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March 31, 2009
Returning to You!
By the time you receive this we will be driving back to Santa Cruz where we will fly back to Miami on Thursday. I want to THANK YOU so much, from the bottom of my heart, for partnering with me and sending me here to Cochabamba. God moved in an incredible way and countless lives were changed and entire churches were encouraged and revived.
Look at these girls. Arenít they beautiful? Can you believe that each of them have already lived a life of homelessness, gangs, prostitution and drugs? Yes, itís true. These teenagers have all been abused in one way or another and were abandoned by their parents. Many began their life on the streets at the age of 10 or earlier.
Hereís the good news. These particular girls have all been through several levels of rehabilitation and are now living at a special home called ďAlbergue de RestauracionĒ Restoration Shelter, a ministry that serves as the final step in their reinsertion into society.
There were 11 girls living there on the day of my visit. We all sat together in the living room and I shared my story in an informal and intimate way. They loved it! Guess what? At the end, 8 of these girls opened their hearts to Jesus!!! The director of the home and another leader were in tears. They had been working with these girls for so long. They were so thrilled.
Let me tell you about a special church I visited on Sunday night called ďUCE Esteban Arce.Ē From the moment they heard that I was coming to Cochabamba and specifically to their Church, the leaders became so excited. This is a small church in a very bad neighborhood and normally on a Sunday night they have about 20 people there. But the worship ministry got together and promoted my visit to the point that they had to have the service outside. When I got to the platform, I could not believe my eyes as I saw a sea of people before me, all the way to the street! Yes, even the sidewalk was filled with people! There had to be 400-500 people. As I spoke nobody moved an inch. They were all listening intently, laughing and crying. At the end we were able to count about 51 people making decisions to Christ but we are unclear of the exact total because so many were standing in the street.
Afterwards, the Pastor thanked me with tears for coming and told me that other speakers never come here. He said that he truly felt abandoned by other speakers and evangelist but tonight he felt that God had blessed them in a special way by sending me.
There are countless more stories to share of how God was working during my time here in Cochabamba but my fingers would fall off if I try to type it all. I had opportunities to not only speak at churches but at many places where the Gospel is not usually heard like at the jails, rehabilitations centers, the chamber of commerce, TV, Radio and a private university. Let me just tell you that in 8 days I spoke 27 times and (from what we can count) 618 people gave their Lives to Christ!! The harvest was ripe here in Cochabamba and people are searching for answers. There is much more work to be done here. In fact I had to turn away at least 12 invitations to speak.
As I begin my journey back to Miami, I ask you to commit with me in praying for this 618 lives that were changed this week. Thankfully each one will be contacted and given an opportunity to begin learning more about Jesus. Pray especially for the 167 university students that made decisions. As you know, universities are filled with temptations.
Again I want to thank you for sending us here. Be assured that God really used us in a mighty way. It is with great sadness that I leave this city because I know that there is more to be done and that God can specially use me in a unique way to reach even more people here in Cochabamba.
Returning to you,
Posted by Bernadette at 09:43 PM
March 30, 2009
Not Coming Home Yet!
Just a quick note for those of you following me with your prayer guides. We are not traveling today. We will be here in Cochabamba until Wednesday and fly back to Miami on Thursday. I am doing great physically but my doctor advised me before we left Miami that I should take a few days to rest before making the 10 hour drive and 7 hour flight home. After speaking 27 times this week, I could not agree more with this advice.
So we will spend the next couple of days sightseeing and enjoying the beauty of Cochabamba. We will also work on my narration for the video that we will be making for you. Oh, and I still have more beanie babies to give away.
I have a lot to tell you about yesterday, but right now I am rushing to "Capinota" a town about an hour away from here where we will be distributing toys and tracts in poor neighborhoods.
Jeff and Tony send their love!
Talk to you later!
