As long as sin, corruption and injustice are in the world, there will always be a mission field, and the church will be called to extend the Kingdom of God by making disciples for Christ from every nation.
Bolivia is a country where there is much injustice and inequality – particularly in terms of gender, economics and social conditions.
Many would say that Bolivia is a Christian country – and there is some truth in that statement. For example, most will affirm they are Catholic Christian (even if nominal) and that they have at some time or another visited an evangelical congregation. It is hard to find people who have not heard the gospel, or some aspects of it, and around 25 per cent of the Bolivian population claim to be evangelical.
Regrettably, however, this high percentage of profession has not resulted in reduced corruption or improved justice in the country. Christian discipleship in Bolivia needs to be emphasised and a practical impact of following Christ – on every aspect of life and community – needs to be seen.
Social and economic inequalities are stark in most South American countries, and Bolivia is one of the poorest. National statistics (www.ine.gov.bo) reveal that extreme poverty in Bolivia runs as high as 37 per cent. Out of a population of over 9.5 million, more than 3.5 million live in dire poverty.
In rural areas over 78 per cent of the homes do not have access to drinking water and 72 per cent do not have toilets. Life expectancy is between 45 and 66 years. Those who are bilingual or trilingual in Bolivia’s ethnic languages are among the poorer sections of the community, compared to those who only speak Spanish.
Some Bolivian wage-earners take home nearly 200 times more money than others. The population’s richest 20 per cent access over 60 per cent of national income, while the poorest 20 per cent earn only 2 per cent of it. Villages are supplied by polluted rivers and cities are centres of disease and infection.
The government deserves credit for tackling the social problems head-on and trying to help the marginalised, especially in rural areas and on the outskirts of cities. It has recently voted in a new constitution to benefit indigenous, ethnic minorities and other marginalised peoples in Bolivia. But this has proved unpopular with middle-class city dwellers, who want a greater say in the political process.
So there is a deep divide in Bolivia between left and right, east and west, rural areas and cities, and rich and poor. This impacts on Evangelicals too. Bolivia needs Christians who, as part of their witness, will show practical neighbourliness through vocational and social projects. In this context, missionary commitment works best if it is long-term, rather than short-term.
Bolivia continues to be a place to make disciples of Christ and teach people to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).
The author is associate pastor of Centro Evangelico Assemblies of God Church in Oruro, Bolivia.