Banished from Bolivia

by Angie Washington on September 4, 2013

We messed up. Most times I want to end that sentence with a question mark. We messed up? Truth is, we all mess up, sooner or later.

  • Thomas Edison – scores of failures before the light bulb
  • Abraham Lincoln – lost dozens of elections
  • Albert Einstein – expelled from school because he was a dunce who asked too many questions

Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada. The quantity of motivational pep talks in no way compares to the quantity of embarrassment one feels after a failure. Call it what you will — mess ups, screw ups, failures, errors in judgment, inexperience, sin — it still hurts.

road 001

We came to Bolivia after my husband got his Business Administration degree and after we attended one year of mission school. With a ten week old baby strapped to my chest and my hands clasping the toddler fingers of our two-year-old and our three-year-old we stepped onto Bolivian soil with high hopes for our internship. The mission school program required two years: one year of classes, three months in Mexico with an affiliated missionary, and then back to the States to finish the year with classes. We did the first year of classes. We knew we wanted to serve in Bolivia. We knew that a missionary couple affiliated with the school had been in Bolivia for seven years. We asked for a modification to the program. Considering the ages of our kids and the fact that we knew we wanted to serve in Bolivia we asked about a year long internship serving at this ministry as the second year of the program. They approved our request.

We stayed the year in Santa Cruz, Bolivia (11-01 to 12-02). Then we went back to the States for a few weeks to visit family and supporters. Before that first trip back we decided we wanted to do one more year with this ministry. They agreed to that. We came back and worked even harder.

During those two years we: started 64 bible schools, oversaw an outreach program that facilitated the bible school students teaching moral formation to 50,000 public school students, taught two classes each at the local bible school, ran the children’s ministry at the church, participated in the G-12 discipleship system of the church, and traveled extensively throughout Bolivia doing conferences for pastors and church leaders. We were also intensively learning Spanish. Did I mention we had three small children as well?

In our non-denominational, independent circles people applauded our fervor and passion. Our time commitment was coming to a close and we began to discuss what came next. Tensions had been building and we felt like some things would need to change if we were going to continue with this ministry.

The discussions became muddled and personal. Many hurtful things were said. They told us they would like us to connect with their ministry and come under their covering. We decided it would be best to tell them that we would no longer be working with them.

That’s when the proverbial fecal matter hit the gyrating, bladed appliance.

We were:

  • told the operations in our charge had grown too fast and things were unbalanced.
  • told to relinquish all our financial partners’ information.
  • accused of owing thousands of dollars to the ministry.
  • visited by lawyers threatening to take us to prison.
  • immediately removed from every position and our keys were taken away.
  • slandered and the church members were told to stay away from us.
  • told to leave Bolivia and never return.

I was stunned. I knew things had become tense. We had seen things we didn’t agree with. That is why we were stepping away. We turned in our official letter of resignation from the volunteer positions we had assumed as interns. It was shoved back across the desk, rejected.

I was baffled. We didn’t receive a paycheck from them. The people who partnered with us funded the operations and covered our family budget. They had asked us to consider staying on with them. We decided not to. So why didn’t they just let us go? Why did they have to make life so difficult for us?

Why did they banish us from Bolivia?

We messed up? Yes? No?

road 002

Our options for how to respond dizzied me. We could: cower, blame, defend, reason, negotiate, formulate excuses, quit, throw a fit, accuse, cry, shrink back, play the victim, bend under the oppression, fight, etc.

Through many tears and prayers and the advice of our home pastor back in the States we decided that it was not necessary to leave Bolivia, but that we would start out afresh in another city. We liked Cochabamba best of all the cities we had visited. We moved.

—  —  —  That was ten years ago. This November marks 12 years for us in Bolivia. —  —  —

In my mind I replay scenes from those first two years as missionaries. I want to say that all has been redeemed; some has, not all. I wish it never happened the way it did; but it did. I would like to have a better starting out story; but we don’t.

The regret tally marks scratched on my soul still burn. What could we have done differently? In retrospect the list is enormous. At the time, though, I believe we did the best we could with what we knew.

I would like to dress this up with a bow and a pretty ending. We could compare the numbers from our first two years and the following ten. Since our move to Cochabamba we: started a K-12 Christian school, pastor a church of 100+ people, help thousands of pastors throughout the Spanish speaking world with conferences and online resources, have provided care to 53 orphans, published a more than a dozen books, employ more than 60 Bolivians, mentored 3 career missionaries, and own the only bowling alley in town.

The balance of numbers feels superficial. We are not newbies any more, but we are nowhere near done with life. I am 37 and my husband is 38. Who knows how this thing will finish?

Does it do you any good to know we messed up? That we feel wronged? That regrets loom over my head like ominous vultures circling a bleeding carcass? That my dutiful dedication to the works of the ministry often find their motivation in paying a penance or seeking validation?