Posted by Bernadette at 09:35 AM
March 29, 2009
I wish you were with me on Friday because no words could ever truly describe our jail day. My day started at ďSan Sebastian Menís JailĒ and let me start by telling you that we had permission to bring our cameras to this jail, but were told to keep a low profile and not bring attention to what we were doing so Jeff was our undercover cameraman with his lens peeking out of his bag. Next let me say that I WAS SCARED TO DEATH inside this jail!!
You see, in a Bolivian jail, inmates are not kept in cells, they roam free. Imagine thisÖ 300 gang members, murderers, rapists, drug dealers and scammers, all in one open area with only 10 guards who kept themselves outside. Can you believe it?? There I was with Jeff and Tony and no guard assigned to us. In all my years of traveling and speaking, I have never been more afraid to give my testimony and never before had I such a difficult time engaging a crowd!
I spoke in the main court yard area and inmates could come and go as they pleased. Guys were playing pool, some were working with metal, some were eating, two men were kissing and there was a loud speaker every 2 minutes calling inmates for different reasons. Tony and I could barely keep track of what we were saying with all these distractions. Quite a few men gathered in the center to hear me, but they kept their arms folded and had mean faces the entire time. No one smiled. They just kept looking at me like, why are you here? And when are you leaving? Some kept staring at my wheelchair as if they were planning to take it apart and use the parts to build weapons. To tell you the truth, I wanted to run!
At the end, when I gave the invitation, you could tell that the men where afraid to show any sign of being affected by anything I said. But Jeff saw one man raise his hand very low and we also saw one man mouthing the prayer with me!
After that we went over to "San Sebastian Women's Jail" and the setup was the same. I was in a court yard area where women were eating, visiting, talking to lawyers, doing laundry, cooking, everything you can imagine.
Life in this jail is hard. For example if you want a bed, you have to pay another inmate for it. If you want to eat you have to buy your food from another inmate. There are 180 women here with 7 showers and they have to stay in line almost all night to have a turn. Imagine a room the size of a large dinning table and 3 or 4 women sleep there (if they pay).
I was told that the women here have harder hearts than the men's jail and that it is usually very difficult to get them to listen. There was a lot of noise and distractions, but I gave my testimony the best I could trying to block out everything I was seeing and all the commotion around me. THE WOMEN LOVED IT and were actually shushing each other so they could hear me. They were laughing and crying. To my surprise at the end about 27 made decisions for Christ. Many came up to me after with their names written on pieces of paper asking me to pray for them. I couldnít believe how many of these women have husbands who are also in jail and their kids are just left on their own to care for themselves the best they know how.
Speaking of kids, some parents in both the menís and womenís jail are allowed to have their kids live with them at the jail. I just couldnít believe this. Here I was scared to death at the menís jail and this was life for some kids, WOW!
After visiting the jails I brought the beanie babies you sent to this center across the street called ďCasa de la AmistadĒ (House of Friendship). This was an amazing place.
It is a ministry for the kids who live in the jails. They offer 3 hot meals a day, help with homework, a safe place to play, medical support, psychological care and they teach them about Jesus Ė at no charge to the parents. I just love this place. You should see these little ones running out of the jail and into this place. The leaders know all 140 kids by name and the kids all call them aunt and uncle. The children attend different schools, some in the morning, some in the afternoon but the leaders know their schedules and make sure that the kids leave on time. They donít have beds here. This center is only open during the day to keep the kids off the streets and make sure they go to school. At night, the kids go back to the jail to sleep with their parents.
These kids truly have hard lives but thanks to La Casa de la Amistad, they all have smiles on their faces and are growing up to be responsible kids. I saw kids serving lunch to one another, washing dishes, older kids helping younger ones to brush their teeth. I wish you were with me when we gave the beanies to see the joy that it brought these kids. They welcomed me with such love and gave me hundreds of kisses.
My heart was full when I left this center. I could see kids running down the street to their school holding the beanie babies tightly. Thank you for being a part of my beanies for Bolivia project. You have no idea the joy and comfort that you have brought to hundreds of kids here in Cochabamba.
There is much more to tell about all the wonderful things happening here, but in a few minutes we will leave for another church service. Iíll write again later but until then, know that we love you and appreciate your prayers.
Together in His work,
Posted by Bernadette at 07:05 PM
March 27, 2009
I just canít go to bed without sharing some incredible news. God is moving in a mighty way here in Cochabamba and I am so humbled to be a part of it.
I spoke at UDABOL University today and you will not believe what happened. For starters, the auditorium was on the 6th floor and yes, you guessed it, Jeff was the human elevator. Can you believe he carried me all the way up??!! When we got there, 500 students where waiting for me.
I was invited here as a motivational speaker, so they had no idea that I would be talking about God. It was a hard crowd at first; students coming and going all the time. I gave my testimony and talked about fulfilling the purpose that God has for our life. I emphasized the fact that they have their entire lives ahead while I may only have 5 more years to continue making a difference for God. In the end, so many hands went up to receive Jesus that we couldnít even count them. I told the students that if they said the prayer with me, I wanted them to fill out our communication card so they could be contacted and receive more information. We had people ready with the cards, but we were all shocked at how many students were asking for the cards with tears.
The line to speak with me afterwards went on and on and it took me more than 1 hour to talk to each one. What touched me the most was the hunger that these kids had for God. They were saying things like, ďI want to know more about Jesus, I want to learn everything.Ē I cried when the decision cards were counted. 167 students gave their lives to Christ and wanted to begin learning more about God. WOW WOW WOW!!!!
Well, there is much more to tell about this day but I am truly exhausted now. I spoke 4 times today and will also be speaking 4 times tomorrow. Pray for us, we will spend the entire day visiting 3 jails and a home for children of prisoners.
Thank you for your wonderful emails that encourage us so much. Please know that it is the highlight of our day to gather around the computer and read your words of encouragement.
Love from Cochabamba,
Posted by Bernadette at 12:22 AM
March 26, 2009
Greetings from Cochabamba!
Hi Dear Friends,
Greetings to you from Cochabamba! This is just a quick email to thank you so much for praying and to let you know that Iím feeling great. Iím actually feeling as good as I normally do and am able to eat again. Speaking of eating, look at what they eat for breakfast here in Bolivia! Can you believe it? This is a typical dish thatís mostly served midmorning. Believe it or not, itís actually delicious!
Jeff and Tony are also doing great. Tony has still been translating for me and Jeff has been doing all the filming. We had a busy day yesterday speaking at Emmanuel school and giving out Beanies, speaking at the Chamber of Commerce, and at a ladies event.
It was a small group at the Chamber of Commerce, maybe 8 or 9 people, but I spoke as if the room was full and they listened intently. In the end, 4 received Jesus including a Cochabamba News Anchor.
The womenís event last night was phenomenal! They were very excited about me coming and had done a lot to invite people who donít know the Lord. They had decision counselors ready and were overjoyed and overwhelmed as more than 20 women opened their hearts to Jesus. One lady said that his was the most salvations that theyíve seen in years!
Today was our free day and it was great. We chose to drive to some nearby small towns and give out some more Beanies and tracks to poor kids on the streets. I wish you could see how excited they get and how they run to tell others.
Well, my time here in Cochabamba is going great and we are making a much greater impact than we ever dreamed possible. People here are in deep need of hope. Right now, Bolivia has a lot of political problems and people are suffering. Things have become twice as expensive and there are fewer jobs. Bolivia is also currently experiencing a Dengue Fever epidemic where so far 40,000 people have dengue and many have died (donít worry, the 3 of us have been wearing lots of mosquito spray). People are crying out, searching for answers and hearts are ready for the gospel in a way that I have never seen before. In all my years of doing this I have never seen such a harvest (more than 300 so far this week) in such a short time. Please pray for us as we continue to share the gospel in this city.
Continuing in His Service,
Posted by Bernadette at 12:15 AM
March 23, 2009
Revival in Cochabamba!
