U.S. Board of Directors
Ann JonesPresident - Birmingham, AL
My daughter and I first visited Amistad in 2019. I joined the pilgrimage because my daughter wanted me to go with her, and I love an adventure. I had no idea I would fall in love with the mission and people of Amistad. When I think about my time in Cochabamba, I think about the mamás and tías who joyfully sacrifice time with their own families to raise and care for the children. I think about the children who embrace visitors with love, affection, and trust. I think about the families at Amistad for Families who share their struggles, experiences, and successes. I think about Lila, Amistad’s Executive Director in Bolivia, who adores and knows each and every child. It is an honor to serve on this board and to support the staff in Bolivia who work tirelessly for all of these children, youth, independent adults, and families. My church in Birmingham, St. Mary’s on the Highlands, prays for the family of Casa Copacabana, and we are eager to take our first Amistad pilgrimage to build deeper friendships with them.
Monica UrnessSecretary - Nashville, TN
Amistad came into my life ten years ago, when I took my first trip to Bolivia with two of my children. I have retuned many times since with Christ Church Cathedral youth, women’s groups, and with my youngest daughter. My first memory of Amistad has kept me engaged with this ministry for the past decade. The moment I stepped foot in Villa Amistad, children of all ages ran up to our bus, calling out greetings, and immediately embracing us as we walked out. There were no barriers once a small hand reached for me. The love of God is conveyed in the eyes of these children, who have suffered the loss of parents and family and long to feel love and belonging in return. Amistad has touched my heart and soul, not just through interactions with the children and youth, but also in its mission, programs, and all-Bolivian staff who work to ensure that every child feels valued and adored.
Walker Mathews *Treasurer - Nashville, TN
I have visited Amistad 30 times and developed a deep friendship with the children of Casa Kantuta, the house that my church, Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, has sponsored since 1999. Each time I am with the children, I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Through basic and grammatically-incorrect Spanish, I convey my admiration to the children, who gleefully laugh and hug me. Their smiles and affection are what call me back year after year. In these moments, I feel embraced by Jesus, who reminds us that we are all God’s beloved children. When people ask if they should take a trip to Bolivia, I tell them, “Only if you are ready to have your life changed.”
Bill CatchingsRaleigh, NC
My wife, children, and I first visited Amistad in 1998 and 1999, and it has been part of our family’s lives ever since. Because of Amistad, Cochabamba and its people have stolen my heart. When I am not there, I become homesick for the smiling faces, the mountains ringing the city, and even the dusty streets. Consequently, I have visited once a year since 2011. Despite my poor Spanish, that consistency has allowed me to know the children and watch them grow up. Some even seem like my children or grandchildren, as they run to greet me when I arrive at Villa Amistad. The staff have become friends, as well. People joke that the only time they see me genuinely smiling in photos is when I am in Bolivia. I truly believe those smiles are reflections of Jesus shown to me through the children.
Mark DemlerDallas, TX
Having never been on a mission trip, my philosophy about outreach was to look at my immediate community for places to serve others. Our church, Saint Michael and All Angels in Dallas, supports Casa Esperanza at Villa Amistad. Through encouragement from other parishioners, I finally decided to give a mission trip a try in 2017. Due to other commitments, I first traveled to Bolivia alone, separated from our church group. I was tired and anxious as I traveled to Villa Amistad that first time. Yet within an hour, I had an epiphany! The warmth, smiling faces, and welcoming gratitude of the children were all immediately overwhelming and transforming. My philosophy was changed forever by children I had only just met. Despite my lack of speaking or understanding much Spanish, it is so easy to feel comfortable with the children and staff at Amistad. This ministry has greatly impacted me and my wife, who coordinates the Amistad prayer friends program at our church. We are so grateful for the persistent encouragement of those that already knew this was a very special ministry.
Burgin DossettNashville, TN
I was first introduced to Amistad via the Youth Program at Christ Church Cathedral in 2010 when our second son, Will, joined the youth pilgrimage that summer. Will was so inspired by his time in Cochabamba that he joined our next in line, Elizabeth, the following summer. In fact, that unique youth trip included three sets of siblings, something that the children at Casa Kantuta really enjoyed. That experience inspired Elizabeth to return to Bolivia following high school graduation for a gap year in Cochabamba. That fall, Elizabeth moved in with a family and truly embraced life in the city. Daily language lessons prepared her for her volunteer work at Villa Amistad. My wife, Laura, and youngest daughter, Olivia, and I visited Bolivia that spring and saw Amistad for the first time—we were blown away! Olivia has since been with her own class from the Cathedral, and I joined a men’s group led by Walker Mathews in 2019 for an amazing week of fellowship and spiritual renewal in Bolivia. Spending time with the children and witnessing the joy in their faces represent the essence of Amistad, and I am grateful that my whole family has bonded with this community.
Kelly HulseyBirmingham, AL
I began my journey with Amistad Mission in 2009. My attraction to Amistad was not born out of a philanthropic heart, deep faith, or desire to make the world a better place. Rather, I was restless and wondered if the life I was living was all there would be. Traveling to Bolivia, I walked into this world of poverty, abandoned children, and a foreign culture where I met God in the most unexpected of places: children! These children who had been abandoned and brought into a new family revealed the love of Jesus, and that love captured my heart. My family visits Amistad annually. We have close friendships with the children, who often are a topic of our dinner conversations. Their resilience still captivates me, and I have learned that to know God, one must know a child.
Pam LacoPonte Vedra Beach, FL
My husband and I were introduced to Amistad in the fall of 2019 when we had the opportunity to join the last mission trip organized through our church, Christ Episcopal, before the Covid-19 shutdown. We had very recently retired to Florida and while we were both focused on “giving back to the community” in this new stage of our lives, little did we suspect that our “community” would include Cochabamba, Bolivia. We were smitten after just one trip.
It is impossible to express the warmth, love, and connection that we felt on that very first day as we stepped off the bus to the rushing squeals of the children at the Villa. They had never met some of us, yet to them, we were all instantly “amigos” and “family.” I often reflect on how very fortunate these children are to have been placed in such a caring and belonging community as the Villa; however, my most poignant memory of the trip was the afternoon we spent with María Luz at Amistad for Families. María Luz introduced us to a man who, for almost an hour, shared his life-changing journey with Amistad for Families. As a single father, Amistad guided and supported him for over a year as he worked to provide for his family and most importantly, learn how to become a father to his two children. Along the way, Amistad reunited him with his parents and brother and hence his kids not only gained a dad, but discovered loving grandparents and an uncle, too. His testimony left us speechless and whether any of us understood Spanish or not, we saw before us a proud and confident father, a man forever changed and forever grateful to Amistad for Families.
Amistad is doing God’s work in a region of the world where so many families and abandoned children are in desperate need of support and love. It is my favorite organization, and I am honored and humbled to be a part of its mission.
Deanna LawsonHouston, TX
I was first introduced to the vison and mission of Amistad in 1998, when I joined the ministerial staff at St. John the Divine in Houston. Over the years, I’ve had close friends who were enthusiastically involved and the privilege to meet and spend time with Father William and Chris King. As the Director of Children’s Ministry, my heart is always drawn back to La Villa when teaching the children of our parish about loving and serving others. After years of supporting Amistad through various projects like our VBS and children’s programs, I had the opportunity to visit Bolivia with one of my daughters in June of 2019. I absolutely have no words to explain the flood of emotions I felt when I met in person Mamá Josefina and the children whose photos had been on my wall for years. Standing in front of me were the beautiful people and faces of my prayers, and the love and friendship I felt was instantaneous and of God. I was raised in church, have served professionally in ministry for 25 years, and can only remember loving Jesus, but my short time in Bolivia radically changed my life and faith forever. I cannot think of another time or opportunity where I was able to experience and see the sacrificial love of Jesus lived out all around me in the lives of the mamás, tiás, and the staff of Villa Amistad, Amistad for Families, and La Morada. Everywhere I turned, I met a servant modeling their life after our Servant King. The result of being immersed in such love is transformative. The experience allowed me to more deeply grasp our Father’s love for us, and it was impossible not to respond by falling in love with the children and those who cared for them. I am looking forward to nothing more than my next trip to Bolivia.
Liz LeeBirmingham, AL
I was introduced to Amistad Mission in 2016 by my daughter. Since then, my annual visits to Cochabamba have provided me with a chance to learn, love, and serve in ways that I never knew were possible. Simply put, it has changed me, and I see the world differently now. My time with the children at Villa Amistad has filled me with so much joy, and my experience at La Morada with fellow travelers has been a time of sweet fellowship. Loving and being loved by my neighbor has made my life so much richer. I often find that I lack the words to adequately describe my affection for this mission. As soon as I return home from one visit, I am anxiously awaiting my next visit.
Clay ManleyHouston, TX
I had the great privilege to first visit Amistad in 2017 with my wife and three boys. We initially learned about Amistad through our church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. While St. Martin’s long-standing support of Casa San Martín piqued my family’s interest, our decision to travel to Bolivia was driven by two primary factors. First, Amistad’s commitment to keep biological siblings together was an important draw, as we believed our boys collectively would be able to relate to and connect with other siblings in a meaningful way. Secondly, we were attracted by the opportunity for our boys to communicate with the children in Spanish. I have strong and vivid memories of our time spent at Villa Amistad, especially the warmth and smiles of sibling groups, including my own children. I would highly encourage any family looking for a transformative mission for the entire family to visit Amistad.
Stefan MurryHouston, TX
I first visited Amistad during the summer of 2019 with my teenage daughter and a group of parishioners from our church, St. John the Divine in Houston. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The spirit of joy and hopefulness that was evident among the children was remarkable, given their difficult circumstances. Equally remarkable was the kindness and dedication of the staff, especially the mamás. There is perhaps no better example of following Christ’s Great Commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” than by dedicating your life in service to the most vulnerable members of society. It is clear that God has blessed Amistad. In turn, Amistad bestows its blessing on those it serves, but also on all those who have the privilege to visit and support Amistad’s mission. I look forward to my next visit to Cochabamba with St. John the Divine this summer.
Michael ReddellDallas, TX
I first learned about Amistad many years ago at a meeting at my church, Saint Michael and All Angels. My wife, Kelly, and I immediately felt a connection to this mission because of the transformative stories of children who had previously suffered trauma and abandonment. Kelly visited Bolivia for the first time in 2015 and came back sharing how profoundly impressed she was by all that she saw and experienced at Amistad. For the next few years, I continued to hear about Amistad and the personal relationships that Kelly developed with many of the children on her subsequent trips. Despite all of these uplifting stories, I still could not quite understand or appreciate the impact this mission was having on the children it serves.
That all changed in 2019 on my first visit to Villa Amistad. I will never forget the first few moments when our group stepped off the bus. The children from Casa Esperanza and many other houses rushed out to greet us with open arms and joyous enthusiasm. My head swirled initially with my preconceived notions of what might be the “underlying motivation” for the unrestrained affection and attention from these children. One of the great joys of my life was soon realizing that this was simply God’s love made manifest in the children I met during this trip. It was such a powerful experience for me to learn from these children, who so beautifully modeled gratitude, humility, and joy, in spite of their difficult backgrounds. It was also quite humbling for me to realize how much more they had given to me than I could ever hope to give to them. It was at this point I completely understood the passion and dedication so many people I know have for Amistad. I returned to Dallas with a commitment to become an ambassador for this unique mission.
Mike ShepherdPonte Vedra Beach, FL
The mission and children of Amistad came into my life in 1994. We lived in Houston and attended The Church of St. John the Divine. A friend there, Anne Grizzle, had become incredibly passionate and influential in making lives better for abandoned children in Bolivia. We listened to her stories after every trip, became emotionally invested, and contributed in different ways over the years. My family moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, and my son visited Amistad in 2007 on the first Christ Episcopal Church youth mission trip to Bolivia. His personal stories and impassioned sermon on Youth Sunday that year focused on the children’s lives, hope, and faith. I was beyond emotionally invested. In 2012 and 2013, our youngest daughter made the Christ Church mission trips to Amistad to visit Casa San Francisco, the house our church built and sponsors. She came home with great pictures and stories, but more notably with relationships rooted in Christ.