If there can be any good sucked from hearing our tale of woe it will not have been told in vain. Maybe the good comes from knowing we made it through. We are still serving as missionaries. Bitterness didn’t beat us.

I fear my words will be interpreted as complaining or moaning. I worry you will feel sorry for me – which I want none of, for it does no good to wallow.

road 003

Hurts come. Each situation is unique. I feel unqualified to advise anybody walking through relational struggles. I can only speak of character and say:

  • Keep a tender heart before the Lord
  • Forgive Forgive Forgive
  • Learn and grow in spite of the pain
  • Pray Pray Pray
  • Love people

The words of Maya Angelou might give you solace.

“Do what you know to do. When you know better; do better.”

Pray with me this prayer attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.


– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Do you find yourself disillusioned, discouraged, disheartened, defeated, or destroyed?

What are you doing to keep yourself moving through this valley?

Who can you trust at this crucial time?

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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
  • Thank you for sharing. I found it really encouraging today. I am starting over also and not sure what to do. It all seems so impossible right now but you have given me hope.

    • Oh that feeling of staring at an impossible situation – I know it well. Thank you for letting me know that you found encouragement in the midst of all you are going through. I prayed for you, Amanda. God bless you.

  • Leigh Myers

    We too are starting over. We are amazed at God’s second chances, because for the past few years since our return from the mission field we have struggled with a sense of failure. Yet God giving us a new fresh start to return into missions has given us such a sense of His grace. Thank you for sharing your story and I respect that your family stuck with it. Surely God knows every detail and the grace of his plan covers it all.

    • Hi Leigh. I applaud you for sticking with it too. You are starting again, even though you know that putting yourself out there could end in pain. This time, though, you are armed with a sweeter and deeper knowledge of God’s grace. That is an invaluable gift, even though it was bought at a high price. I join with you in your gratitude for His amazing grace. Amen.

  • Angie, Thanks for being brave and sharing this. I loved this b/c I think so many on the field can relate– conflict with others in the middle of doing the good work has destroyed so many lives, hasn’t it? I feel it is a primary area of attack for those in ministry. Thanks for NOT leaving. We had a similar experience once and we often regretted that we did leave and wonder what it would have been like had we switched ministries/orgs but not countries. . . .

    Thankfully, God works all together for good, Yes?

    • Oh my, Laura. You are so good to me. Yes. God does work it all for the good. Facing my regrets (and by facing I mean talking about them with others and praying about them) I am coming ever so slowly to the realization that it’s going to work out. Even if I fail. Even in the lives of those that seem so far gone nothing could redeem them. Even in the lives of my enemies. Even if I fail, again. And again. And again. Thank you for encouraging me to post this. I thought I would regret it… now, not so.

  • an UN-sexy missionary

    Can I relate to this? Oh yeah!! Our story is so similar. Arrived on the field to work with a young team, thinking that things were going well – with the occasional hiccup. Pretty normal stuff really. Then 21 months in, we found ourselves being told that there were significant issues on our team and that we were the cause of all of them. 7 days later we were back in the US for “6-8 weeks of directed mentoring” 18 months later – including 9 months of required professional counseling – we were told we were not fit to be missionaries and we were “released to our sin”. About that time, one of the church elders finally stepped in and encouraged us to follow God’s call regardless of what men said, so we left our sending church (we had been a part of that church for over 12 years at that point and had been ordained there) and started over, pretty much from scratch. God brought us back to the field in 2005 and has given us ministry opportunities that we never dreamed we would have, and has moved us in a new direction. Along the way He has enabled us to have reconciliation and restoration (mostly) with our former teammates.

    Did we mess up? Yes. Were things handled properly? Nope – not according to Scripture anyway. Can God – IS God still redeeming that chapter in our lives? I am convinced that He is, and that He will continue to do so. I often wish we had not had to go through such a painful, dark period in our lives and ministry though. The effects linger in our lives and in the lives of our 3 children who are grown now.

    Thanks for sharing. For others going through the same, or similar things, it is helpful to know that they are not the first or the only ones to go through it.

    • The lingering effects… those are what loom, and scare, and make my heart ache. Were it not for the grace of God, right? I was shaking my head reading the phrase “released to our sin”. Wow. We are something else, aren’t we? 🙂 I am glad to hear that your path has taken you to reconciliation and restoration. I appreciate you sharing your story. Bless you!

  • Lynn

    I haven’t had to start over, but I do know the pressures of working with others and trying to sort out differences in the midst of the pressure to be doing ministry. We all make mistakes and have regrets. Thankfully the Lord is the one who works in each of our lives to bring good out of very difficult and trying circumstances. Forgive, forgive, forgive and serve each other. It is part of our duty as Christians (Luke 17:1-10.) and our challenge. Thanks for these words of encouragement.

    • Pressure – great word choice, Lynn! Our God is so good to us. Thanks for the verse and the comment.

  • Richelle Wright

    we had a challenging time with colleagues initially, as well… but thankfully God did restore and by His grace, we did stick it out and He blessed. We have, however, just come through a very difficult situation with our former organization. Our situation was very different in many ways – our mission board, as my husband likes to say, imploded financially and began the legal process of dissolution back in the states – and all this happened while we were on the field. It was a huge and deep “valley” time – didn’t know if we’d be able to stay or would have to go, when… if… we’d receive our next support check (but knew it wouldn’t be coming from our mission board)… and therefore didn’t know how we’d get home if we had to go. in our situation, there were two things that kept us going… God and a peace beyond understanding that we could trust Him regardless of what things looked like and God loving us through His people – missionaries from sister boards/organizations and other expats in our community who surrounded us with love and care as well as our local brothers and sisters in the Lord. One thing I clearly learned is that I cannot trust myself or my feelings when I’m in those deep valleys because my perspective is skewed and colored by the pain… worry… fear… etc. But even when I don’t understand or like what He’s doing, I’m learning tentatively that I can trust God, all the time – not to do what I want or what makes sense to me – but ultimately that He does, and always will, care for me.

    • The faith and confidence to trust in God through valley times makes a whopping difference. As you state clearly, this doesn’t necessarily diminish the emotional struggle. It does, though, provide a stable constant to come back to. Reminds me of those clowns we had as kids that were as tall as we were, the blow up ones with the weighted bottoms. We’d hit it and it would bounce back up. With God as our stabilizer we can take the hits and bounce back up. Thanks for sharing your struggle here. I know that transparency is not always easy when you are smack dab in the middle of things. I will be praying for you.

  • Jace Longnecker

    What was your mistake? False teachers came in. That’s all I understand when I read this.

    • Hi Jace. I take it as a given the fallibility of humans. So I could list a number of things I feel like I did wrong. There are days I wonder if they were blatant mistakes made consciously out of pride, selfishness, impertinence, or any other sinful motive. Even if a mistake is made out of ignorance or good intentions it is still a mistake. The blame cannot fall wholly on one side, that I know for sure. I also know that the goodness and grace of God can bring redemption and restoration in any situation, be it one caused with malicious intent or one created by an honest mistake. And for that truth I am eternally grateful.

      • Richelle Wright

        Just wanna say – thank you for this honest, gracious response. i really think so often we’re get more interested in somehow making sure the rest of the world thinks our noses have remained clean (to use a cliche)… than discerning our own sin – blatant, subtle, intentional or accidental – and seeking God, His forgiveness and growth that only He can redeem out of some of the worst situations…

        the more i read what you share, the more i’m thankful i’m getting to know you just a bit through this online forum…

        • Richelle you are so encouraging! Thanks for taking the time to connect here on this point. Image management is a big part of our culture these days. We get to choose how people perceive us online. Not to say we go blabbing around every little mishap, because tone can often be misunderstood and our intentions can be skewed. However, in the right setting, I agree that honesty is the best policy (to also use a cliche).

          I am enjoying getting to know you as well! Thanks for not withdrawing in this season of transition. You are amazing!

  • Robert and Jenn McDuffie

    Thanks Angie for your transparency. I agree with Laura’s comment below. How many lives are truly effected or faith’s destroyed due to inter-personal conflict within the body?

    My husband & I are currently facing the hardest battle of our time on the mission field (since 2010). About 3 months ago we had to call one of our strong supporters to repent of the sin he had committed by misusing ministry funds and pathologically lying. Needless to say, that meeting did not go over well and he made it his personal mission to discredit us, destroy us and drive us out of the land.

    He has went as far as contacting “enemies” from our past and piecing together half truths, twisting them and then spreading it to the entirety of the community we were ministering too. Sadly, the leader that heads our ministry that undertook our VISA, fell into the trap of his lies along with almost the entirety of the community. He also plastered the local paper with the same lies he spread about us via his e-mail and phone campaigns.

    It is most difficult to love someone and only receive hate in return. It is also most difficult to see believers fall for the lies of those who only have wicked intentions in their hearts. We are surely not perfect and we have had to re-examine our hearts many times through this. By our Heavenly Father’s mercy, we will overcome and continue on in the work He has called us too – even if that means starting all over again!

    • Wow, sounds like you are facing some hard decisions and delicate relationship situations, Jenn. My heart goes out to you. I will pray for you today.

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  • Seth

    Angie. Thank you for this article. It offered great consolation to me. I moved to Toronto, Ontario to work as a bivocational missionary, 2 years ago. From the very beginning, even before I left, things were falling apart, but in my zeal, pride, faith, foolishness, eagerness, impatience, excitement jumped into things with everything I had anyway. It was two of the best and worst years of my life. I’m no longer there, got burned, burned my own bridges, sinned, got isolated, confused, spiritual attacks, closed doors, etc. I have replayed everything over and over to know how I could have made better decisions too, but I thought I was making every decision properly in each moment – even got advice from other believers. Anyway, I’m thankful for this article, because I know I’m not alone.

