Quite often we only point out cracks from far away because they are too glaring when we look in the mirror.
Saludos desde el Valle Alto, (Greetings from the High Valley). Katie, Jubilee and I are doing well. Today is the third of March. It is our last day of Spanish language school at Maryknoll Language Institute. We have learned so much about Bolivia and the Catholic Church during our time at Maryknoll. We feel blessed and well on our way to developing a knowledgeable and culturally sensitive approach to the communication of the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The people of Cochabamba and Bolivia have a very rich heritage and have very deep roots in their faith. In some ways this makes our task much easier and in some ways it is made much harder. Most of the people already have an understanding of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit thanks to the influence of the Catholic Church. We have so far not met any atheists, and almost all Bolivians seem to recognize and desire to honor the Creator of the Universe. Prayer is important to many Bolivians as well as contact with the spiritual world. What a marvelous legacy to build upon.
The challenge as we have already experienced during Carnaval is the intermingling of two vastly different faiths. While almost all believe in the Trinity, many Bolivians also continue to varying degrees to pay homage to Pachamama, (mother earth) and to Tio Supay (uncle Supay) who is a malevolent spirit believed to inhabit the mines and also believed to protect the miners. Pachamama and Tio Supay are two among many. Among the Aymara and Quechua there are many different spirits and deities believed to exist. The Aymara and Quechua have many similar beliefs as they are indigenous people groups of the mountains, valleys, and the Altiplano. In the lowlands of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando there are also many other indigenous groups with their own set of beliefs. Two of the largest groups in the lowlands are the Chiquitanos of Santa Cruz and the Guarani of the Chaco region along the border of Paraguay.
Among the highland people, including most of the people of Cochabamba, a ch’alla is given to Pachamama in hopes that she will bless the home, a new car, the family, etc. The ch’alla is very common on the Tuesday of Carnaval but is also observed other times to bless new possessions. During Carnaval the most common form of ch’alla is sweet little white candies thrown all around the home. Ch’alla can also be in the form of other objects. During Carnaval we also witnessed the k’oa. A k’oa is a burnt offering given to Pachamama in hopes for her blessing as well. K’oas are very common. Once a month on Friday many businesses and homes have a k’oa to rid the business or home of bad spirits and to bring the business or home good fortune.
While many Cochabambinos still place a great importance on ch’alla and k’oa many do these things mainly because of family tradition. Still others we have talked to do not believe that they can rightfully mix the customs of ch’allas and k’oas with Catholocism or whatever other faith they may practice.
We do not wish to be missionaries of North American culture, nor do we wish to be elements of destruction of a beautiful and unique culture. At the same time we recognize that God calls all of His children to be lights unto a dark world, to maintain the integrity of His word, and to worship Him and Him alone. Just as we are aliens in the USA we are also aliens here in Bolivia. Sometimes our ways and thoughts will be radically different from that of our host culture. We pray and ask you to pray also that the ways in which we are different will be received as a fragrant and refreshing approach to life as opposed to a destructive or judgmental response to the result of centuries of accepted syncretism between Catholicism and indigenous religion. It is because we believe that the word of God is so pure, so complete, and so liberating that we wish it to never be confused with something of a different nature. Our love for Bolivians is also such that we believe they as all people on Earth deserve the opportunity to hear the Gospel in its purest form and that they have the freedom to respond to that Good News as they choose.
The culture of the church established by Christ is not only radically different from that of Bolivia. The culture of the Church is radically different from any other culture in the world, because it is the only culture that exists in this world that is not of this world. Christ had something better in mind than a fearful life of appeasing evil spirits and He also had something better in mind than a mindless rat race to accumulate prestige and money. The message and life of Christ when presented and applied with intellectual honesty will always come into conflict with worldly cultures because it is a divine culture that is not derived from mere men. As we learn about Bolivian culture and call into question some of the practices we see, we also must humbly reflect upon our own culture of North America and call into question many of our own beliefs and practices. Here in Bolivia it is easier for us to see examples of Christian teaching mixed with religions not of God, but to be fair we also must consider how our faith is practiced in the United States and accept that we too sometimes mix Christian teaching with hand-me-downs of other faiths or social trends. On of our greatest challenges as a mission team is one shared by all Christians; that challenge being to find that dividing line between what are Biblical teachings of a Spirit-filled life in Christ and what are man made customs. We invite you our esteemed reading audience to earnestly pray for enlightenment so that we as a church throughout the whole world may come into a better understanding of what is the Christian culture as opposed to worldly cultures passed down through the generations.
La Familia Forbess