Tomorrow ten women head to Bolivia for a companion synod visit. At the request of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bolivia (IELB), this group of women is going to meet with Bolivian women of the IELB in Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and La Paz/El Alto. Empowering women has been a goal of the IELB for many years. Pastor Presidente Humberto Salazar, who was killed in a tragic car accident, worked hard to find ways to improve the status of women. The retreat center on Lake Titicaca, funded in large part by Montana Synod individuals and congregations, was his inspiration, as was naming it after a Montana woman. (It is called the Obispa Jessica Crist Retreat Center.)
In 2008, I was privileged to ordain the first two women in the Bolivian church. I have their photo on my desk today. As the relationship between the IELB and the Montana Synod deepens, we learn to share our gifts and our needs. The church asked for us to send a group of women on our next visit, and that is what we are doing. Our delegation includes a teacher and a banker, an engineer and an artist, a retired military person and an educator, an attorney and some pastors. Some of our group speak Spanish, some have traveled widely, and some have never left the US. All are members of ELCA congregations, active in church and community.
We are not going to Bolivia to fix anything. We are going to listen and pray, to share and learn. We will meet with groups of women and hear their stories. We'll share experiences of child-rearing and balancing family and work. We'll talk about domestic violence and racial discrimination. We'll share the good news with each other, and pray for each other.
Companion synod relationships are all about accompaniment, about mutuality. Anyone who was at the Synod Assembly this year will remember Justin Eller's eloquence about what accompaniment is and is not. It is being sisters and brothers in Christ together. And that is what we are going to Bolivia to do. No more and no less.
Those of you at the Synod Assembly will also remember that our Assembly offering was to help build a water system for cattle in a church-owned farm in the low country near Brazil. That project was the result of another request from the IELB, to send someone who understood cattle. We did that in 2013, and Jim Dickey determined that the cattle would be more productive if given more water. So he designed a system which the church endorsed. And we raised $13,000 to build it. Thanks! There's another part to the story, too. The proceeds from the cattle go to the church in nearby Cobija, where the mission is children at risk.
I ask you to pray for this group of women going to Bolivia, and to pray for the IELB. Watch for updates along the way.
The delegation: Cindy Ellis Bey, Sandra Blosser, Mait Board, Mary Campbell, Jessica Crist, Gloria Lannen, Susan Leaverton, Lin Olson, Alvina Olstead, Stacey Siebrasse.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA