Buenos dias to all of you. A little birdie reminded me that it had been a while since our last blog update, so I am sending out a recent newsletter article that I wrote about the church and raising funds for a building.
As we enter the month of May the church body here in Cochabamba finds itself busy with many important activities and events. Many of those activities lately have been centered on raising funds for the permanent building the congregation one day would like to purchase.
To begin with however, it is important to have an understanding of why a permanent location is so important to the work here in Cochabamba. In a predominantly Catholic society such as Bolivia a great importance is placed upon the physical meeting place of a church. It is not that we wish to emulate all the practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church, although for many Cochabambinos a permanent meeting facility goes a long way to convey a message of presence and long-term commitment. More importantly than the message implied throughout the community though, is the significance a permanent meeting facility has in the lives of the individuals who make up the local church body here in Cochabamba. A building for the Cochabambino Christians will mean that they will have a place to continue to grow both numerically and spiritually, a place where they can reach out to the community and a place where they can meet together often to encourage and teach other in the Word. In fact, a small group of Christians including the Vargas family and Wendy who are both present members of the current congregation used to meet in Cochabamba before the mission team arrived. Unfortunately, many of the members of this small group moved away and with them was taken the ability to continue paying for a rental facility. The small group that remained continued to meet in homes but found it in increasingly difficult to grow and reach out to the community in such circumstances.
We have seen an encouraging example of how a permanent meeting facility can affect the growth of the church in the city of Santa Cruz. This is a city that continues to enjoy growth and multiplication of local congregations. One of the important factors in this growth is the fact that several of the congregations have been able to purchase meeting facilities either on their own or with the help of brethren in the United States. The Tres Pasos congregation for example, has a permanent facility and they have been able to grow and mature to the point where they now have deacons and elders and do indeed have a presence in the city of Santa Cruz. Other congregations such as El Pari, which also owns its’ own facility in Santa Cruz, also shows the same potential to grow and enjoy an image of permanence in the community. In a country where non-Catholic churches are often regarded as temporary imported store fronts, the concept of establishing permanence is of vital importance. The people of Cochabamba have seen many churches started by foreign missionaries but those churches that have had a truly lasting impact in the city have distinguished themselves by offering the same permanence that the people find in the Catholic Church.
The church members of the Iglesia de Cristo are well aware of the importance of a meeting facility and they have shown great effort and enthusiasm in regards to doing all they can to contribute to the goal of purchasing a permanent facility. It is important first of all to take into account the fact that average salaries in Bolivia hover between one to three hundred dollars a month. Many people in fact, make due on much less including some of our members. We have been humbled by the generosity of the giving that we have seen as part of our fund raising campaign which asks members to give above what they are already contributing weekly. We also continue to teach on concepts of sacrificial giving as opposed to the idea of giving “limosnas” which is akin to reaching in the pocket and pulling out some loose change. The members are becoming increasingly aware then of just what it means to give faithfully.
Many members have also chosen to participate in fundraising activities. These activities are especially important opportunities for those who are barely scraping by to be able give of their time and energy even in cases when they cannot give much in the way of money. One of the small groups for example collected donated items to organize a garage sell at the contact center. The sell was a great success in that almost all members contributed items to be sold, the small group worked tirelessly all day to sell the items, and at the end of the day over 1, 700 bolivianos were raised to go towards the building fund. Another activity that was organized by members of another small group was to take advantage of the Easter crowds around Plaza Colon near the Contact Center. This small group made api, pastelitos, queque, gelatin and other snacks to sell. Api is a hot drink made from corn meal and other spices, (it tastes much better than it may sound), pastelitos are something like a sopapilla with cheese inside and powdered sugar outside, and queque is cake. My job was to yell out at those who passed by, “Api! Pastelitos! Buñuelos!” since I guess I wasn’t cutting it very well as a waiter. The sell of api generated a little over 600 Bs. In addition to these two events, the ladies of the church often times make cake to sell after church service and their proceeds also go to the building. Another activity the church has taken up to raise money is what is called a “caneston”, (big huge basket). Each month we fill a basket with groceries contributed by members and then raffles are sold. The winning raffle takes home a nice supply of groceries and the church is able to raise some money in the process. Just this morning a woman who has been visiting the church for some time donated pearl two pearl necklaces to be auctioned off during the monthly potluck. Altogether, the church has so far raised approximately $2,000.00 USD which is something to be very proud of in a country where this amount may very well represent the annual income of many people including some of the church members.
We as missionaries are continually humbled by the dedication of the local church members here. We continue to stress sacrificial giving and yet they in truth challenge us to “practice what we preach” by their examples of giving. We are so thankful to the Bolivian brethren and for their tireless efforts and service. On their behalf we as missionaries wish to thank God first and foremost because we know that He is working in the hearts of many to convict many of you to give joyously and generously when the time comes. We would also like to thank all of you our brothers and sisters in Christ who have shared in this work for the past five years and who will continue to do so in the coming years and upcoming milestones of the Lord’s body here in Cochabamba. We love you guys.