Today was bookended by two very different religious celebrations. This morning we were invited to attend the 25th anniversary of a Quaker meeting in El Alto, the large indigenous community just above La Paz, on the Altiplano (high plain). It was quite cool in the church, but the crowd was energetic, and sang and prayed through a four-hour service. Laura and I represented the family, as the boys stayed in the hotel with a stomach bug. As is the usual practice, we were asked to come up to the microphone and make a presentation and this time we were asked to offer a song that was prayerful. We taught the community “Ubi Caritas”, teaching it in Latin, English and Spanish. As always happens in these Quaker meetings, I felt the strong support of the community hanging on our every word and gesture. It is so meaningful to them to have foreign visitors. Afterwards, we joined the large congregation for lunch. We enjoyed a bowl of chicken soup, sharing conversation with the women in their colorful wide skirts and bowler hats, and some teens in jeans.
Tonight I wandered into the Quaker meeting house that is near our hotel, just in time to hear a concert by a Quaker folk music group called Ministerio Canto Nuevo. The energy was electric, as was the music, indigenous pipes and guitars amplified by a very modern sound system. The church was packed with families taking pictures with their cell phones of each other dancing to the music. Teens were up front, singing and clapping along, with a few young couples finding their own private rows to listen. Older people were clapping and swaying to the music, including one elderly blind man who kept time with his cane. The music was fabulous, traditional Andean music expressing the love of God. The musicians spoke of how hard the year has been, and how important it is to raise our voices and remember our joy.