THE EARLY YEARS! - STUDYING THE LANGUAGE This is a photo of Michelle, Elijah and I in Cochabamba in 1993. We studied Spanish, linguistics and cross-cultural communication in the Language Insitute run by the Maryknoll Fathers. It's a Roman Catholic institute, open to anyone wishing to learn Spanish and the main native languages of Bolivia highlands, Quechua and Aymara. Michelle and I took turns to attend classes at the institute. If she went in the morning, I would look after Elijah; and vice versa.
This is a photo of my uncle Edwin's marriage to my aunt Emily. My uncle, a warrant officer, was a shipwright in the Royal Malaysian Navy. She was a nurse, a matron in the government hospital. They were very much in love.
Uncle Edwin passed away several years ago. They have 2 sons, Christopher and Michael; and a daughter, Angeline.
I am on my uncle Edwin's left. He helped me arrange my tie before we went to the church for the church service.
On aunty Emily's left is my sister Rebecca. My father and mother are behind the newly weds.
My uncle Edwin was my mother's younger brother. He and aunty Emily were married in Johore Bahru, Malaysia.
EPILOGUE - ADIOS! This series entitled "GOING TO BOLIVIA" comes to an end with this post.
I began writing in June 2007 and have only now in 2016 brought that part of my story to a close in the previous post, "Going to Bolivia 19".
Perhaps I should start on a new series of posts which relate my experiences from 1993 onwards? We shall see.
THE END AND A NEW BEGINNING
The post "GOING TO BOLIVIA 19" ended on our safe arrival in 1993 January in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It signaled the end of my ministry in Asia and beginning of a leap into the unknown in South America. It has taken me nearly 9 years to put together a series of events which covered a three year period from 1991 to 1993.
I am tempted to redo these posts with a fresh perspective, in the form of a book. Much has happened since 1993 which has given me a deeper understanding of our journey.
Michelle and I, in the beginning, weren't planning to serve in Bolivia for such a long period. We've been in Bolivia now for more than 20 years. During this period we've seen the Lord do some great stuff. He transformed families and individuals. Guiding the emergence of a fledgling national leadership to replace missionaries and seeing the church expand was a blessing.
On a personal level, it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that it's been easy for us in Bolivia. No. Our families have paid a price. For instance, we were not there for our parents when they needed us. The distance between Singapore and Bolivia made it impossible for us to hop on a plane and return to Singapore. The Lord has been faithful and good to our loved ones in the midst of our trials and disappointments.
TIME TO LEAVE?
There were moments when I wanted to leave Bolivia and return to Singapore.
In 2005, I sensed the time had perhaps come for us to return to Singapore. A local clergy whom I had worked with and trained was ready to take my place, as pastor of the church. It seemed right to return to Singapore, for good. Michelle and I were also planning to return for a 2 year period in Singapore in order to accompany our son, Elijah was due to return and do his National Service obligations. John Sutton, the then Secretary General of SAMS UK, visited us in Santa Cruz a few months before my departure. He spoke to me of the dire need for experienced missionaries to help guide the new pastors and the national leadership. He made a convincing case.
Michelle, my wife, however, is the person God uses to convince me to stay on in Bolivia. She has a heart for the Bolivian people and is convinced that we need to raise a mature national leadership before we leave. And so we decided to return to Bolivia after our son's 2-year stint in Spore.
May the Lord grant us the grace to humble ourselves and to seek His glory in all our decisions.
FLYING TO BOLIVIA! After the exploratory trip to Bolivia in 1991, we had to wait for a year and a half before all the details of the mission to serve in Bolivia were confirmed. Michelle and I began to prepare for the trip and made plans for the task of living in a foreign country. I had to get the relevant travel documents: innoculations against yellow fever as well as a good conduct certificate from the Singapore Police. The plan was for us to leave Singapore in November 1992, spend a month with my sister, Rebecca and her husband Jim in the US. We would then subsequently leave for Cochabamba, a city in the Bolivian valley, where Michelle and I were due to start language and inculturation classes from January 1993 for 6 months. PROBLEM WITH THE VISA
My application for a visa for the family was a test on my nerves and patience. I had already sent our visa applications to the Bolivian embassy in Japan in the beginning of 1992. We were told by the staff in Japan that it would take some time for the application to be processed. And so we waited. I felt uncomfortable after not receiving any news from the Bolivian embassy concerning my visa application. And so I rang the embassy in Japan. My discomfort was justified. They had lost the applications for our visas! There was no time to redo the applications and send them to Japan. Also I had lost confidence in the embassy staff. There was no guarantee that they would issue us a visa before our projected departure for the US and Bolivia. I immediately rang up the Rev Simon Thomas, the national director of the Bolivian Church and explained to him my predicament. He told me he would help us get a visa in Bolivia. We were a month away from our planned trip and we had no visas. I toyed with the idea of getting a visa on my arrival from the immigration authorities at the Bolivian airport. Bishop Moses Tay vetoed the idea because of the possibility of getting stranded. In the midst of this mini crisis. Simon faxed me a document which gave me permission to enter Bolivia. It did not look like a visa, but Bishop Moses was satisfied. BOLIVIA HERE WE COME! So we left Spore toward the end of November 1992 and embarked on a journey which would forever change our lives. We spent a month with my sister, and her husband in Fullerton, Southern California. The flight was insanely long and we needed a week to recover from the jet lag. I had a chance to do some readings on mission at Biola University and visited a few anglican churches. In the beginning of January 1993, we packed our bags in anticipation of our trip to Bolivia. At the LA airport we said goodbye to our generous hosts, Rebecca and Jim, and boarded the flight to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The plane landed safely in the afternoon of 5th January 1993. I remember the anxious look on my wife's face as she peered at the Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, through the window of the American Airline plane. Elijah was only 3 years old and he looked excited as the plane came to a stop. Compared to the airports in Changi and LA, the facilities at Viru Viru was rudimentary. We had no problems with immigration and picked up our bags from the belt. We were met at the airport by Rev Simon Thomas and his 5 year old daughter Megan. She gave us a big hug and welcomed us with a big smile. We were very tired but happy! It was great to finally meet up with Simon. He took us to his house where we stayed for 5 days.after which we flew to Cochabamba to do our language and inculturation studies. It was unbelievable! We had finally made it to Bolivia. It was a relatively long wait. The process to serve in Bolivia began in mid 1991 and here we were in January 1993.