During the month of October the Lutheran Church spends time remembering how Luther’s questions and concerns changed the church and the world with the idea that we are saved by grace through faith. While we stop to remember the church reformation of the past we also remember that the church is in a constant state of reforming itself.
As a member of the Women’s delegation to our sister synod, the Lutheran Church in Bolivia, in August we got to observe the continuing reformation of the church there. We spent most of our time with women’s groups. During the women’s retreat we heard how the words of grace are still being heard and believed for some people there on a first time basis. Learning of God’s love and grace for many of the women we heard, led to a big change in their self esteem. The women were eager to share their faith and continue to grow in faith and education. We tried to support the women as we listened and praised them for their work in the church. Bishop Jessica took time during the worship service in El Alto to really bring home the message that women and men are both made in God’s image and deserve respect and a place in the church.
The women and the whole national church have an emphasis on spiritual, mental and physical care and education of children there. Each church we visited had a school or after school program for the children. At the after school program children were welcome to come to a safe place and do their homework, do work that was created by the after school program and be involved in Bible Study. I had one kindergartener do his work while he sat on my lap. His work involved copying words in both printing and cursive. He did a great job. When we had a snack he saved some in his backpack for his family. I was reminded that one of Luther’s goals was for everyone to be able to read, so they could study the Bible for themselves. One young women helper at the school shared with tears in her eyes what this program had done for her.
Toward the end of our time together Pastor Presente Emilo shared with us his goals for the churches there. The first goal is to keep the churches and the schools they have functioning with thanks for the money we send for scholarships. The second goal is to be able to build a fellowship hall that will serve as a church and a school on the newly purchased property in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba in the outer areas where there are no churches at all. Since the school in El Alto includes a High School the government is requiring that the school include some vocational components. The school would like to add the components, languages, music, ballet and computer technology. This is the third goal.
The final goal Pastor Emilo shared with us is the need for the continuing education and training for the pastors. In Bolivia there are 110 churches with 40 ordained pastors including what we would call an LPA’s. There are also 100 lay pastor volunteers. The pastors are not salaried but rather are given a share of the churches offering.
I would ask that you pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ from Bolivia. Be assured that any offering that you give is being used wisely to share the good news of God’s love given through Jesus life, death and resurrection in what might seem like a far off place from us.
Pastor Alvina Olstead
From the ten women who made a companion synod visit to Bolivia in August-thanks for your prayers and support. Some of you followed us on facebook, some of you helped pay for our costs, some of you provided gifts to take along to the people we met. To all of you-muchos gracias!
Each month, from now until May, one of the women who visited Bolivia will write a piece for the News of the Week. You'll hear different points of view on the places we visited and the people we met. I'll provide an overview this month.
Our trip began in Santa Cruz, in the eastern part of Bolivia. Santa Cruz is at a relatively low altitude, and is warm, even in winter (remember-southern hemisphere, so August there is like February here!) There is one Lutheran Church in Santa Cruz-Fe y Esperanza
(Faith and Hope), with a small school connected to it. For many years generous donors of the Montana Synod have provided scholarships so that the children can attend the school. And we have supported the congregation there as well. Scholarship support continues to be a real need and is much appreciated.
The national church considers Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia's largest cities, to be a good mission field. People are migrating to Santa Cruz from around the country, and from neighboring countries as well, seeking work. So the IELB (the Evangelical Lutheran Bolivian Church) has purchased land where the migrants are moving, and intends to build a new congregation there with a significant outreach to impoverished children and youth. The fact that it is right next to a soccer field bodes well! This new congregation is the top mission priority of the IELB.
After visiting Santa Cruz, we moved to Cochabamba, another of Bolivia's largest cities with one small congregation. This congregation, Redentor, is staffed by lay volunteers and has about 20 at worship every Sunday. The real action here is the afterschool program, in which children come to do homework, learn Bible stories, have a healthy snack, and get some supervised exercise. This program is supported by ELCA mission dollars. Your weekly offering is making a difference here.
Because of the size of Cochabamba, the national church wants to invest in another congregation, and have purchased land in another part of the city. This, too, is a priority of the national church, after the congregation in Santa Cruz.
We spent the last days of the visit in La Paz, where the IELB is strongest (and where the altitude is 12,000 feet and up!) There are 6 congregations in La Paz, and another 6 in El Alto (up the mountain from La Paz). We had the opportunity to visit the Lutheran Institute in El Alto, a K-12 school that has over 170 students enrolled and is the pride of the church. Two years ago a significant gift from First Lutheran in Glasgow allowed the school to finish classrooms with floors and ceilings, build a computer lab, plumb some bathrooms, and build desks and chairs. Montana Synod Scholarships have been instrumental in helping low-income families send their children to this school. It is our hope that we will be able to continue to provide scholarships to both schools.
Because of new government regulations, the school will have to make some curriculum changes to come into compliance with new protocols, especially in providing educational resources that lead to jobs. The national church has listed this project as their third highest priority, and will be asking for assistance. And their fourth is assistance with pastoral formation.
Our group also visited the Jessica Crist Retreat Center on Lake Titicaca, to be part of a women's retreat. The center was built largely with the help of the Montana Synod. Those who have been part of that effort will be pleased to know that the center is up and running and hosts groups from all over the country.
You will be able to read more about each of these places we visited in upcoming months. We are assembling a team to coordinate our ongoing relationship with the IELB, including visits, exchanges and mission priorities. If you are interested in being a part of the team, please contact me at email@example.com. If you are interested in helping to fund the scholarships or any of the IELB's mission priorities, please send your checks to the Montana Synod Office. We send funds to the national office in Bolivia for them to distribute.
Finally I want to share a huge "Gracias!" from the IELB for the partnership with the Montana Synod. At our Assembly we collected funds for the water project in Cobija, where the water will be used to increase productivity on a cattle farm that supports a children's ministry to at-risk kids in the border town of Cobija. The funds have been sent to the church, and we expect that the project will begin. Thanks for your generosity.
It is a blessing to be in this relationship with our sisters and brothers in Bolivia.
Jessica Crist, Obispo