Republic of Bolivia
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High in the Andes Mountains of South America, on the Altiplano, a plateau nearly 3,600 meters above sea level is La Paz, Bolivia the loftiest capital city in the world. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by Peru and Chile, Bolivia is landlocked by its western neighbors; Argentina lies to the south and Brazil to the northeast. The rugged, mountainous terrain to the west makes the country doubly inaccessible from that direction. Covering an area of almost 1.1 million sq km (424,000 sq miles), Bolivia has a population nearing 8 million people; Quechua and Aymara Indians represent 55% of the population. In the thirteenth century Incas displaced the earlier Indian population of the area. Spanish conquistadores appeared on the scene in the 1530s. Discovering silver, they soon set up mines, the most famous being at Potosi. Spain ruled the area until 1825. Political instability has marked Bolivia since that time, the country suffered from nearly 200 coups from 1824 until 1981. As a result of instability much territory was lost to neighboring countries, including access to the Pacific Ocean and significant oil and rubber producing areas. Today Bolivia is a republic governed by two legislative bodies known as the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
Due in part to political instability and loss of important territories Bolivia has suffered in recent decades from hyperinflation, rising to 11,700 percent by 1985, significantly damaging industry. Tin is a major export of Bolivia, once the largest producer in the world. Bolivia is the world’s second cultivator of the coca leaf. Metals, natural gas, soybeans and jewelry are the official main exports but coca grown cocaine is said to be Bolivia’s biggest export earner. Agriculture accounts for 50% of the economy.
The Spanish conquistadores brought with them to Chile Roman Catholicism and today 95% of the population claims that faith tradition.
The following is from http://missions-history.wikispaces.com/Bolivia, Dr. Bob Waldron, Missions Consultant and Researcher:
The history of the Churches of Christ in Bolivia is a compelling story of how God used a young single woman for His glory. Frances Itow, a member of the Westside Church of Christ, a Japanese-American congregation in Los Angeles, California, went to Bolivia in 1967 with her friend, Rozanna Palmer to teach 7-12 grade English and Social Studies at a private school in Santa Cruz through the International Schools Service.
Acting upon the suggestion of Ken Hargesheimer, a missionary in Guatemala, Frances Itow placed an ad in a local newspaper offering free correspondence courses (Itow 2011). Several enrolled and at least one, Angel Justiniano, finished all eight courses over several years. Because of his uncommon interest, Hargesheimer asked if Angel was interested in a personal Bible study. When he responded positively, Glenn Kramer, a missionary serving in Lima, Peru went to Santa Cruz and studied with Angel for a week, baptizing him on December 14, 1971.
Out of this fascinating story, spanning the United States, Guatemala and Peru, came the first Church of Christ in Bolivia, the Estación Argentina Church of Christ in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Upon his baptism, Angel began studying the Scriptures with his friends. In 1969 an American couple, brothers in Christ, contacted Angel and began worshipping together on Sundays. Shortly thereafter, Richard Treat arrived in Santa Cruz for a short stay of four days, and helped Angel study with his friends and baptizing Mario Castellón.
Some time later, Marvin Stefin arrived in Santa Cruz, to help with the work there and left taped messages for a radio program. The program ended when the radio station was attacked and burnt, destroying all of the tapes.
In 1972 Jerry Hill, a missionary in Guatemala, began a series of visits to Santa Cruz de la Sierra and ended up moving his wife, Ann, and son, David, there for four months. During this time, many friends and family members of Angel were baptized, and the church began to grow, while still meeting in Angel’s home.
In 1973 Higinio Soto arrived to help in the local work, and did so for a short period of time. In 1974 Juan RamónGarcía arrived in Santa Cruz from Austin, Texas and began working fervently with the Christians there. During this time the congregation began looking for property to construct their own building, and in 1976 the church moved into their new facility. The church continued growing through these years but, due to civil unrest,
García ended up leaving the country in 1980.
On April 24th, 1988 Angel Justiniano and Román Caballero were named as elders of the local congregation. At an evangelistic meeting held in conjunction with the ordination, attendance reached a high of 182 people. Eight months later, on January 15th, 1989, the church appointed Angel Catani, Domingo Hoyos, Lucio Vallaroel and Roberto Escobar as its first deacons.
Currently, Angel Justiniano, Rolando Justiniano, Rafael Vaca Pérez and Juan Pedraza serve as elders in the church. Hermán Paz and Mario Gálvis serve as deacons. Rolando Justiniano also serves as the evangelist for the congregation. Many of the men and women of the church share in the different teaching responsibilities. Sunday morning attendance is usually in the 90’s.
All of the congregations near Santa Cruz have come out of The Estación Argentina congregation.
Due to evangelistic efforts in the streets of Santa Cruz de la Sierra led by missionary Juan García, Severino Tortolay and his wife Victoria, along with Rómulo Ortega and his wife Catalina were baptized in 1975. These families were from a locality situated 27 km. north of Santa Cruz. On December 14th, 1975 the church met for the first time there. Eventually, both families decided to move to the town of Santa Marta where they built a small structure, establishing the church that continues to meet there. Currently their attendance is around 8. From this small congregation, three other churches have been established in nearby small towns.
