Posts Tagged Colombia Assignment

Colombia #8 "We will meet again in the New System."

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Howdy,

Thanks so much for letting us share our Colombia experiences with you. I hope that these episodes of our assignment gives you a taste of the gigantic need that there is for volunteers. The need is not only here in Colombia or other foreign countries but also right where YOU are now. Many are working on Kingdom Hall building projects near by their homes, some are traveling to New York for a week or two to work on the expansion project there, there are Assembly Hall projects and all of Christ’s followers were asked by him to follow his example and share the Truth to all those we are around. Yes, the need for volunteers is larger than those that are currently available. Your efforts abroad or at home are appreciated not only by your family, friends and congregation but by our Father, Jehovah.

One of the hardest parts of going on an International assignment is that you make such close friends. At home we go to meetings and in service with our Brothers and visit and once and a while have them over to our homes to visit. Yet, here you eat breakfast and visit with them, work and visit with them, eat lunch and visit with them, work and visit with them, pick up dinner and visit with them, ride to the Kingdom Hall and visit with them, visit before and after the meetings with them. Then when you finally get some time at the end of the day, you have them over to your room for Jell-O or have picnics or play volleyball or have a barbeque. This goes on for weeks and months.

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Plus the fact that everyone on a project is similar in desires and goals. Needless to say that after a few months of becoming permanent friends with the locals or other Internationals, when they have to leave it is a very sad event.

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It really is a privilege to be able to meet some of the over six million Brothers and Sisters that we have all around the world. Most of them, Tamara and I will never see again until the New System but what a joyful thing it will be to see them again.

There are a few areas around the Bethel that are safe to visit and one of those places is about a 15 minute walk south of here. They call it the Rock Park. It is a area that is filled with giant volcanic rocks that are in strange shapes. Yesterday we took three newly arrived International couples to visit it. The guys rock climbed and the girls took pictures.

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In the center of the park is some 1700 year old Indian ruins that were really cool.

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Last week the rebels, (well when I say “the rebels” I mean anyone of the many dozens of political, social or criminal organizations here in Colombia) decided to attack the power infrastructure of Bogotá. They planted plastic explosives on most of the high power towers that feed this part of the country but only one or two blew up. Unfortunately, one that blew up was the one that fed power to Faca. So we the City had no power for about 10 hours and phone communication was also effected.

In fact the rebels were reported to be on the hill that overlooks Bethel. The placement of the Bethel between the Army and Police sure is comforting. The picture below shows the Bethel (red roofs), then the city in the background then the hill. This was the same hill that many of the International Brothers including me wanted to climb some time soon. The Branch said we couldn’t… I guess I understand why now.

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Our Sunday meeting had no power which wasn’t a real problem, except for the singing part. The Zambian Brothers in Africa were more accustomed to singing without music that those here in Colombia. Once they got going it sounded great but it took a bit to warm up. I should have recorded the singing but the Spanish part of this assignment really takes 100% of my brainpower.

One thing that always amazes me is when bethelites who usually work 6 days a week can make room in their busy schedules to Auxiliary Pioneer. There are many here that have arranged their time so as to spend 50 hours in field service this and next month. Some have even taken a few of their precious vacation days and used them for preaching work. There are hundreds of thousands that are Pioneering this month all around the world. Tamara and I wish we could be one of them but it is not possible at the moment. Are you Pioneering this month? If so feel free to share some of your experiences with us.

Send all your spelling corrections, experiences or just “howdys” to our email address. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Have an above average day.

Christopher and Tamara

Colombia Adventure part 9

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Colombia #7 "We don't want to leave Bethel yet."

Howdy Guys,

As you probably know, to enter most countries you need something called a visa. Our original visa for Colombia was about to expire so the Branch set up a trip for us to Bogotá, with a Brother from the legal department to apply for a new visa. The drive into the city took almost 90 minutes because of the traffic. I still can’t believe how large Bogotá is, I can only imagine how big a real mega-city like Mexico City is. On the way we passed by the American embassy and a few other embassies. I got to thinking about it and Tamara and I are living at the Heavenly embassy!

At the Immigration office they finger printed each of our hands, each finger and then computer scanned our hands…just in case I guess. They asked for information about where we lived, what we did for work, the legal names of our parents. The Brother that took us into Bogotá said that they do a full back-ground check on most everyone that applies for visa extension. With ink stained hands we left the government office with only a 30 day visa. That means that we will have to return at least a few more times before we finally leave Colombia.

