Staying Strong in the Faith

by Helen Ponce

William Payne1 started the Brethren movement in Bolivia. He came into the country via Cordoba, Argentina, with his wife, their eldest daughter, two other Christians and six animals as cargo. They arrived in the capital of Bolivia, Sucre, in July 1895 with the purpose of starting a church. In 1898, they returned to evangelise other cities.

On Payne’s third visit in 1900, he had the unpleasant experience of being imprisoned in Sucre. However, a judge ruled that since there was freedom of religion in the country he was subsequently released. In 1902, in the city of Cochabamba, Payne and his family nearly lost their lives. Instructed by the Roman Catholic priests, a crowd of drunkards broke into their home, smashing and burning their possessions in the street with the intention of putting the family to death by the same means. Suddenly, an imposing man, with whom Payne had shared the gospel, appeared and stopped the rioters. Then a group of armed soldiers arrived to disperse the crowd and helped the family to escape. The work was further established in 1911, by George and Isabel Hamilton (New Zealand) and Roberto Rowden (UK) who sadly died of typhoid in Oruro in 1921.

It is hard to believe that at the end of July 2022, I will have been in Bolivia for 45 years! My husband, Mario, and I have seen many changes in that time. When I arrived to work with Lorna Valez, née Frood (UK), the country was still very undeveloped. Few people had cars then, now there are daily accidents and traffic jams. Those who have visited know what we mean by crazy Bolivian driving! It is only by God’s grace that we have never had an accident.

On my arrival, the senior workers in Bolivia were: Frank and Blanquita Haggarty (UK/Canada) based in Santa Cruz; Willie and Ray Hill (UK) in Uyuni; and Mima Horne (UK) in Montero. There were several others, including: Ned and Flora Meharg in Cobija; Ron and Mavis Randel in Tarija; Bert and Elena Randel in Tupiza; and Jean and Loren Train in Camiri. These couples were greatly used of the Lord. Their experiences were tough but we are still seeing the fruit of their labours years later.

Misiones Cristianas Bolivia

Christian Missions in Bolivia (Misiones Cristianas Bolivia – MCB) has over 229 registered churches. It is tremendous how the work has grown! MCB began on 3 October 1960, when a committee was formed to help missionaries arriving in the country with the required paperwork to ensure they had a permit to carry out mission work and to register churches.

Today there are few foreign mission workers in Bolivia. Gospel ministry is increasingly carried out by nationals. We have 20 full-time workers and some who have been commended to mission in other countries, including Claudia Acuna in Uganda and Katia Ticona who is serving the Lord in Ethiopia. A few years ago, a committee was formed to manage funds to support our workers. We have two Bible schools in Santa Cruz Department and a seminary in La Paz that prepares young people for service. Bible teaching conferences in Brethren churches generally take place from Thursday evening until Sunday evening. In Potosi Department there is a predominance of Quechua churches with around 1,500 gathering for their conferences.

Church Growth

There are nine churches in our department, Cochabamba, all in fellowship together. On the last Thursday of each month, we meet for prayer and a word of encouragement followed by refreshments and fellowship. Four of the churches are bilingual; the attendees like to sing in Quechua but the message is always in Spanish. Our church continues to be packed every Sunday morning with new visitors attending every week. Recently there were five conversions at one morning service and there were ten three weeks before that. There were five discipleship classes taking place on Sunday afternoons and the First Steps programme had to be split into smaller groups as it was too big. After completing First Steps, people progress to a further class, so new believers receive a good grounding in God’s Word. Emmaus classes are held on Monday evenings.

Their experiences were tough but we are still seeing the fruit of their labours years later.

We resumed our ladies’ meetings in April – the women missed them so much. Before the pandemic we had 58 women attend the group to celebrate Mother’s Day. Gail, our daughter, shared the Word, speaking on women of the Bible who persevered under adverse circumstances. Many tears were shed as some of our sisters face challenging family situations with unsaved husbands. The meeting for married couples has been a blessing. It takes place once a month in the form of a round-table discussion. Two of our young couples lead the group with between 20 and 30 couples attending.

The Saturday afternoon Eagles’ Group for teenagers is going well. On the last Sunday of each month, the group is responsible for arranging and leading the whole meeting. We have some budding preachers! The young people also meet on Saturday evenings and take it in turns to preach on the other Sunday evenings.

Redeeming Lives

For almost 35 years I have visited the women’s prison every Friday afternoon. Through this ministry, the Lord is working in the hearts of many women and changing their lives.

Grace – Mother’s Day is always hard for women in prison as many of them are separated from their children. Grace, who trusted the Lord, is from Colombia and has three young children who remain in that country under the care of her husband’s family. She will not see her children for many years; they will be grown-up by the time she gets out.

Yolanda – After open heart surgery, Yolanda went home to be with the Lord. She left a wonderful testimony; she was strong in her faith and in her walk with the Lord. Her husband and son were brutally murdered and their bodies were found in the river. After nine days her son’s body was hardly recognisable as the piranha had eaten his flesh. Her husband, who was a policeman, was found shortly afterwards. Pray for her wee girl of seven, Jhosalin, who was left alone. We got her into a really good home for girls run by missionaries and I visited her the first Saturday of each month. An uncle has been granted permission to have Jhosalin in his care. She trusted the Lord and was baptised and is so bright like her mother, always quoting Scripture memory verses to me.

Maria – Give thanks for God’s provision of a job for Maria, a trained nurse, who is now taking care of a woman with Alzheimer’s. Maria’s daughter runs a home for disabled boys where she helps and they are happy with her work. While she was in prison she was a blessing to all the inmates. She has two boys and a girl studying at university. One of Maria’s sons trusted the Lord. Although Maria is a widow and her life is not easy, she feels very blessed. The Lord is using Maria: she never misses an opportunity to share the gospel.

Fumico – After her course of chemotherapy, Fumico is recovering well. The doctor is happy with the results and she was able to tell them it was an answer to prayer. She needs your prayers as the cancer is spreading. Fumico never complains but keeps bright and always grateful. She truly loves the Lord.

Katherine – Katherine was convicted of murdering her twin sister. I don’t think she did it but she was there and was possibly covering for her boyfriend. She is a lovely woman who says there is no forgiveness for what she did. I never give up praying for her and phone her sometimes. She is married, has a son and was hoping to get out of prison in January after almost 20 years. She was a bit fearful because she hadn’t been able to see her boy for almost two years due to Covid-19 and she has never lived with him. I’ll be able to spend time with her when she gets out. The women who have been released from prison need considerable encouragement and help. Pray that Katherine will come to know the Lord.

Jesus came to bring good news, to bind up the broken-hearted and release captives from darkness. God’s grace is transforming lives in Bolivia and He will complete the good work that He began.

1 William Smith (Guillermo) Payne, Republic of Ireland 1870-1924.

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