After severe flooding of the Piraí River left thousands of families without their homes in 1983, the housing district named “Plan 3000” was built. Around 3000 families moved into this suburb of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Members from the Estación Argentina congregation led by Román Caballero began visiting their families in this area, and finally decided to plant a new congregation there. With the assistance of missionary Ken Hines they were able to secure funds to purchase property to build their own facility. Currently their Sunday morning attendance is approximately 50.
Raul Pardo, a faithful member of the Plan 3000 congregation served from 2006-2011 as a national representative in the Bolivian government. His campaign slogan was the words from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The verse which is on the wall of the Plan 3,000 Church of Christ, in a poor section of Santa Cruz, appeared on all of Pardo’s campaign literature. His focus was on focus serving the poor of his district in the fields of illiteracy, education and public health. He is the first member of Churches of Christ in South America to hold office in the national government on this level (The Christian Chronicle, June 2006).
In March of 1994, Roberto Escobar, deacon of the Estación Argentina congregation, together with Rafael Vaca Pérez, began making periodic visits to the Palmasola Prison. As inmates (both male and female) were converted to Christ, the need for a place for them to worship became evident. Construction of 2 buildings, one in the women’s side and the other in the men’s side began in 1997, and were concluded in April 1998. Currently, the ministry in the prison is being led by José Huaylla, elder of the Pari church, and Eusebio Aguero, former inmate of the prison, ministers and preaches in both the men’s and women’s sides. Currently close to 20 women attend services regularly. 10 of them live in the women’s church facility. Inmates Petronilla Almanza and Vanesa Araúz minister to them. On the men’s side, 60 men attend services. All of them live in the church’s facility for men. Inmate Miguel Parada ministers to them.
The Church of Christ in El Pari
In 1998, members from the Estación Argentina congregation led by Roberto Escobar, and assisted by missionary Ken Hines, decided to begin a new work in this very populated area of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. On April 17th, 1998 the church met for the first time. Currently they have their own facility and are led by their elders, Fernando Salvatierra and José Huaylla. Erick Pérez, Eduardo Roncal and Roberto Viruez serve as deacons. Their Sunday morning attendance is approximately 80.
Evangelistic efforts conducted by Santa Marta member, Rómulo Ortega led to the baptism of Benedicto Flores and his wife Ignacia in 2001. Benedicto and Ignacia began working in this small community and baptized a number of friends and family. Currently their attendance is around 14.
Shortly after the establishment of the church in Kilómetro 13, Mauro Flores and Rómulo Ortega from Santa Marta baptized Felipe Caballero and his wife Valentina from El Torno, small community about 33 km. north of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The church began meeting in their home on March 20th, 2001. They have reported 36 baptisms, and have a Sunday morning attendance of approximately 10 adults.
The Quinto Anillo Church of Christ
Influenced by several visits made from Carlos Capelli, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Estación Argentina members, Richard Grichukin and Jesús Padilla, together with their families, decide to leave the congregation and form and new work in the home of Jesús. Their first official church assembly took place on August 18th, 2002. In time, fellowship was renewed between the two churches. Currently the Quinto Anillo church has 35 members.
The San Carlos Church of Christ
Efforts made by Mauro Clemente Flores from the El Torno congregation together with the support of Rómulo Ortega from the congregation in Santa Marta result in the conversion of Feliciano Rocha and Semida Montaño from the town of San Carlos. The church met for the first time on October 25th, 2009. They have built their own building where the 10 members currently meet.
On January 4, 2009, Roberto López and his wife Elvira, members of the El Pari congregation and led by the fervent desire to reach their families with the gospel, began a new work in their home. The congregation is located in the neighborhood known as “Las Hamacas”. Currently 25 members meet for Sunday worship.
The San José Church of Christ
El Torno members Cesar Córdova Durán and his wife Brigida Sara Santillán opened their home to begin a new congregation in the small community of San José. The church met for the first time on November 1st, 2009. Currently 9 members meet at this location.
Efforts in the Capital City of La Paz
As the church was flourishing in its own facilities in Santa Cruz, not much was happening in the rest of the country. The earliest effort by American a cappella Churches of Christ in all of Bolivia is traced to Evert Pickartz from Van Buren, Arkansas who distributed tracts in La Paz on his first missionary trip to Chile in 1958. Over the next 20 years, Pickartz made several unsuccessful attempts to work through other North American and Chilean evangelists to help bring the gospel to Bolivia (Holloway).
Finally, in 1983 Evert arrived and began a small work that met for the first time in Miraflores, a suburb of La Paz, on July 19th, 1983. Shortly thereafter, Alejandro Gutierrez, Jorge Astudillo and Ricardo Bermudez from Santiago, Chile, and Moisés Yalaupari from Lima, Perú arrived to assist work with this new congregation. In time this congregation became the Coroica Church.
