We’re all packed and ready for takeoff! We’re looking forward to stepping back into Canada and meeting with a lot of great people over the next few months. This begins our first week, which is spent in the CBM office catching up with colleagues. Hope to see you soon!
*No cats were packed in the writing of this blog (unfortunately)
This past month we had the privilege of hosting the Praxis team once again. Praxis is an incredible scholarship offered through CBM that’s available to those studying in Baptist Seminaries at the graduate level. This Course allows students to learn about missions by experiencing the field first hand. They learn about how CBM works, visit projects, experience cross-cultural ministry, and focus in on a chosen theme. This year's focus was the intersection of our faith and care for the environment.
This is the second year our Bolivian team has had the opportunity to host this dynamic program representing Masters Students from the West to East coasts. To help facilitate cross-cultural learning, several Bolivian Baptist leaders from four distinct regions of their country, were selected to join the Canadian for the duration of the trip. The diversity of this group allowed for lively discussion and a lot of laughs as we learned together.
While we had regular class lectures and public symposiums, we also had the chance to get our hands dirty. We partnered with a local church called Nueva Esperanza, and together with its members we walked through their neighbour-hood picking up garbage. We finally congregated at an arid plaza nearby the church and planted trees and bushes. For sometime this congregation had been planning to undertake an urban gardening initiative and bless their neighbours. When we heard of their plans to start creating a green space, we thought it would be a great opportunity to work alongside the local church in creation care.
There was also an opportunity to travel to La Paz and connect with RedMonica, an initiative that works with municipalities around Bolivia to monitor air quality. We were able to see their lab, have them explain the different ways they measure pollution, and also learn what factors most affect the quality of the air we breathe. The data from this project has helped push cities in Bolivia to rethink legislation around issues causing air contamination. Factory regulations, vehicle emissions, and forms of transportation are all becoming more actively discussed amongst citizens.
For many, this is where their faith has begun to intersect with today’s environmental realities. They hold both a passion for Christ and desire to care for His good earth. Please pray that the Praxis experience continues to be a catalyst for both Bolivians and Canadians who are committed to reconciling environmental stewardship as an integral part of obedience to the Gospel.
There are two events that always make me cry: weddings and baptisms. There is something so beautiful about people standing up in front of friends and family, declaring their love and commitment, and starting a new life. This month we had the joy of watching three friends make a commitment to follow Jesus through the waters of baptism.
These baptisms are also a powerful testimony to the life altering impact of CBM’s projects as all three were connected to Jireh—one of our vulnerable children & youth projects. Belen is a teenage beneficiary, Carlos’ is the father of beneficiaries, and Betzi is on staff. Here are their stories.
Betzi and Belen
Belen has been a part of Jireh for three years and is currently in her last year of high school. A complicated family situation forced her to leave her parents and move to Cochabamba to live with her single grandmother. From the very beginning Belen felt as though the project adopted her as part of their family, sighting how they all call the staff “aunty and uncle”. While she knew who Jesus was when we she came to Jireh, she shared that she was nowhere ready for baptism at that time, partly because she didn’t feel she deserved God’s love. Over the past three years however, she recognizes how she’s been discipled through Jireh and the church it’s based out of. Belen says she now understands that she doesn’t need to be perfect, only willing and committed to follow Jesus.
Carlos and his wife VIki
Carlos is the father of three children who each attend Jireh. He shared with us how he came to know Christ largely through his family. His children first became Christians through the Jireh project, then his wife made a commitment, and eventually this led him to his own relationship with Jesus.
The two of us have had the opportunity to slowly watch Christ transform this
family over time. When his family first joined the project, Carlos was often absent from home and his wife was left to try and support their three kids on her own.They’ve shared how Jireh was critical for their children during this time and helped them get stable. The couple slowly integrated into the local church, becoming regular members and receiving discipleship from the congregation. This lead them to make a commitment to Christ as well as to work through their family struggles. Recently Carlos and his wife set a date to be officially married later this year. His decision to be baptized is his public witness of a changed life and commitment to follow Jesus.