Sorry you haven't heard from me in a couple days but you will not believe whatís happening here. To begin with, there has been a lot of excitement about our coming to Cochabamba. Churches have been working hard for weeks making and distributing 2,000 posters on street corners, doing radio and TV announcements and face to face invitations to my presentations.
But on Saturday, I had a lot of trouble breathing, was nauseous and felt like a bomb exploded inside my head. Funny how only your head hurts but your entire body is incapacitated. I felt sick the entire day. Thankfully, we anticipated this and nothing was scheduled for me during the day so I was able to rest, but I did have to speak that evening. We made a plan that Jeff would film and Tony would translate for me during this adjustment time in case I loose my breath and am not able to finish my sentences. At least he knows my testimony and would already know exactly what I was trying to say.
On Saturday night I gave my testimony inside a former movie theater were 2 churches gathered to hear me. I began by giving apologies for being out of breath and explained that I was still adjusting to the altitude here in Cochabamba. Many people seemed amazed that I was even willing to come here knowing that I could be ill for a couple days. In the end around 20 people gave their lives to Christ INCLUDING TONYíS COUSIN!!
Sunday was a big day. I had 3 churches (First Baptist, Cochabamba was added) and a jail scheduled and I was still not breathing too well. The first church, Ekklesia, was amazing. This is Tonyís home church from 14 years ago. His pastor was so proud to have him back and to see that he is now traveling with us as a part of our ministry team. The service was very emotional for us. Several members of Tonyís family traveled 6 1/2 hours by bus just to meet Jeff and I, hear me speak, and to personally thank us for the love we have shown to Huguito (the little boy I told you about with Leukemia). I just couldnít believe it, 19 in all came in from different areas.
Imagine the overwhelming feeling when I saw more than 120 people coming forward to receive Christ. Imagine the overwhelming feeling in Tonyís heart when he saw his father in law, his aunt and another cousin also coming forward. We just couldnít believe our eyes. Here I was gasping for air and thinking that I couldnít make an impact in this condition and GOD used my weak moment to start a revival. Wow!
My time at ďEl AbraĒ Maximum Security Jail was like nothing I have ever experienced. Let me be honest and say that this Bolivian Jail is a very scary place. After a strip search, the guards just opened the main door for us and let us go through UNESCORTED!!! As far as we could see, there were no guards inside. The men roam free in this place. Anyone could grab us and at anytime. Where is the maximum security??? We had to walk through on our own to get to the chapel. Lots of mean faces, scars, tattoos and cat calls just like you see on TV. Cells have about 20 beds with one toilet. The smell of men who have not taken a shower for days lingered in the air.
But then we met Pastor Felix Ferreira who lives in this jail. Yes, he is an inmate with a 30 year sentence (thatís the maximum sentence in here Bolivia) for murder. But God has changed him, right here in this jail. In fact he said that if he didnít come to jail, he wouldnít know the Lord at all. There were about 37 in the chapel and I found it difficult to really engage these guys. They have been through so much more than me and have seen and done such horrible things in their lives that I was concerned if my testimony was right for them. But when I gave the invitation, I was surprised to see more than half open their hearts to Jesus. It was amazing!
The rest of the day was more of the same, me gasping for air during presentations and many coming to Christ. By the end of the day, I was out of breath, exhausted and OVER 250 WERE ADDED TO THE KINGDOM!!!!!!!
Today was great; I am feeling like myself again and breathing well. In the morning I did a TV interview, Radio interview and also spoke at a school where 9 accepted Jesus, including another one of Tonyís cousins! We have the night off tonight because the parents meeting was canceled, but we can all use an evening of just watching TV and eating junk food.
For those of you following me with your prayer guides, I have been invited to share my testimony with the Chamber of Commerce at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. Please remember us in your prayers at that time, they have no idea Iíll be speaking about God.
