For the last week I have been in Bolivia, visiting our Companion Synod, the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and celebrating their 80th Anniversary as an indigenous Lutheran Church. So far we have spent 5 days in La Paz (elevation 13,000 feet), learning about the history of the church, worshiping, visiting the school, and going to the Obispa Jessica Crist Retreat Center. On Monday we traveled to Cobija, just across the border from Brazil, where the heat and humidity are tropical. We spent the afternoon and evening at the Centro Galilea, where Pastor Luis Blanco has a ministry with high needs children, and a congregation. This afternoon we head into the jungle to harvest bananas, and to visit the cattle farm that supports the ministry (and that we supported through our Assembly offering a few years ago.) Below I want to share some initial thoughts from the rest of our delegation.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
We are church! This has never felt more true than when we as Lutherans marched through the streets of La Paz to the celebration service of 80 years of Lutheranism in Bolivia,
Cynthia Thomas, LPA
Hola from Bolivia! Of the many life-enriching experiences I have had so far, I have been inspired by the gracious, generous and overwhelming hospitality extended to us by our brothers and sisters in Christ in Bolivia. I was moved by the ways in which very different cultures of peoples here desired to be a part of something bigger than themselves. That is to say, to be the people of God in community. I saw this powerfully expressed in Cobija with the ministry Pastor Luis has with children. I am grateful for this life- changing opportunity and look forward to sharing these and more stories with you, my Montana Synod brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pastor Steve Van Gilder
Live generously! I thought I did that (mostly). But in Bolivia I discovered a deeper meaning to this expression. Despite living in the poorest country in South America, the Bolivians I met shared their food, their incredible talents, and friendship as they welcomed an awkward stranger in a foreign land. Today I learned that living generously is not just about sharing resources, it’s about sharing love.
Dave Scholten, LPA
During my time here, I have learned so much about the culture and so much about the church. This is an experience like none other, where I am less of a tourist, and more of a neighbor to others. I have learned how much our partnership with the IELB means to both churches, and how each church has and is still benefiting from the relationship we hold strong. I hope to come back sometime soon to continue our efforts together as people in Christ.
This visit has given me even greater understanding of what it means to commune around Christ’s table. After the IELB’s worship service celebrating 80 years of ministry, hundreds of us from across Bolivia and around the globe gathered to eat off of a very long stretch of colorful aguayos (blankets used by Aymara Chola women to carry everything on their backs from food to firewood to babies). They were filled with potatoes, choclo corn, cheeses, meats, and plantains—a diverse feast preluding the feast that is to come in Christ. It made me rejoice in knowing there is always a place at God’s table for everyone. No greater gift is shared than the love made known to us in Christ whenever we gather in community to break bread.
Pastor Stacey Siebrasse
La sangre de Cristo, derramada por ti. A familiar phrase, in a not so familiar language. We Montana Synod pastors were invited to serve Holy Communion during the service celebrating the IELB’s 80th anniversary. I held a chalice, a “common cup,” and was struck by the diversity of worshipers, the reverence with which they came to the Lord’s table, and by how totally we American pastors were accepted. With a new phrase in my mind, I totally forgot the Spanish blessing I’d learned. When a mother and her infant came forward, I marked the little girl with the sign of the cross and said, “Jesus loves you very much!” Her mother and I were both surprised, and mom exclaimed, “Amen!” After worship, the two found me to take a photo, and the mother asked me to pray for her daughter, Luz Valeria. I will be praying for Luz, her mom, and her church, for a long time. During this amazing trip to Bolivia, God is showing me over and over again just how connected we are.
Pastor Lindean Barnett Christenson
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA