Now that we have had Thanksgiving dinner, we are officially launched into the holiday season with its emphasis on get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues while enjoying delicious food and warm hospitality. The ten women who went on the Montana Synod's trip to Bolivia certainly experienced these hallmarks of the holiday season when we were there in August. In each of the three cities we visited, we had many food adventures and were welcomed with warm hospitality.
When a person prepares to go to a foreign country, one usually wonders what the food will be like, what you will be eating. And questions about the food are often of the first ones asked by others when you return. Bolivian food did not disappoint.
In Santa Cruz, the first city we were in, some of us were introduced to a national dish called salpancho, which was on the menu in many restaurants. It is a layered dish with rice and different kinds of potatoes topped with a pounded-thin beef steak that is itself topped with diced tomatoes, peppers, other fresh veggies and two fried eggs. It was served on a full-sized plate, enough to feed four despite being for one person. We quickly learned to share what we couldn't eat with our Bolivian friends who could take the rest home.
In Cochabamba, the second city we visited, after we met with some of the mothers of the children in the after-school program run by the Lutheran church, we were treated to lunch that was prepared by the women. They served another very generous plate of boiled potatoes, large-kernelled corn on the cob, fava beans, and a highly seasoned pork cutlet. There was also a tomato, onion and feta cheese salad. It was also in Cochabamba that I had the most delicious quinoa soup in a market place, where many food vendors had small stalls where they cooked and served their selections to customers whom they had enticed into their area by calling out their menu to people as they walked through the narrow aisles.
In La Paz after touring Tiahuanaco, an ancient archeological site, we stopped at a very small place for lunch that had a hand-lettered sign advertising fish. As we crowded around a table, the woman proprietor fried a whole trout that she served on a bed of rice, with potatoes and green beans. Absolutely delicious! On our last day in La Paz, we attended church and had a lunch of chicken and vegetables prepared and served by the youth group. As honored guests, we were seated at tables while our hosts were sitting on benches, chairs, the concrete patio floor, and the ground in the church courtyard.
The generous servings of food were an outward sign of the warmth and depth of the hospitality of our Bolivian sisters and brothers in Christ. It is humbling to be on the receiving end of such generous giving of a people who have so little in worldly goods.
I will always remember the almost overwhelming welcome we received at the end of worship at Most Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in La Paz. We were lined up in the front of the sanctuary and all of the parishioners came to each of us and exchanged the traditional greeting of shaking hands, kissing the right cheek and shaking hands again. Often, we were warmly embraced while they gave us words of welcome. It was a profoundly moving experience.
Thinking about the hospitality that was showered on us in every place we visited, I believe that the true host of the trip was Jesus, who brought ten women from America and women and men from Bolivia together as companions, sisters and brothers in Christ.