A few years ago, after I made a weekend trip to Norte de Potosí, Jenny asked me how it went. I said that there were lots of people there who had walked eight hours or more to hear me because someone had put it on the radio that I would be speaking. As we talked about the hunger that many have there to hear the Gospel, Jenny said that we need to train people to go live there as missionaries, so they do not have to walk eight hours in this remote area to hear a missionary that may visit once a month, but they would have someone discipling them on a daily basis. Since that time, we have been working on exploring and developing ways to fulfill that.
Now some of you may be thinking that a missionary is someone who goes to another country. That may be true, but it is not necessary. We generally consider someone to be a missionary if they are working in a different culture than their own. Bolivia may not be a huge country (about three times the size of Montana), but it has many different cultures. Until just the last few years with the development of better roads, Norte de Potosí was generally isolated from the rest of the world. The culture there is very different from what you would find in the rest of Bolivia, especially the cities. I have seen this difference illustrated when we have taken people with us from the cities to visit and they did not want to eat the food that was served to them. I have to admit that things like boiled lamb’s blood and goat intestines may not be the most appetizing, but one of the first things I was taught as a missionary was to eat what was served to me.
There are many challenges to mobilizing Bolivian missionaries. The first one is the mindset that only a foreigner can serve as a missionary. While that has never been verbally said to us, we see it expressed in other ways. Another challenge was either finding or developing a missionary training school. As our denomination in Bolivia is mainly indigenous and lower class, we needed to find a school that would be affordable or start one ourselves. In talking with other missionaries, we were able to meet Dr. Luís and Elizabeth Romay. Luís was raised in rural La Paz and felt a call to missions as a boy. Looking for a way to fulfill his call, he went to the city of La Paz and slept in trees in the plazas until he was able to get connected with missionaries who sent him to Peru to a training school there. While in Peru he eventually got his doctorate in missions and started a missionary training school there. He then felt called to go back to Bolivia to start a missionary training school. The school is called the Escuela de Capacitación Misionera Mundial (ECAMM) which means the Worldwide Missionary Training School. Their model is very similar to what I was thinking if we started our own training school. They have eight weeks of intensive classes, each time in a different location in Bolivia or one of the surrounding countries. They then send the students out on a four-month practicum before returning for another eight weeks of intensive classes. After two and a half to three years, the students graduate and go back to their church or denomination for service. We have begun a partnership with ECAMM and Jenny and I have been able to teach during the last two sessions of classes.
Victor Cuba is the first student from our Bolivian denomination that has joined the program. He served his first practicum in Paraguay and is now studying in Peru. There have been several other young people that have expressed interest in being missionaries, but they have yet to give up their jobs or other ambitions and join the program. I think much of it is a trust issue. Will God really provide if I surrender everything and follow Him to serve as a missionary? Please pray that more Bolivians will serve Him as a missionary.
The biggest challenge will be supporting the missionaries once they are trained. Bolivians are accustomed to receiving from the outside. It is time that they also give. Many of you have supported missionaries that have gone to Bolivia. Yes, Americans could easily support missionaries from Bolivia, but that is not the ultimate goal. It is now time for them to send and support missionaries. They need to see that if they sacrifice and support a missionary that God is more than capable of providing and taking care of them. I have done some seminars on missions and hope to do many more, teaching them the importance of looking outside of themselves and allowing God to use them to bless others.
As missionaries, we talk at times about working ourselves out of a job. Our goal in Bolivia is to develop a mature church. While there may be many definitions of what a mature church looks like, we feel one of the main things would be that it is a church that sends and supports missionaries. Please pray for us as we continue this process. We know that God is calling Bolivians to be missionaries. We also know that there are sufficient resources here to support these missionaries.
I should mention that while I focused on sending missionaries to Norte de Potosí in this article, our goal is to soon send missionaries to other countries as well, especially the Middle East. Please pray for obedience as God calls Bolivians to be a light to the nations.