leave at the end of our time in Charlotte because I knew what was looming on the other side when I landed – my last full semester of school, a really long internship report, a Spanish CLEP (and let me tell you, I did not learn as much Spanish as I had hoped), a job that had changed a lot, a new house, new roommates, and no bed.
I was not ready, and as I said my final airport goodbyes and hopped on my plane, I couldn’t help but think about what I would do if the Lord called me abroad right now. What if this plane changed directions and I was headed somewhere completely new and maybe this experience would happen all over again in a new, unknown place? And I thought I was ready for that. I wanted to go right then and there. But as I peered out the small, oval window in a plane travelling at 30,000 feet into the vastness of the most densely populated county in the United States, the darkness of the night parted to the light of the 10 million inhabitants of LA County, and I felt the Lord nudging me, “This is your mission field right now – you’re right where I want you.”
I am grateful for this experience – though it was hard, the Lord taught me a lot. I am grateful for His promise of showing up, even when it doesn’t feel like He is. I am grateful for the foundation He gave me. I am grateful for the relationships that I was gifted, both in the States and in Bolivia. I am grateful for what I learned in Bolivia from those with whom He surrounded me. I am grateful for the Lord’s provision and guidance. I am grateful for Bolivia and the time I spent there. I am grateful for a Good God who opens doors. I am grateful for this opportunity and for where He has me now. I am grateful.
As I enter into this next season, I would love to ask for your continued prayers:
• For the communities of Vacas and the leaders of the communities, that they may be mobilized and would encounter the Lord as their life source.
• For Gonzalo and Maria de Carmen, our partners in Cochabamba who are diligently serving the Lord in the communities of Vacas, that they may have resilience and endurance to continue this good work.
• For the other interns, some still abroad and some at home – that they would continue to learn from the experiences that they have had and that the Lord would continue to guide them and provide for them.
• For my continued processing and transitioning, as I take what I learned and integrate it into what I already know.
• For the Lord to become more and more real to me as I build on the foundation that He gave me this summer.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Many blessings and thanks,