After two months of living, sleeping and eating within the Bethel walls, it was time for us to spend a night or so outside. Our friends, Graciala and Uli, went with us by local bus into Bogotá to spend two nights at the Bogotá Bethel. The offices were moved from Bogotá to Facatativa in 1991, when they out grew it. Now there are just 10 or so Brothers that work there, mostly in the legal department. The old Bethel is situated in the heart of Bogotá. It seems shoe horned into the nice quiet residential area. The red brick and mirror finished windows were cleaned as no other building in Bogotá could have been.

The building project in Faca is growing so large that they will soon have to put 30 internationals into the Bogotá bethel for housing reasons. This means that they will have to commute back and forth each day.

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During the weekend we were able to go to the top of the mountain that overlooks the City. We rode up on a 45 degree trainish thing that climb right up the side of the mountain. I think the altitude was over 10,000 feet up there.

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We also went to a few museums and looked around at local artisan shops. It is funny but in a country that grows so much coffee, I am having a hard time finding some to buy for family back home. While we were walking to another area of the city, a platoon of soldiers surrounded an area and started searching everyone in the area. Some carried M-16’s and one carried a heavy machine gun like out of a movie. They completely ignored us, so I snapped a few quick pictures. I kinda wonder about civil rights in Colombia sometimes.

A few friends have written us asking if all the soldiers make us nervous, to be honest they make me feel safer. Still strange to see so many guns on the streets though.

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One thing that I don’t like about Bogotá is all the pickpockets. After over twenty countries, I finally lost my streak of “no successful pickpocket” attacks. A middle aged woman spit on the back of my neck, when I turned around to ask her why in the world she just did that, someone else opened my back pack and took something out of the outside pocket. Of course, I would never put something valuable in such an easily accessible spot…but I will miss my 10 Peppermint Altoids. It was my fault for having the pack on my back and it was a cheap lesson for me to be more careful.

Tamara has been continuing her hobby of making Sock-Monkeys (www.SockMonkeyFun.com) during our time here in Colombia. One problem is that she has infected a few of the Sisters here with the Sock-Monkey-Madness. Our great friends, Uli and Garcia, from the Zambia project are also assigned here for a few years. Graciela is one of the poor souls that has picked up the sickness and in talking to Uli, I was shocked how far it had progressed. One of his shirts is missing two buttons, they now resided as eyes on her latest creation. Privately he told me that he caught her looking at a pair of his boxer underwear, she wanted to make some pants for one of the monkeys.

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The rains from a last week caused a few lousy days work here but they also caused some floods in a few parts of Colombia. The worst area hit, caused some severe floods that cost 12 Brothers their homes and one Kingdom Hall was damaged. Even before the rains had stopped that affected Brothers and Sisters were taken in by those from Congregations around the area. Work crews from all over Colombia have already cleaned and repaired the Kingdom Halls affected and started on building new homes for those that lost theirs. It was fortunate that no Brothers were hurt and the situation provided an opportunity for many people to see the love that Jehovah Witnesses have for each other. I wish we could go out and see more of the country but the Bethel will not let us go anywhere but a few locations because of the abduction danger.

Last night I was assigned to say Prayer at the Meeting. I practiced for two weeks to say it in Spanish and it seemed to go well. I started to freeze up half way through but made it. Everyone said that they could understand it, yet they are very polite here.

A few weeks ago Tamara and I decided that we really liked this form of full-time service and so asked the Branch committee to extend our assignment a few months. After a few days the answer came back “No. Because there is not enough room at the Bethel.” This really disappointed us but after talking it over and praying about it, I returned to the office and let them know that we REALLY REALLY wanted to stay and work some more. I gave some options of Tamara and I staying in the local town and commuting, staying with a nice local family and some other options. They said that they would consider our application for extension again. The answer came back today, “Thanks for your making yourself available. We would like to extend your assignment to five months.” Needless to say, Tamara and I were very happy. It was kinda weird to push the issue like I did, yet we all wrestle an angel at times for a blessing.

This means that our assignment will not be over till May 15th or so.

I will end this letter with a quick look at all the International Sisters that have come with their Husbands to Colombia to help in the work. It requires allot of sacrifice on their parts and most all do so with the greatest of zeal and joy. During a recent pot-luck we took a picture of our hard-working International Sisters of Colombia.

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I hope you enjoy our newsletter. Feel free to pass it on to those that are interested in the spiritual developments of our Brother and Sisters in Colombia.

Tamara and Christopher

Colombia Adventure part 8

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Colombia #6 "Does your family look like you?"

Howdy,

The work here at the Colombia Bethel is advancing quickly. Every week there are 4-6 more international Brothers and Sisters that arrive to help in the building. The Project is expected to be done in 16 months or so. The only problems is that they need more help and the lack of available labor might hold up the project a bit.

The Overseer of Latin America Regional Engineering Committee (REO) recently came to visit the project for a week. He is based out of the Mexico Branch where the Design and Architect offices are. During a construction family meeting, he expressed to us the great need the Brothers have for those that can travel to other countries to help in the construction and expansion of Bethels. The reason there is such a need is the amazing growth of those desiring to learn the Bible. The only problem is that most of the recent growth is in the same countries where the local Brothers can’t afford to leave their homes to work long term on the Bethels. This luxury is usually only found in richest countries of the world. Having said that, I am amazed at the desire of the local Brothers to help with the expansion of the Colombia Bethel. On Saturday and Sunday there are usually hundreds that come to help. The effort these Brothers and Sisters expend on their days off of work is heart-warming to say the least.

Another reason there is such a need for International Volunteers is that in many of these poorer lands the local Brothers just don’t have experience or skills in many of the building skills needed. If you have ever seen me stucco you will agree that I am not that skilled yet being able to share the few skills I do have, really makes an impact on the local Brothers I am assigned to work with.

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If anyone tells you that the need for International Volunteers is anything less then extreme, they are mis-informed. The REO Overseer said that just in his area (Latin America) there is a huge need for spiritually qualified Brothers and their Wives. Besides this project there is/will be needs in Dominican Republic, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. This is just in this part of the world, he was aware of many other projects in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. He said that the Brothers are not sure where all the needed help will come from but they are confident that Jehovah will provide whatever is needed so that the good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth. ( Matt 24:14 ) If you interested in joining this form of full-time sacred service the only requirement is that Brothers be spiritually qualified and fill out a 4 page form that is turned into your Congregation’s Elders. Some of those that come to help are in their late 50’s and others are in their early 20’s. Some have money but others work for a year or more just for enough money to come and help for 4-8 weeks. I met one couple that have been able to come and help on a project once a year for the past 18 years. They would like to do more but that is all that they can afford.

The field Ministry in this city is similar to most parts of America, where most don’t have time or desire to read the Bible. (Also, the territory is covered every week and a half.) Yet, there are always those that become aware of their spiritual need and reach out for assistance.

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Tamara was able to start a study with a young girl whose Father is studying the Bible. They are studying in the “What does God require from you?” Brochure. The young girl speaks some English and Tamara is doing really well in her Spanish studies.

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This weekend Tamara and I walked into town to visit some 1700 year old Indian ruins. On the way, you have to pass not only a Police checkpoint but also pass a Army checkpoint. The local Brothers have a very difficult time preaching to the Army guys, because with so many different rebel forces, Para-military forces and drug cartels trying to kill the Army guys,they become quite hardened. So using my dumb American smile and weak Spanish, I was able to start up a short conversation with one of them and place a tract. It was kind weird preaching to someone that had a gun. He let me take a picture of him. As I took this picture someone in the Army compound was shooting a 50 Cal. machine gun.

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Last week we were talking to a new couple that recently arrived from Canada to help in the construction project. During our visit with them they asked if we heard of the experience of a JW couple that got stuck in Georgia for two weeks on their way to a International Project? This couple was briefly in the New York Bethel and the experience was making the rounds. I didn’t know how to respond but to say “Wow, two weeks, that’s hard to imagine!”

Well, I need to study a bit and get ready for another week of work. I thought I would leave you with a cute picture I took today at meeting. I was visiting with some of the children in my congregation. They wanted to say “Hola” to my Friends and Family, so I took picture for them to send to you.

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Christopher and Tamara

Colombia Adventure part 7

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Colombia #5 "The streets of Bogotá."

Howdy,

The grounds at the Colombian Bethel are amazingly beautiful. There are walking paths, a few ponds, some picnic areas, soccer fields and all sorts stuff like that. Yet, after almost a month of working, eating and sleeping within the compound, we are ready to get out and see the country side. Unfortunately, the Colombia government only controls 10% of the country. Rebel factions, para-military groups and of course drug cartels control most of the area. The particular area we are in is safe and there is a corridor from here to Bogotá that is controlled by the Government. With that in mind we decided to try to visit Bogotá.

I have made friends with a local named Eduar who is around my age and he said he would take us to Bogotá. It was a kind offer because it would take many hours and numerous bus rides just to get there. There is a Bethel bus that took us into the city of Faca, which takes about 10 minutes. After a quick walk we caught a colorful local bus headed into the capital of Colombia, the city of Bogotá. During the 65 minute ride we talked about his life in Colombia and how he came in the Truth. Before he became a Jehovah’s Witness he was in the Colombian Army, stationed in the “Jungles”. His job was to hunt “forest meat”, which consisted of Anaconda, Piranha, Tapirs, anteaters, sloths and armadillos, all of which he said tasted great.

The next bus took another hour and finally we were in the middle of one of the oldest cities in the Americas. The buildings are a mix of modern glass towers awaiting the next earthquake and two story brick buildings that seem excreted on each side of the large clogged roads. The smell of diesel fumes with a hint of strong scented flowers is at times overwhelming. Bogotá is nothing like I expected. There are large paths of green parks that swipe through the city, obviously part of the original city plan. Mammoth trees hundred of years old stretch out in the courtyards of Churches that look like they have always been. In some ways, the city is more of a museum than a third world city.
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In 1502, on his last voyage to the Americas, the explorer (mass-murder) Christopher Columbus made contact with the Chibcha speaking people on the north coast of Colombia. Within no time, the conquistadors were raiding Indian villages in their search for gold and slaves. Even though their numbers were few, their guns, attack dogs and horses were enough to allow them to drive into the heart of Colombia, establishing the city of Santa Fe de Bogotá in 1538. From there, they expanded their control over the area in their search for the mystical legend of El Dorado. Parts of Bogotá are sit unchanged from all those hundreds of years ago.

We left the bus and started to walk through the heart of the city. Passing open air markets and rows of vendors selling everything from FM radios, hand made fabrics to strange fruits that tasted like nothing Tamara and I have ever tasted before.

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The streets started to become more and more packed with people and my eye caught sight of something that raised alarm bells in my already paranoid head. This will be kinda hard to explain but it is something that I learned during our travels. As far as personal safety is concerned, there are only a few types of people in a third world city. One type is what I call “sheep”; these are the people that are trying to get to the store, catch a taxi or get to work, they walk through crowds only looking one-two people deep. Their vision is wide yet it doesn’t penetrate the mass of people in their quest to not bump into others and avoid holes in the side walk. Another type of pedestrian is called the “coyote”. These people’s eyes move slowly and look deep into the crowd, searching for something. (I am sure we have all seen them as we walk in a park or even in stores.) My usual method in dealing with them is to blend in as much as possible, carry or wear nothing that could be mistaken as a easy target and most importantly… keep moving.

As we walked pass a particularly crowed street corner, the corner of my eye caught sight of a older teenage girl that was intently focused on us. What caused my stomach to knot up was the hand signal that she gave to someone ahead of us, that I had not seen. Tamara stopped to look at some tennis shoes in a store window and with that I saw another female “coyote” move around to our side about 10 feel away. The mass of people around us felt as thin as paper as I realized that we were outnumbered and were about to have a well rehearsed trap sprung on us. Quickly I lead Tamara and Eduar into the store. As Tamara looked at shoes, I stood by the window and stared at two of the girls I could identify, I knew there had to be more. At first they milled around and finally tried to escape my attention by leaving my line of sight. I waited two minutes and the original girl came back into view, she threw me a sharp hand gesture, that I assume was rude, and left. I told Eduar what had happened and we decided that it was safe to leave. Eduar and I took flanking positions next to Tamara and we left the store to be surrounded by the unconcerned nonthreatening crowds of “sheep”.

We left the congested market area and moved into another relatively safe area called the “old city”. The buildings here were build by the real conquistadors of old using massive rocks, European artisans and armies of slaves. The architecture was so amazing we walked around for hours on the steep small roads. Bogotá is situated in a large valley but the old city crawls up the side of a large mountain. Except for the constant company of soldiers with shiny automatic rifles, we at times felt like we were in an old European city.

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Before long it was starting to get dark and so we headed back to the area where we could catch a bus back out of the city. As we walked we came upon a laughing group of people crowded around ten upside down buckets and three small guinea pigs that sat awaiting something to happen. The crowd put coins on a particular bucket and a denim clad man walked up to the paralyzed furry animals and snapped his fingers. The tiny fur-balls ran at the crowd and as each animal found a home in a bucket, people would cheer and laugh. After the coins were passed out to those that bet on the right bucket, the denim man would put the guinea pigs back in their starting position and start the hustle again. I never thought you could train guinea pigs like that.

