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Friday, May 29, 2015

Obviously the culture and poverty situations are different between Uganda and Bolivia.  But the stories are similar.  This video really speaks to what we're trying to do down here...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It's been encouraging to see what God has been doing in the hearts and lives of the guys living in the house.  Watch as some of them share a bit of their stories....

Consider supporting our home here at La Jornada (The Journey) with a monthly contribution or with a one-time gift:


Thank you! 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My mom stole a car once.  

She took her three boys along and invited the neighbour lady and her three kids to join her.  A couple of days later the RCMP showed up and she invited them in for coffee.  But they still made her give it back.

Honestly my mom isn't like anyone else I know.  She's an eastern girl who got dumped into the middle of the prairies where there wasn't a tree that met her approval for 200 miles.  My siblings and I knew that we didn't dare try to talk to her for the first few hours of the return trip to Saskatchewan after visiting Ontario...not if we valued our lives in any way.  I'm pretty sure dad knew that rule too.

Somewhere along the way though (perhaps somewhat reluctantly), mom decided that the prairies were home.  She planted trees around the yard...which against all odds lived...and buckled down to raise her family.

If you know us at all, you've probably learned quickly that we’re not your usual family.  

I have nine siblings.  

It's kind of like our own personal version of the United Nations.  I have a nephew who has corn rolls in his hair.  And nieces who are Native, Irish and East Indian...all mixed together in very cute packages.   One of my favourite moments was when my African brother-in-law (who's a musician and the only talented one in the bunch) gave a shout out to his family during one of his concerts and the whitest people in the crowd waved back.

When I worked at the boys' home here in Bolivia, I used to laugh because eating supper with 80 ex-street kids was quieter and less chaotic than meal times with my family in Canada.  My mom can throw together a meal for thirty (and that's just my siblings, their spouses and their kids) like no one else I know. 

I don't think I ever laugh as hard or get as annoyed or enjoy my days as much as when I'm hanging out with my family.  And in the middle of the chaos that are our family get together’s...there's my mom.  We all love our dad and he fixes our cars...but it's mom who holds the entire gong show together. 

At some point I should probably mention that mom doesn't just take care of us.  She's been taking in foster kids for the better part of thirty years and at any given moment there are usually a couple (or seven) little kids running around the house in various stages of undress and/or diapers. 

She's...ahem...70-ish...and middle of the night bottle feedings don't phase her in the least.  Sorry all my new-born mom friends…but it’s true.

Well...let's see...lessons from my mom... 

Number one is that anyone who sits at the table is treated as a member of the family.  The downside is that they have to move quickly if they want to eat.  The upside is that they're treated with love and respect and will receive the same lectures as the rest of us.

No matter what a person has done or not done, there's always grace and forgiveness.  There will likely be the aforementioned lecture...but tempered with said grace and forgiveness.

Life is nothing without the occasional adventure. 

There's nothing that can't be built or knocked down if you're creative enough and don't really care what it looks like after the fact.  If you don't like a wall in the house, wait until your husband goes hunting and then take a sledge hammer to it. 

There's as much value in a hand drawn picture in a cheap Walmart frame, drawn by a foster child, as there is in a valuable antique painting and they should hang side by side on the wall.

If you have to turn right in twenty seven blocks, it's okay to get into the right hand lane as soon as possible and come what may (be that buses that stop every block or a hundred other cars making slow right hand turns) you ride that sucker to the end. 

I'm not sure if that last one was so much a lesson as it was an observation from a son who sat in the passenger seat for too many years.

In the end, the most important lesson I've learned from my mom is that God is love.  I know this because I've seen it in my mom.  Every person, no matter their age, colour or background or mistakes they've made, has been created by God and deserves our love, encouragement, dignity and help. 

Both my parents taught me early on that there's no request for assistance from a friend, neighbour or stranger that shouldn't be met with a smile and a "Sure, what can I do?"  If I've ever seen the verse, "They'll know us by our love" personified in a person, it's in my mom.

All of those lessons have served me very well over the years.  Well, except for the driving in the right hand lane one.  That one drives me crazy.  But the rest is why I do what I do. 

The example that my mom (and my dad) set for us growing up is why every kid that comes into our house here is a part of our family and treated as such. 

It's why, when I see a need, my first thought is what can I do to help meet that need. 

It's why I want to provide a family for these guys who have never known a loving, Godly family…because my mom (and again my dad) provided this for me.

So Mom…here’s to you.  Happy Mother’s Day!  You deserve it.  

You really are the best mom a guy could ever ask for or have.  Thanks for loving all of us and being such a great example.  We all love you more than we could ever tell you.  

Well...not that I would probably even try to tell you (at least in person) because, after all, I am a male member of the Switzer family and Dad’s gene won out in the desire to avoid the touchy/feely stuff.  

This is also why the guys and I punch each other (as do my brothers and I) as demonstrations of our love and affection for each other…

Well, Mom….this is all just to say…

I miss you and I love you lots!  Hope you have a wonderful day!  

Lots of love!

PS  I really do wish I was there to give you a hug and some flowers or something.  Although, I did send a present home with the family that was just here because I’m the eldest and the most thoughtful and, of course, your favourite.  

I know that you can’t admit that because you are such a great mom….but we both know it’s true.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Have you ever seen “Mr. Bean Goes to Church”?  If you haven’t…you really should.  It’s brilliant.  I’ve always seen it as a great commentary on what church must be like for those not accustomed to how we do things.  As a Christian who has spent his entire life in the church however, I always just kind of laughed and viewed it from afar.
Until last Sunday.  Last Sunday I WAS Mr. Bean.
Let me back up for a moment.  A couple of months ago, some friends asked me to be the Godfather to their little girl at her baptism.  I’m not Catholic but I love these people and it’s a huge honour to be asked.  In Catholic tradition, if something happens to the parents, as the Godfather, I’ve committed myself to raising their little girl.  Seriously…I have no idea what they were thinking.  But as I said, these people are important to me.  And of course there’s also the fact that I get to call myself “The Godfather”…so…you know….
As a side note, I did make a rule that these people are never allowed to travel together in the same vehicle or place themselves in any sort of dangerous situation while in the vicinity of the other.  Individually…go crazy.  But NEVER TOGETHER.
So I’m good.
After they asked me I was like, “So when are we doing this thing?”  Turns out they don’t just let you be The Godfather without a little training.  I had to go to mass for two Sundays…take a little class on baptism (which I aced by the way…)…and then the third Sunday was the baptism.
The first two Sundays were easy enough.  We sat at the back...stood when everyone else stood…hummed along to some nice songs…slipped out when everything was over.  It was a nice church and the Father knew what he was doing…so it was all fine.  The only surprise was how big the place was.  It was out in the country, so I was expecting somewhere around thirty or forty people.  That first Sunday I tried to count how many people were there, but I lost track between five and six hundred.  That threw me off a little, but I figured, what the heck…I was a professional and standing up in front of a few hundred people wasn’t that big of a deal.
Oh, the overconfident pride of the idiot youth pastor/missionary.
Baptism Sunday rolled around and I picked everyone up in my truck and off we went to church.  The little girl decided she wanted to sit up front with me.  To be clear…I do like little kids.  But wow…they talk a lot.  Like A LOT.  And they ask a lot of questions.  I mean…a LOT of questions. 
We also had the language barrier issue….she didn’t always understand my Spanish and I didn’t always understand her gibberish.  But I made accommodating sounds like I was interested and paying attention…and that seemed to satisfy her. 
Except eventually she caught on that I wasn’t really listening (we were late and I was concentrating on driving).  She started asking, “Padrino (Godfather)?  Padrino?  Padrino?”
On about the fifth or sixth “Padrino?” I got a look and a “PAAADDRINNOO!” in a tone of voice that will serve her well when she’s someday married.    I quickly apologized and told her I was listening and that she looked very pretty…and we were good again. 
We arrived at the church…took some family pictures (the Father was later than we were as it turned out)…and then went into the church to sit down.
In the front row.  To be clear, that’s the front row that’s in front of everyone.
I went from hiding out in the back…to being the only gringo in the place (who should have paid better attention those last two Sundays) and sitting in the front row.  Suddenly I found myself trying a lot harder to get things right as I felt little Grandma lady’s eyes boring holes in the back of my neck every time I didn’t cross myself with everyone else. 
When I was in high school, I sang in the tour choir and I stood beside the son of the music director for the school.  He helpfully taught me that if you don’t remember the words to the song, just sing “watermelon” and it makes your mouth look like you know what you’re doing.
That served me well on Sunday.  During the music, I just kept singing watermelon over and over to whatever tune we were singing, with the occasional “Jesus” and “Santo Dios” thrown in there for good measure.  The chorus of the one song just repeated “Hallelujah” over and over and whenever we got to that part, I belted those Hallelujah’s out like….well, like Mr. Bean really.
As a side note, the “watermelon” thing also works when you’re supposed to be reciting prayers.  I already apologized to God for that one, so no need to comment.    
Then came the part when the Father asked the parents of the children being baptized (there were three) if they were good Catholics and prepared to raise their children with an understanding of the traditions of the Catholic church. 
I instantly broke out in a cold sweat and felt my face start to go red hot.  Was he going to ask me that?  I thought we’d been clear on this in the class that I wasn’t Catholic.  Was I going to have to say no to his question in front of 400 good Catholics?  I wonder if little Grandma lady can kill me using only her mind?
Then he turned to the Godparents and asked us if we were prepared to be good examples to our Godchildren and teach them about God and the spiritual life.
I was so relieved I pretty much shouted “YES!” in response.  Because THAT I can do!  You know, being a missionary and all.  The Father actually paused for a moment and looked at me before continuing on.  I’m sure he’d never had such an enthusiastic Godfather before.
The first child to get baptized looked like she as about three days old and was very cute.  She slept through the whole thing.  The second little guy was about four and…a little chunky shall we say.  He was cute enough in his little white suit…but that didn’t hide the fact that he was a bit of a terror.  And then every time the Father went near him or touched him to bless him, he started screaming and yelling.
My friend leaned over and said, “I think he has a demon.”  Because you know…priest…holy water…The Exorcist…the fact that he kept poking at the icon of the Baby Jesus on the platform during the service…
Well, okay…technically it may have been me who made the demon comment.  But since I’m a professional youth pastor/missionary, it probably wasn’t appropriate.  So I’ll blame it on my friend.  Although…I still think it was funny.
My little Goddaughter handled the whole getting water poured over her head thing like a pro.  When I commented on that afterwards, my friend was like, “Well, she likes to swim.”  I don’t know…for some reason that makes me laugh.
Then came my big moment.  I had my candle clasped tightly in my hand as I walked over to the big candle by the baptismal.  I was to light the candle as a representation of the light of Christ in the life of my Goddaughter. 
Except my stupid candle wouldn’t light.  It was a rookie mistake.  I’ve officiated at enough weddings to know, YOU ALWAYS PRELIGHT THE CANDLES!  And I thought about that…but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to.  So instead, I just kept standing there like an idiot waiting for my candle to finally catch on fire.  If I didn’t know any better, I would have said the Light of Christ wasn’t very gung ho with my candle. 
But eventually my candle lit and everyone breathed an audible sigh of relief...or maybe that was just me…and I rejoined the family for the blessing.
And then we were done!  My Goddaughter looked beautiful.  I got my candle to light.  The Father managed to baptize the…uh…rambunctious other kid…and we were good to go.  Except for the eating of an inordinate amount of barbequed beef and aroz con queso at lunch.  Which we did.   
I will never watch Mr. Bean Goes to Church again without a certain heartfelt sympathy in the midst of my laughter….