A North American team of four families arrived from Oklahoma Christian College in 1984, settling in the capital city of La Paz to establish a new congregation there. The team included Earl and Denise Fultz, Ken and Sherri Hines, Jimmy and Jan Rogers and Jose and Alicejoy Taylor. The Scott Carnegies served as apprentices from 1987 to 1989. By 1985 this group was reduced to two families and by 1989 only Ken and Sherry Hines remained, staying for 10 years. Through their efforts the Busch Church of Christ was begun and grew to about 75 members. Carl James, former missionary to Guatemala and Colombia, held several evangelistic meetings in La Paz. In May 1989, Les Bennett, a missionary-in-residence at Abilene Christian University, helped organize a Global Campaign there, with Dr. Dan Coker preaching nightly in a large hall, followed by personal Bible studies with interested individuals after the preaching.
By 1990 there were four congregations in La Paz, with a total membership of 250.
In 1987, Atilio Pinto, from Santiago, Chile arrived in La Paz to prepare local men to serve as ministers in the church. Eight men graduated from the program. Rufino López remained in La Paz; Oscar Carrasco went to the city of El Alto; Juan López to Cochabamba; Lucas Daza to Sucre; Lucio Llanos to Tarija while Luis Tapia carried the responsibility of supporting all of these men. One baptism was reported in Sucre, while the congregations in La Paz and El Alto remained firm.
- The Avenida América Church of Christ
Internal turmoil marred the churches in La Paz, resulting in the loss of many members. The church in El Alto ceased to exist and, in 1996, the two surviving congregations merged to form the Avenida América congregation. A few of the leaders remained and continued working with the church. Currently Luis Tapia is preaching for this congregation which has approximately 30 members.
- The Viacha Church of Christ
In 2005, Fredy Sillo planted a new congregation in the city of Viacha. Currently they have approximately 10 in attendance.
- The El Alto Church of Christ
On December 13th, 2009 a new congregation was planted in the city of El Alto. Juan López, former member of the Avenida América church in La Paz, is currently working very hard to build up this new work.
- The Villa San Antonio Church of Christ
In 2010, Rufino López, former member and long time evangelist with the Avenida América church, began this new work in the city of La Paz. Currently the church meets in his home and has approximately 25 in attendance.
The Work in the City of Sucre
Although there were attempts to establish the church in Sucre during the 1980’s, it wasn’t until the arrival of the Sucre Mission Team in April, 2007 that this dream was realized. Erik and Jenny Reyes, Francisco and Mary Torres and singles, Juan Carlos Cabrera, Iván Lastra and Angela Myers arrived in the city of the city of Sucre. In November 2007, the church began to meet in their downtown location. In 2009, Iván Lastra moved to Santa Cruz, while in 2010, Roberto Iskendarian and his family moved to Sucre to work with the team. Currently the church has up to 50 in attendance.
In late 1997, Mirta López and her two children, Juan Victor and Sebastián, returned to Bolivia from Miami with the purpose of evangelizing family and friends of hers in Cochabamba, whose population is divided between Spanish speakers and descendents of the Inca Indians who speak an indigenous language called Quechua (pronounced “KETCH-u-ah”). She built a baptistry in her backyard and began contacting people she knew. Assisted by a preacher who came from Miami, formal Bible studies were set up. In January of 1998, the small church that resulted from the conversion of these families began to meet, first of all, in Mirta’s house, then in rented facilities and finally in the home of Renán and Leticia Vargas. In time numbers diminished until the Vargas family was the only one left from the group.
In January 2006, a team made up of 5 families, sent and sponsored by the Austin Avenue church of Christ in Brownwood, Texas arrived in the city of Cochabamba with a strategy to establish a congregation in the downtown area of the city. The Cochabamba Mission team, made up of Gary and Laura Bull, Drew and Jamie Custer, Jeff and Katie Forbess, Josh and Julie Marcum and Butch and Trish Sandoval officially launched the Cochabamba Centro church of Christ on January 14th of 2007, with an inaugural service with close to 150 in attendance.
Vargas and his family, who had been struggling for nearly a decade to grow a church from their home, were ecstatic with the team’s arrival. “It’s marvelous, because we’ve been waiting and waiting for a group to come,” Vargas said, straining to be heard over the noise of the crowd lining up for a fellowship meal (Tryggestad, March 2007).The Vargas family has become an important addition to the work in Cochabamba. Currently only two team members, the Forbess and Sandoval families, are serving in Cochabamba. The main tool used to evangelize the lost and prepare Christians for service is The Center for Christian Education, “La Conexión Cristiana.” Approximately 90 percent of the church members in Cochabamba have come through the classes offered at the center. Currently, church attendance averages between 60 and 70. At this moment, the main focus of the work is discipleship and leadership training, while searching for a permanent facility.
International Churches of Christ have two congregations in Bolivia.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
Revised by Gary Holloway, September 12, 2013
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