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On our trek back to the bus route, Eduar warned us that we were passing a area where emeralds were sold. The streets had numerous older men with a fist filled with white paper. Eduar stopped to look at the wares one such man had in his hand. The each white paper hid 50-60 emeralds, some tiny, others as large as marbles. They talked briefly, then Eduar excused us, he was just wondering whether emerald prices had gone up or down.

The long bus ride gave us time to talk about family, share experiences and learn Spanish or English words. We were back at the Bethel grounds by 10 PM, happy to have made it back unscathed from the streets of Bogotá.

Well, I need to get to bed because we have Sunday meeting tomorrow and we hope to go out in service afterward. Not that I know enough Spanish to have a conversation but the least we can do is go with our local Brothers and Sisters and support them as they share the good news of Jehovah’s Kingdom.

Have a great week!

Christopher and Tamara

Colombia Adventure part 6

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Colombia #4 "The Army and Police fight tonight."

Howdy,

So, after a week or so, we are getting settled into our assignment. The schedule is a bit busier than we are used to but I have to admit we get much more done. Breakfast is at 7 AM and we start work at 8 AM. Breakfast (Desa-uno in Spanish) is with the entire Bethel Family of 350 or so Brothers and Sisters. We all dress nice and listen to a 20 minute spiritual meal to get the day off to the right start.

Work for me consists of construction and Tamara has been assigned as a house-keeper. She has half of the fourth floor on the North side. What that means is that she cleans, and I mean CLEANS, 8 rooms. Every Bethel is focused on being clean, but this one is especially interested in cleanliness. She will probably write more about her assignment later. We remain quite busy till quitting time at 5 PM. Even though we don’t get to work together, we get to eat lunch together and visit a bit after. The construction crew has a separate lunch and dinner area. It’s nice arrangement as at other projects you have to clean up and change cloths to eat lunch with the Bethel Family. Here is a picture of us at lunch.

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My assignment is in the construction field. I originally came to do plastering but there is a larger need for concrete forming and steel stud framing. Since I have never really done much of either of these, I am in a steep learning curve. Steel stud framing is just like framing a house but instead of wood you use steel 2 X 4’s. At the moment we are building temporary housing for Brothers that are coming in to help with the construction project. There will be a big push at the end of January and there are not enough rooms to house all those coming to help. Here is a few pictures. This is the temporary housing we are building.

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Here is another picture of the factory that we will be working on after this housing project is over. This will allow for the enlargement of the printing facilities. This Branch prints quite a bit for this country and a few of the other countries in South America.

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Our framing crew is small with only 6 people, some from Canada or Colombia. One of the best parts of working at a quick-build of Kingdom Halls or working at a Bethel is that you get to share and hear the faith strengthen stories of the lives of those you work with. This assignment is no exception. It is probably my favorite part of being here.

Of course, we as all Jehovah’s Witnesses go to 3 meetings a week in our local congregation, where ever that is. The only difference here is that it is in Spanish. Tamara is picking up the language fairly quickly but for me, it is a bit harder. Most of the time I am lost but there are a few golden moments where I can keep up. We try to answer as best as we can, usually I just answer in English. Most of the Brothers and Sisters don’t speak much more English than I speak Spanish, yet we are warmly taken care of.

The Brothers here are very warm and have all the needed things of life. In fact we went into town over the week end and were surprised at how similar Colombia is like Home. Things are of course different but not really that much. Here is a picture of us during our shopping trip, we were trying to track down a measuring cup and some shoes for Tamara.

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One thing that the Colombians take seriously is Holidays. Witnesses don’t celebrate New Years Day, but the Army training grounds (next to the Bethel) and the Police training grounds (on the other side) sure do! In fact, they try to out do each other every year with louder and bigger fireworks. I will just let your imagination run wild at the explosives the Army and Police have access to make fireworks. I am not sure who won but there seemed to be many contenders around the city. The locals call it the war between the Army and Police.

One last thing before we sign off, I wanted to show you some of the interesting foods we have get here in South America. Two of the fruits are Passion Fruit and Curuba. They were both very good, except for the Passion fruit. Although looking just like a orange, the hard shell is cracked open and with a spoon you eat what looks like monkey brains (from Indiana Jones Movies). If you can get past the texture it tastes great.

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Have an above average day!

Christopher and Tamara

Colombia Adventure part 5

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