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Some pictures from our visit to Los Lomas de Arena (the Sand Dunes)...

And those were the sand dunes.....

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We haven't been using the blog as much in recent months.  We will eventually.  But we did send out a new newsletter.  If you're not on the list....and you'd like to be...fire me an e-mail at ken.switzer@iteams.ca and I'll make sure you're added to the list.

Thanks everyone!

Friday, May 16, 2014

For those of you who haven't heard....we're now Impact Bolivia at International Teams of Canada.  That just means that we've become a site that IT CAN is focusing on.  That, along with the establishment of an Advisory Committee here in Canada, are a couple of the cool things that have happened over this past year. 

Here's a link to our page at International Team's web page....

Impact Bolivia

I'll write more about the Advisory Committee soon!  Thanks everyone!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Here's a little video I put together with some pics from our trip to Canada last summer...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We'd love to have you come!  Just let me know....  =)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Did you ever play the Good News/Bad News game when you were a kid?  Your friend tells you something good and you say, “Well, that’s good news!”  Then they say, “No, that’s bad news!” and they proceed to tell you why it’s bad news.  Then you say, “Well, that’s bad news…” (in a sad voice) and they say, “No, it’s good news!” and then go on to tell you why it’s good news.  It goes back and forth as long as they can keep the story going.

Yea…that’s pretty much sums up my life for the past eight months. 

Good news…bad news…then invariably good news again.  Well…and then bad news…and so on…

But let’s start with the good news! 

As most of you know, we were finally told by the owners of our house that they wanted to sell it, and that we would have to leave (originally the bad news).  Thankfully they gave us until February of this year (yay…good news!).  They also gave us the option of purchasing the house if we wanted…but they wanted too much for it so we declined and said that we would just leave (oh...bad news).

Since then every single conversation over the past year that we’ve had with the owner (who is in Spain) or her parents (who are in Bolivia) has been, “So…has Mr. Ken (what they call me) decided if he wants to buy the house yet?” 

Every single conversation.  It became a joke between Andres and I.

“So…” says Andres (laughing because it’s the fifteenth time he’s asked me), “The owner wants to know if you’ve decided to buy the house.”  

“Nope, nope….tell them we’re going to leave…”

A month later, Andres (still laughing) “So…I just talked to the owner’s family and they would like to know if Mr. Ken has decided if he’s buying the house?”

“Nope, nope….tell them we’re going to leave…”

Finally February 2014 approached and we began making plans to leave.  Andres and Maribel hired someone to do repairs on the house.  Our contract says the house needs to be in the same state as when we moved in…we didn’t do major damage or anything, but there was general wear and tear and well as water damage from the heavy rains we get in Bolivia (it happens to all houses down there).  The guys painted the interior and worked on getting the yard and garden fixed up (which is where we did most of our damage…stupid soccer cleats…).

Andres and Maribel started looking for a new place for us to live in and after a few complications and false starts, figured they found the place.  Maribel especially, was excited about it.  It was, by all reports, a nice place.  A bit farther out, meaning longer bus rides for the guys (which not everyone was happy with), but overall, a good option for us (Oh good…good news…).

We hadn’t talked to the owner’s family since December, so Andres was working hard at getting ahold of them because we needed our money back from the current house so we could pay for the new house (if you don’t know what I’m talking about….message me and I’ll explain the wonderful Bolivian thing called an “anticrético”). 

I had a funny feeling about this actually.  I’d been saying to Andres and Maribel for a little while that I wanted confirmation from the owner or her family that everything was good to go.  Maribel had suggested paying the family with the new house a down payment until we could pay them the rest of the money from our current house/anticrético.  I said I would rather wait until we heard something from the owner.

Finally Andres got a hold of the owner and low and behold…they don’t have our money so they would be happy for us to stay another year.  That’s kind of a mixed bag of good and bad news.  Now it becomes clear why they were pushing so hard for Mr. Ken (ie. the “rich” Canadian) to buy the house. 

In the end, as I said, it’s a bit of a mixed bag but personally, I’m pleased we get to stay.  So was Andres I think. The thought of packing up and moving the house was a bit daunting in his mind.  David is happy too…out of all of the boys, his already long bus commute would have become significantly longer.  I think Maribel was a little disappointed because she did really like the new house. 

Mixed in with the good news of being able to stay in the house the bad news of the nearly $3000 US we paid to fix it back up to its original state.   That’s almost as much as our normal monthly budget.  It’s a significant expense for us.


So we find ourselves with a significant challenge right now.  Financially we’ve always finished each year in the green ($79.00 last year!) and have been able to celebrate that.  However, when all the paperwork was done and the dust had settled, we finished this year with a deficit of nearly $7000 US.  Part of that is the cost of fixing up the house….and then a part of it is also the two fold problem of losing some supporters this year and adding expenses (the most significant being Andres and Yimy’s wages when we hired them to work at the house).  For the past few months we’ve been running a deficit in our monthly support income which is what pushed up the overall deficit.

I don’t want to call this bad news exactly because I believe that God will provide and this will be another opportunity to see His provision and grace.  But as I said, it certainly is a challenge.  It’s caused a few late nights for me already.

If you feel God speaking to you, and you would like to help us out financially at this time, we would greatly appreciate it.  We are very thankful for all of you who give and pray for us on a regular basis, and to be honest, asking for more is a bit difficult for me.  But I believe in this ministry and I believe in these guys and the opportunities this money gives them to change their lives, both through education and the spiritual and emotional support they receive at the house.  I believe that God is transforming lives through your financial and prayer support.

We need to raise $7000 outright to cover our deficit as well as raise our monthly giving by $1000 per month.  If you’d like to give a special gift towards the deficit or come on board as a monthly donor, the easiest thing to do is either go online at http://www.iteams.ca/give-now/ and type my name into the search field (giving to either Ken Switzer or the Bolivia Transition Home is fine) or you can call International Teams at 1-800-465-7601 and they would be happy to help you.  Just explain that you would like to give towards the support of Ken Switzer.

Thank you so much!  Your prayers and support me a lot to me and also (I know) to the guys!  When Andres, Roberto and Yimy came to Canada last spring they couldn’t get over how many people knew them and how many people were praying for them and had given towards their education.  It was a powerful moment for them.

Thanks everyone!  I’m home in Canada right now, so if you’d like to grab a coffee and catch up on what’s happening, I’d love to do that!