I was honored to join the Amistad board in 2017 and to serve children outside my community who had so deeply impacted my own family. My first trip to Amistad was in 2018, and there are few times in my life when I have felt so enveloped in God’s love, all through the hugs of children. They overcome more every day than I will ever completely understand, yet their love is boundless. Over 25 years ago, God planted the seed of Amistad in my heart through a dear friend. I watched that seed grow through my children’s experiences, and now its roots strengthen my daily walk with Christ and the journey ahead.
Valerie SirenkoMountain View, CA
When I was 15, my aunt, Anne Grizzle, took me to Bolivia for the first time. This was a formative life experience for me. After meeting the children at the Villa and getting to know them, after spending a night in Aramasí and experiencing the hospitality of Bolivian communities, I knew Amistad was going to be a big part of my life. This experience convinced me that service to others can only be done through relationships—something I continue to admire about Amistad’s approach to embodying Christ’s love in the world. My enthusiasm for deeper relationships with everyone I had met in Bolivia inspired me to study Spanish for over a decade and pursue a Latin American Studies certificate in college.
To solidify my relationships with the children and the mamas, I went back to Cochabamba the very next year (2006) with Anne Grizzle, Deb Krummel, and Amy Thompson. I was so excited to connect with each child that I began interviewing them and collecting lists of their favorite things. This project became a profile book with photos and descriptions of each child’s likes and dislikes for visitors to browse at La Morada to connect deeper with the children during their visits.
In 2012, as the thirtieth anniversary of Amistad was approaching, I spent three weeks in Cochabamba researching and interviewing (in Spanish!) many of the formative people who nurtured Amistad in its early years. I wrote Amistad: Stories of Service Through Friendship (2013) to capture the mission, vision, and incredible story of Amistad’s founding.
In 2016, I had the incredible joy of taking my husband (Max), his mom, his brother, and his sister to La Morada, the Villa, and Aramasí to share the spirit of Bolivia with them and lead them in spiritual reflections on how this experience shaped them. I am continually amazed and rewarded by the impact Amistad is making in the lives of children and families, especially through the thoughtful approach of the Amistad for Families program.
Katharine Van Wie *Board Emerita, Houston, TX
Amistad has blessed my life since my first trip to Bolivia in 1999. I became a member of the board the following year and have enjoyed the privilege of serving at points during the tenure of every U.S. and Bolivian Executive Director. For four years, I spent three weeks each summer living at Villa Amistad, helping to tutor children and getting to know each house. Being able to speak Spanish allowed me to form very special bonds with them. I still keep in touch with several of these young adults via social media. My life is so much richer because of the relationships developed through “amistad” with the children, mamás, tías, and staff at Villa Amistad. Serving this vulnerable part of God’s creation has been one of the great blessings of my life.
* Ex officio member
Chris KingU.S. Executive Director - Nashville, TN
Amistad has embraced me for more than half my life. I first visited Villa Amistad in 2002 as a recent high school graduate on a youth pilgrimage with Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville. I had never felt closer to God than during the week we spent with the children. Returning home from that trip, I set two goals: to become fluent in Spanish and to return to live amongst the children. After college, I lived in Cochabamba and worked at Amistad for two years. The remarkable community of Villa Amistad has shown me that empathic friendship is not in the “doing” but in the “being.” Patient listening, selfless love, and gentle humility to see that Jesus teaches adults through children are the traits I admire in friendships at Amistad.
Amistad is meant to be shared. Experiencing this ministry with first-time visitors or longtime friends builds connections for years to come. It has been an honor to serve Amistad in this current role since 2011.
Lila EwelBolivian Executive Director - Cochabamba, Bolivia
I began working for Amistad in 2008, looking for a place where I could strengthen my recently discovered Christian faith. I not only found this faith community, but I also found an extraordinary family. Every child, staff member, and friend who visits Amistad is part of this family. During the years I have led Amistad in Bolivia, I have grown personally and spiritually. Amistad made me a mother, not only of my two daughters, but of every child who has been, is, and will be part of this mission. Through Amistad, I have discovered a more diverse Bolivia and have developed dear friendships. It is a place that challenges, inspires, worries, and elates me, sometimes all at once!