  • Vicki Sturgess

    Thank you for sharing with such transparency. Been through a couple of incredibly difficult situations that I’d rather not have endured. What we took on board helped us was what mentors advised to do: keep our hearts sweet. That was some of the best advice we received. We did not want to become bitter.

    There is still a residue. Our family still feels the after-effects of being suddenly removed from previous relationships, etc. There is still handling it as we from time to time face previous congregation members and colleagues.

    After months of seeking the Lord for ‘what next?’ He graciously moved us in a different direction and we now feel confident and validated in our calling again. We started once and it lasted 5 years. Lost everything we’d worked for. Vocation. Income. Security. Friends. Belonging. Reputation. We started over again and are 5 years on in the new direction.

    Looking back we were naiive and too trusting. We did not insist on having agreements in writing before assets were handed over and employment commenced and that royally back-fired when things got weird. There were not enough measures in place to protect us at the hand of the whim of autocratic leaders. I appreciate the autonomy and fruitfulness some pastors enjoy with their lack of red tape and their no-hassle board members but I also appreciate the order that protects fellowships and staff and keeps a degree of fairness and transparency of process in place.

    I appreciate that you mention discerning our own sin. Although I won’t go into it, we were not spotless, perfect people, nevertheless our situation should have been handled with grace and compassion and it most certainly wasn’t. There was no transparency. I still am confused as to why we were so despised. I have never felt so unwelcome in a group. I can only speculate. Because there was no reason given. We ‘felt’ the ushering out and obliged by resigning, knowing that we were very much not welcome there. We could have caused a stinkfight but chose not to as we already felt so low and things came to a definite head when we faced a crisis through a terrible incident subsequently atrociously mishandled by those involved. It felt unfair. But we as graciously as possible withdrew ourselves completely. Licked our wounds, attended counselling and sought the Lord as to whether we should even continue in ministry. He affirmed us. And provided for us. And after a period of rest opened doors for ministry again. It’s embarassing. I wish our story were flawfless. But it’s not. And we focus on the now and the future rather than on the past.

    We hopefully have learned to move ahead with greater discernment and caution. We have learned to believe in our calling. We have learned rightly or wrongly to not trust willy-nilly but to be very careful who we open up our hearts to and who we subject the guidance of our spiritual gifts to. Our ability to trust took a huge blow but it probably needed to. We are hard-wired to be high risk-takers but have had to learn the hard way to be very patient for due process, and to discern which risks to take on. We can see gaps in how we have functioned and are trying to remedy what we can for smoother sailing. We now enjoy great fruitfulness and are thankful that we are still useful to the kingdom. We enjoy being able to encourage isolated church-planting pastors and those that are in difficult circumstances as we come across them. As an aside from our main calling.

    • Angela


      Do you have “cautionary legal” advice for new missionaries not yet on the field? The agency we’re going with is small and seems very laid back. We have not done paperwork or contracts yet, but the following paragraph made me sit up and think:

      “Looking back we were naiive and too trusting. We did not insist on having agreements in writing before assets were handed over and employment commenced and that royally back-fired when things got weird. There were not enough measures in place to protect us at the hand of the whim of autocratic leaders. I appreciate the autonomy and fruitfulness some pastors enjoy with their lack of red tape and their no-hassle board members but I also appreciate the order that protects fellowships and staff and keeps a degree of fairness and transparency of process in place.”

  • Anna Woolman

    I was really curious which mission school you attended and how well do you think it prepared you for the mission field? I just found this website today, so I’ll keep reading!

  • petervandever

    That’s the nasty image of Western Christianity. It is about business, not Jesus.

  • Kimberly Reid

    Hi Angie, have you returned to your previous home or are you still living in Bolivia?

  • Sarah Elliott

    Thank you for your story Angie. We were in a bit of a different situation, because we had been in ministry a while. But when we told the missionary couple we were working with we were no longer staying, same kind of thing. Many people in our non-denominational circle judged us. Many abandon us and many talk behind our back. What they don’t know is all the junk going on at the church. The pastors horrid marriage, causing so much strife and stress to everyone; the pastor who controlled our every move as though we were being held hostage; and the money issues (not ours, the churches and the pastors). I can not say more publically, but thank you for what you wrote. It helps me.

    • Sarah, I am sorry that you have a similarly difficult situation. Relationship stuff has to be up their as some of the toughest stuff we have to handle as humans. I pray that you are able to see clearly as you move forward and that God’s grace reigns in every interaction. Thanks for letting me know how this post helped you. Peace.

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