Betzi recently came on as staff at Jireh, but she first got involved with the project two years ago as part of an internship for her psychology degree. She shared that for a while she had been curious about Christianity but was too intimidated to go to a church and ask questions. As she volunteered as an intern, she heard about Jesus during devotion time with the kids, she saw the love the Christians around her were showing to the vulnerable, and she started to experience church community. Betzi said it was like a hunger in her heart to know and understand; everyday she came to the project eager to learn more. After a few months she started to offer to run devotions so she could teach herself as she prepared.
The two of us remember the excitement within the church when this university intern started to attend Sundays. Eventually through the close relationships she formed with a staff named Vanessa, the pastor, and other church members, Betzi made a commitment to Christ. A few months ago a position on staff became available and she was a great fit. Betzi’s testimony is another example of how lives can change by hearing, seeing, and experiencing the good news of God’s kingdom.
But those who hope in the Lordwill renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,they will walk and not be faint. ~Isaiah 40:31
We’re excited to announce a new CBM project in Bolivia: ADA. Short for Alas De Aguilas (Eagle’s Wings). This new initiative works with a select group of mothers whose children are in the Casa de La Amistad project. This is in large part thanks to support from the Canadian Baptist Women's Comittee (CBWOQ, ABW and Women in Focus).
Casa de La Amistad is a ministry with more than two decades of experience supporting children who currently have a parent living in prison—some of whom live there themselves. Slowly honing its expertise serving this specific population, this ministry has received praise from prison officials, local government, and other NGOs for its unique service in this area, helping to shape the reputation of the Bolivian Baptist Church.
While an independent project, ADA can be seen as an extension of Casa de La Amistad which focuses on supporting a select group of mothers with children in the Casa project. ADA has three components—training in sewing, life skills workshops, and devotionals. Together this provides holistic care.
In conjunction with local social workers, staff offer the moms regular workshops on themes relevant to their situation. This includes parenting techniques, communication, physical health, and domestic violence. Additionally, the staff lead weekly Bible studies with the mother’s. Currently they are using material that explores the stories of women in the New Testament.
Lastly, the central part of the project is a practical component: sewing. This aspect grew out of a request from the mothers themselves who had asked for technical training and expressed an interest in sewing. The hope is that this skill will allow them to begin earning a bit extra for their families and eventually lead to greater financial stability in the long-term.
Now armed with an arsenal of sewing machines, the mothers rotate class days with a sewing instructor and work through a curriculum. Their first projects focused on making school uniforms for their children, as well as official ADA uniforms for themselves. They are currently looking to break into the Bolivian market, having already taken on one local order outside of class.
In many ways the women in this project are marginalized within their society. They have suffered discrimination because of their lack of formal education, their indigenous heritage, and their connection to the prisons. Many of them are survivors of violence and have gone through a lot with very little support. Through ADA however, they are no longer individuals fighting alone; rather they have found new strength in their community.
Isabel, whose husband is serving time for abusing her and her children, put it this way: “I worry a lot. I worry about my children. What will happen tomorrow? But when I come to sewing class it distracts me a little. I forget about my worries. I’m just there laughing with my friends.”
We look forward to walking alongside these moms as they realize their potential and grow in faith.
Life goes on at the Baptist Seminary in Cochabamba and I continue to provide support as best I can. Classes officially started mid-February so there’s a back-to-school atmosphere. Our little library team is currently focused on providing digital trainings to each of the grade levels to help them familiarize with online research, databases, and our digital catalog.
A new Master of Theological Studies program has been launched for the first time by International Ministries in conjunction with Palmer Seminary based out of the U.S. Bolivian Baptists have long struggled to access graduate level training and this new initiative aims to educate a cohort of eager students, many of whom have years of ministry experience. One of these students is Pastor Febe, who received a scholarship through CBM in partnership with the Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec.
As part of their orientation, I had the opportunity to join this group for a day to explore how the library can support them over the next two years. It’s amusing to see students process the extent to which things have changed in recent years, and to watch them process how much academic material is now available—for free—thanks to the open access movement. I was also tasked with covering citation purpose and style (which I love) and plagiarism (no one wants this one).
Beyond the main seminary site there are also four satellite campuses throughout the country. While there are virtually no books at these locations, the school has worked to creatively set up an interlibrary loans system. Students can now search the online catalog, request titles, and have them delivered by bus to their location.
Slowly we’ve seen progress in the quality of education provided to our theologically minded Bolivian friends and it continues to be a pleasure to see the role the library can played in this.
Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-- whatever they do prospers. Psalms 1
We planted some trees… but first let me explain why. In recent years CBM has more actively explored how faith and environmental care relate to each other at both a personal and global level (for instance, see here, here, and here). Together with our partners in Bolivia, we are slowly growing in our understanding of the environ-mental realities we live in, as well as our responsibility as Christian communities to demonstrate a concern for ecology which stems from scripture.
Largely due to operating in rural—and therefore more natural—areas, CBM’s Chagas project has become more attune to the ecological situation within Bolivia. For many of the communities partnering with the Chagas project, a slight change in rainfall or the price of produce can have a significant impact on their quality of life. Recognizing this, the project has worked to incorporate agricultural initiatives, such as community gardens, in the past.
The Chagas project offers a myriad of workshops over the course of the year to each of the communities it partners with and December’s theme was environmentalism. This covers the importance of this issue from a Christian worldview, as well as practical training relevant to the local area. So it was exciting to reinforce this training by sharing that each family would receive trees that they would be responsible to care for and guidance on how to do this most effectively.
A local community member was contracted to raise mango and passion fruit trees that would be ready for transplantation during the country’s rainy season (Dec-March). This past month we distributed the trees and the community members organized themselves for planting. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that the many animals that wander freely would be unable to eat the trees before they could take off. This requires setting up makeshift fencing around each of the seedlings.
Not only is the hope that these trees will have a positive impact on water retention and the local environment but also that the fruit they produce will benefit the families economically. Hope, like a seedling, starts small, but it grows.
This past week we held our national IMI retreat. Integral Mission Initiatives (IMI) is a relatively new project for CBM Bolivia, so you may not have heard of it. It's a collaborative effort between several of our Bolivian partners—the Baptist Seminary, the Center for Integral Mission, and OBADES. Together, CBM alongside the directors of these institutions, work to empower and train churches to actively identify and serve needs within their communities.
IMI specifically supports a select group of churches across the country who have started projects that reach out to their neighbours in practical and necessary ways. Sometimes it’s caring for the elderly or children who suffer neglect, other times it’s investing in at-risk teens or vulnerable women. There are even some churches who are working proactively to care for the environment!
The team mentioned above collaborates to provide participating churches with technical and theological training throughout the year. Our biggest event however, is a retreat which brings together leaders from each of the projects. This two day event strives to help church leaders acquire new skills and gain tools to strengthen their programing. There is also a strong focus on Biblical study as participants listen to speakers and explore the theological basis for serving as a missional church.
Many churches that step out and take on this kind of initiative can end up feeling alone and discouraged. With this in mind, leaders had formal and informal time to talk about their challenges, solutions, resources and overall experience throughout the weekend. One of the central goals of the event was to facilitate conversation between participants, particularly those running similar projects, that could allow to encouragement.
Sara, who runs a project on the boarder of Argentina for preschool children from vulnerable families shared: “I had no idea so many other churches were doing stuff! Our project just started this year and I’ve been able to learn so much from people here with more experience. I have a network of people I can now go to for help and advice.”
Mildred, who runs a sports camp for at-risk teenagers said: “Before this retreat, I had never really considered the impact that our project can have on the volunteers who come to help. By treating our volunteers with appreciation and recognizing their participation as an opportunity to disciple them, I think we can make our project more sustainable.”
Freddy, a pastor from Santa Cruz whose project we talked about in a previous blog said: “I thought that the only resources we had were in our own church, but after getting ideas from other projects, I was able to recognize some opportunities for support that I had never considered before. For example, we can invite people from other churches close by to come volunteer with us!”
Leaving the retreat, the leaders expressed feeling empowered in their work and encouraged to know that they have a network of friends around the country they can call on. They felt united in their mission to share the Gospel in Bolivia through word and deed.