Bolivia presents great openness for Christian work. Churches are growing and there is much progress to celebrate. But the situation presents challenges. Bolivian churches range from big city-centre Charismatic fellowships, attended mainly by the middle classes, to small outlying shanty town or country village fellowships, with poorly trained leaderships.
Challenges abound in determining correct doctrine, establishing pluralistic rather than autocratic leadership structures, and growing churches when members often have to work for long hours just to keep food on the family table.
Over recent decades the Protestant churches have grown, helped by a participatory approach to worship involving lay leadership. This contrasts with established Catholic religion, with its priest leading each service and complicated church rituals reserved for high days and holidays.
A little over 100 years ago it was not possible for Protestants to minister, so great gospel progress has been made. But a need remains to develop practical discipleship in the churches at every level.
Yet there is, above all, evidence that true Christian conversion has led to changed lives, reduced domestic violence, and brought victory over lifestyle failures like drunkenness and sexual immorality.
Latin Link supports national church initiatives and provides personnel to work alongside national leaders (at the invitation of the national church). Let me introduce you to some of these personnel, so that you can see how the love of Christ reaches out to the spiritual and physical needs of Bolivian communities.
Labouring for Christ
Louis and Maribel Woodley work in Alpacoma on a barren hillside in La Paz, at the invitation of Marcelo and Silvana Vargas. They are planting a daughter congregation to their church. It’s slow, hard work, but Louis and Maribel provide help that would not otherwise be available.
Christian professionals such as Igor and Charo Améstegui minister in psychology and counselling. They lead preaching workshops and retreats for the development of Christian character, operating throughout Latin America in association with Langham Partnership. Marcelo and Silvana Vargas run a training school for missionaries from their home in La Paz.
Gray and Andrea Parker work in Cochabamba training and helping believers to start up income-generating initiatives. They also work alongside Charo Améstegui in retreat ministry.
Charles and Suzanne Windsor are involved in setting up nurseries in Cochabamba for the children of women prisoners. They bring compassionate ministry to disadvantaged women and help them set up small businesses, so that they can earn a living with dignity. Julie Noble focuses on prison work through a restorative justice programme, and in caring for prisoners’ children.
With relatively easy access for international Christian workers, and a welcome from churches to sensitively handled partnerships, the opportunities for Christian service in Bolivia are widespread.
International workers need to maintain good relationships with national partners and work alongside already established national ministries. They must have a willingness to serve, and their qualifications and vocations should match the needs and vision of national ministries.
There are openings for pioneer evangelism and church planting. Students and church leaders need help in discipleship training and leading compassionate ministries.
Bolivia has the highest concentration of non-European indigenous peoples in South America and, in spite of its economic struggles, is highly developed in political awareness. The lowland east is agriculturally developed, while the highlanders are traditionally miners and traders.
My experience in Bolivia in the 1990s included being part of the staff team at the Comunidad Cristiana Universitaria where, as a European couple, we started a student Christian group under the guidance and with the support of local churches.
I was also part of a team taking theological materials to church leaders in surrounding towns and villages. None of this relied on me as the only person who could do it; nor did we develop a ministry that would collapse when we left.
God is at work in growing his church. There are pressures from national political instability but, by the same token, great opportunities for witness in troubled times. The Lord continues to call different resources from one part of his worldwide church to help build up other parts; and service and partnership across boundaries are key themes for witness in Bolivia.