Well, thatís the latest here in Cochabamba. The icing on the cake has been giving out the toys you sent. The kids are so thankful. It was a rough start for me physically but I am MUCH better now. Thank you so much for praying and for all your encouraging emails. In case you are wondering if I will ever put myself through this again, the answer is YES!! God has a purpose in what He allows. Look at the revival that has started in this city and today is only Monday! For me, altitude sickness is just a little discomfort in comparison to what Jesus did for us.
With Love to You Ė Because of Him,
Posted by Bernadette at 09:20 PM
March 20, 2009
Made it to Cochabamba!
Weíre here in Cochabamba safe and sound!! Our flight yesterday was great. Guess what? Customs didnít even stop us!!! They stopped the 3 people before us, but when it was our turn we got the GREEN light and were told to go through!!!!!!!!!! Wow, thank you for praying!! Imagine our immediate joy when we saw not only Tony but his entire family at the airport to meet us. It was especially great to see the kids even if it was just for a short time while we all had a quick bite for dinner.
The Drive to Cochabamba today was breathtaking with beautiful mountains and streams along the way. You wont believe it but we rode in style because Hugo, our Bolivian brother, loaned us his Land Cruiser for the week. The ride was comfortable and I did great on the 10 hour road trip with no problems at all. In fact we even stopped several times along the way so Jeff could jump out the car and give away Beanie Babies and tracks to kids in poor neighborhoods.
You should see the shock on the parentsí faces when we tell them that God loves them and the gifts are free. We want nothing in return, only that they read my tract.
Well I better get going; I am very tired which is to be expected after such a long day on the road. Iím also experiencing some shortness of breath but I was also expecting that for the first day of being at this elevation. Please pray for me that my body and lungs will adjust quickly. We will rest tonight and tomorrow morning. My first speaking engagement will be tomorrow evening.
With love to you from Cochabamba,
Posted by Bernadette at 10:30 PM
March 19, 2009
Cochabamba, Here I Come!
Itís that time again! Time to head out on another amazing Mission of Hope journey! In just a few hours, Jeff and I (along with 900 of the Beanie Babies you sent) will fly 6 Ĺ hours to Santa Cruz, Bolivia where we'll be reunited once again with Tony. Then bright and early tomorrow morning, the 3 of us will drive about 10 hours to Cochabamba, the 3rd largest city in Bolivia, located in the heart of the country.
As most of you know, we were scheduled to go there last September but because of political violence, our flight was canceled a day before our trip. Thankfully, things have calmed down considerably and the door is once again opened for me to bring my testimony there. In case you're wondering why we aren't flying directly into Cochabamba... Cochabamba is located at a much higher elevation than Miami (around 9,000 feet) and my doctor advised that it would be best for me to approach that altitude gradually, by car.
Although I've never been to Cochabamba, people there have certainly heard about my testimony and I cannot even begin to tell you how excited everyone is about my visit. We have received countless calls, even today, asking me to please make space in my already full schedule to speak to more people. To this point, God has opened an incredible number of opportunities for me to share and I'm scheduled to speak 27 times!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?? We even gave up the time we usually set aside for our video production! Don't worry, Tony will figure something out.
As we go, Jeff, Tony and I ask you to pray for us, I can tell you in all honesty that each of us will have to give our ALL on this trip. Keeping up with my schedule of speaking 3-5 times a day at different churches, schools, jails, childrenís homes, rehabilitation centers, universities, TV, Radio, for Compassion International, and the Chamber of Commerce will be a challenge. Letís not forget all the Beanie Babies that we'll be giving as gifts to all the kids who will hear me speak!!
Please begin praying even now for my voice, our strength and that God will use me in a powerful way to draw people to Christ.
Finally, I want to thank you for your faithful support of this ministry that is allowing me to bring the gospel message to the Bolivian people in this unique way through my testimony. Please know that you go with us in our hearts and whatever God does during our time in Cochabamba YOU will be a part of it.
United with You in His Service,
Posted by Bernadette at 04:38 AM