I write this year-end recap from the very room where Margarita as a single mother used to sleep with Mateo and his abuela in two twin beds. Margarita is out visiting with a childhood friend, Mateo is running through the neighborhood as loud music blares in the evening sky and baby Victoria has long been asleep in a crib at the foot of the bed. The water turns from brown to clear every so often as it flows from the showerheads and taps; it’s an interesting setting to say the least, but to be here in this moment is such a gift. The privilege to return to Colombia for Christmas this year with my family after the last 12 months is nothing short of a gift from God and we don’t take it for granted. As much as we hope for needed rest and relaxation following the past year in ministry, we sincerely seek and pray for God to shed light on His next steps for us in ministry as a family. 2017 wasn’t an easy year, but it was full of God’s perfect hand at work in our lives. Finding plane tickets 70% off the very night Mateo and I prayed to see if we could surprise mom following her completion of an intensive workshop is not something we believe is a coincidence.
We concluded our initial commitment in Bolivia with South America Mission this past August, but felt called to commit to at least one more year in helping the mission field recover from years of crisis and loss. Our lives are in our Maker’s hands and we pray this time to disconnect from the busyness that marks our lives back in Bolivia, can provide the space and time necessary to also be still and listen to Him who leads us as we close out 2017 and look ahead. We have no idea what the future holds as we hear the news of doctors protesting against injustice back home being thrown in prison, but we do know and trust the unwavering character and redemptive purposes of our Lord.
2017 was a year marked by a few of the ‘guiding life principles’ my father did his best to instill as I grew up: the importance of family, perseverance in the face of adversity and to have a critical mind, but be a part of the solution. The longer I spend on the mission field, the deeper my appreciation grows for the family God has blessed me with (even as ‘dysfunctional as we were at times) and the difference His redeeming grace made on the security and confidence that I experienced in home life as a child. To say I took it for granted might be an exaggeration, but the truth is I never realized how special it was to grow up in a healthy home.
All this to say, I am thankful to God for providing me with two loving parents that play a huge part in the man I am today, the husband and father who succeeded and failed in so many ways this past year, but was prepared for such a season as the one we just experienced as a family in 2017. Here’s a quick recap of these past 12 months as we express our gratitude for giving us the privilege to serve and live cross-culturally in a missions context as broken, but redeemed children of the living God.
We kicked off our new year driving 5 hours out of the city with our fellow missionaries to retreat as a body and be fed from the Word of God surrounding the theme of ‘New Beginnings’. It was born of the idea of turning over a new leaf from the crisis response recent past our field had experienced and the regaining of confidence in our almighty Lord instead of operating in fear as a community. Margarita was a trooper at 7 months pregnant with the bumpy roads, but it seems like Victoria likes driving on rough terrain! After those initial 5 days to kick of the year together, I was invited to chaperone and help lead the senior missions/grad trip for the SCCLC students. After sitting in meetings and behind my computer for long stretches in hopes of getting our mission back up to date with its government reporting, the opportunity to travel, share late into the night with students and be the first up each morning was a breath of fresh air. My heart and passion lays investing in young men and women, so while most would have seen the demanding schedule as one that would promote weariness, Margy was happy to see her husband return home refreshed and recharged.
Margy turned over her role as campus doctor as she was mandated to bed rest near the end of her pregnancy, but continued to stay busy with online courses in the areas of health and nutrition. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I was trying to take advantage of the last moments before Victoria entered our lives and the unknown change that was about to come. I was speaking at Youth Mission rallies, preaching in various cities, coaching basketball and as serving as the president of the SCCLC board to help establish a new governance policy manual to reflect the Vision and direction God has developed for that ministry. While trying to manage all this and my interim role as field leader for Bolivia, deep prayer and reflection led me to step down from the role of Strategic Director for the areas of Evangelism and Discipleship for the South America region. It wasn’t an easy decision, but the desire to help focus my efforts on improving on the ground ‘front lines’ ministry provided a God given peace about the decision.
March 10th, the long awaited arrival of Victoria finally came at 8:10pm that night. Señora Oliva, Margy’s mom and Mateo were with us that day at the local clinic and it was a surreal moment. From the significance of her name that God gave us during a time of being robbed and receiving frustrating news, to the role God has had for her in the healing in Margy’s life – it has all been incredible. I don’t want to make any parents out there irritated by saying my daughter sleeps through the night and is full of joy, but she has been an absolute blessed addition in so many ways to our lives and home.
As much of a planner as I am, life on the mission field always throws curve balls. Seriously, I’m the type of guy that had his taxes done the second week of January in anticipation of Victoria’s birth so as it not to be a distraction, but rather a clinical procedure to just electronically submit the first day online filing opened up. 5-days before a short-term missions team arrived to Bolivia, yep I was called upon to lead, coordinate and care for them. I did it with joy, because it’s what I love doing, but there were moments where the lack of resources both human and financial on the mission field caused us frustration and anger this past year. In the first week of my daughter’s life there were days where I was home for only minutes to see her before having to run off and tend to other duties. This really spoke to the brokenness of our field that had experienced, but also what drove us to commit to help be a part of the change in culture and direction for our mission here in Bolivia.
The truth of that last statement is that I fulfilled one of my worst fears earlier this year that I had prayed against prior to getting married. I never wanted ministry to become my mistress, but with all the hurt and brokenness I saw around me, I let it happen. There was so much to do and instead of realize my own limitations and humanness I wanted to soldier on, be an example and try fix some of the systemic problems in any way I could. I fell into one of the enemy’s traps for those in ministry; I lost sight of my primary ministry, which is my home. Our marriage suffered because of my long hours and when Margy received me with cold and angry arms (because of my error in priorities) I only threw myself deeper into my work.
This was all leading up to the conclusion of our initial 2-year term commitment in Bolivia before potentially being reassigned, but with the return of our director in question and with all the work undone I could only pray to ask God to convince my wife to stay in Bolivia. I had given her very little reason during the months of March-June to want to stay beyond our initial commitment, so I literally sat down and said to God, “If you want us to stay here, you’re going to have to move mountains and be the one that convinces Margarita. I’m committed to serve You in ministry Lord, but I don’t think that means I need to sacrifice my marriage and drag Margarita along. We entered marriage with the vision of serving together and despite how bad things are, I still pray that you will fulfill that vision!”
Whaddyaknow? Margarita approaches me one day and says, “you know we can’t just leave when Dan (former field director for Bolivia) returns. You can’t just throw everything back on him, that’s not right and we need to stay and help.” This is what I fell in love with. A woman who has every right to declare that she wants out of Bolivia and that I’ve led poorly in our marriage and ministry together, shares her thoughts and beliefs out of a deep fear and reverence for our Almighty God. #humblewifebrag
Kirk Ogden, South America Mission’s Executive director flew down to help discuss potential leadership transition following Dan’s return. It was projected that I would step in as the new Field Director, but I only accepted based on one condition. Realizing the damage I was doing to my family as interim field leader and examining all the responsibilities and roles that our policy manual outlined for the field leader, I asked for the authority to re-write and re-structure field leadership policy. In short, I was asking the authority to build a team. After examining all the responsibilities, it appeared to me that only a very few select individuals would ever be able to handle all the pastoral, cultural orientation, legal and even financial roles that are outlined and that a team of individuals with different gifts might be a more appropriate structure.
This is exactly what we did during the third quarter of this past year. Develop, implement, assess and adjust what will hopefully be a healthier model of leadership on our field that could potentially be a blessing for other fields. We envision a structure that allows for redundancy to occur so that the whole system doesn’t breakdown when the unexpected happens and to help facilitate the training of future leaders. We’ve just begun what we hope is the rebuilding a culture of excellence and accountability that is focused on the Gospel. We’re still working things out, but my team of Dan (the former director) and John Bremer (retired Air Force colonel) is one that I am thankful to serve with in this next season of ministry as field director for Bolivia.
This quarter has sort of been the ESPN turning point of the year and I hope looking back one day that is remains as so. Margarita and I were given the opportunity to join a weekly marriage group to work on our relationship in September and it was an answer to our prayers. I shared to our field the very first week that it was presented that I potentially would serve in the new role of Field Director about our struggles in the past year and hoped our transparency in weakness, but also God’s power through grace would serve as the platform for my leadership. The course just concluded a few weeks ago and it has helped us get to a much healthier place along with identifying some of the harmful habits we had engaged in and how to replace them with fruitful ones that will be a blessing to our children.
God also opened doors as Margy bounced back from her pregnancy with astonishing results. Her passion for nutrition, educating others and crafting her lessons around the redeeming work of God in her life brought invitations from local fitness centers. She masterfully has performed a few workshops around the city, inspiring women and men about the gift our bodies are from God and how to care for them – it has been an unexpected opportunity for ministry, especially in light of the recent government attacks on it’s countries own medical doctors
As October wrapped up I flew to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, to hand in the last of our reports and bring our mission here in Bolivia all up to date with their mandated requirements. We headed into November and our new leadership team flew to the home office in the Carolinas for our annual leadership gathering and S.A.M board meeting. We were able to present some of our struggles; victories and vision for our ministry context in Bolivia and the Board of South America mission official approved my role to serve as the Field director for Bolivia. Upon returning, we received my parents for two weeks, as they were able to celebrate various occasions with us, but most importantly meet their grand daughter for the first time!
We worked hard to end the year well as I also am serving as part time administrator for our field, (please pray for God to send more excellent workers, the harvest is plentiful!) and as Mateo wrapped up his last final exam on the 22nd, we were able to fly out to be with family here in Colombia for Christmas!
I’ve only been able to skim quickly over the year God has given us and brought us through in 2017, but I pray it serves as a token of our appreciation to all of you who have prayed, encouraged and given out of your generosity to give us this privilege. We are all called to serve as Christ’s ambassadors wherever we are at, for this season Bolivia has been that context for our family and we are grateful for His faithfulness each step of the way. May you all have a fantastic and rich time closing out 2017 tonight and from Colombia the Tse Family wishes you all a Feliz Año Nuevo!