A Call from our Sisters and Brothers in Bolivia
One Sunday afternoon in late October, I found myself in a gymnasium in the center of the large, metropolitan city of La Paz, at thirteen thousand feet in the Andean Mountains of Bolivia. There were more than three hundred of us gathered to worship: men wearing business suits, kids of all ages, and indigenous women wearing traditional weavings and the little bowler hats for which Bolivians are famous. The worship service was organized by our partners in the “Joining Hands for Life” network (UMAVIDA) – which is made up of the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist denominations together with five other grassroots community organizations.
What made this particular worship service unique was the presence of a delegation of Presbyterians from San Francisco. They were there because their Presbytery has made a serious commitment to accompany the people of the UMAVIDA network. During the service, our partners placed before God the things that concern them most: their commitment to the fledgling democratic reforms that the people of Bolivia are demanding, the creation of an “ecotheology” that will guide the Bolivian people as they try to defend the beauty and resource of God’s creation in this fragile country, and their grave concern that neoliberal economic policies (what we in the U.S. call “free trade”) are destroying the ability of most Bolivians to survive.
These are hardly issues that most Presbyterians in the United States would lift up as the primary concerns of our faith. Yet our Bolivian sisters and brothers are beseeching us to respond. Why? Because they understand the fundamental ways in which our lives are connected, not just as members of one Christian family, but as members of an increasingly inter-connected global community.
As our delegation traveled for the week following that worship event, we were hosted by each of the partner organizations from UMAVIDA. We visited with extremely poor families that are receiving “micro-loans,” credit that is designed to support their small businesses and provide for their children. We met with teenage and young adult leaders who, in addition to providing positive activities for youth in their neighborhoods, are teaching their generation to be leaders in the political process and to impact the media and become opinion shapers in their country. On one evening, we attended a public rally hosted by UMAVIDA in which hundreds of people from poor communities in the city of El Alto crowded into a conference room to listen to local professors speak on the intricacies of the presidential election, constitutional reform, the loss of Bolivia’s control over it’s greatest commodity (natural gas), and the destruction of the environment.
Everywhere we went, the request of the Bolivian people was the same: help us to stand against the economic interests that would plunder our country, help us to bring a dignified life to our people. More pointedly, we were told of the presence of more than 16,000 U.S. troops currently stationed just across the border of Paraguay, and the serious concern of every Bolivian with whom we spoke that they represent the very real threat of a U.S. invasion if the people of Bolivia commit to economic or political policies that don’t favor the perceived interests of the U.S. government or multinational business community.
Our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in San Francisco are leading all of us into a new kind of partnership in which we join partners in places like Bolivia and shoulder our fair share of the work of creating a global community. They have called for an international day of prayer to celebrate our accompaniment with Bolivians. On November 15th, UMAVIDA’s member organizations will join Presbyterians across the United States to pray for their people.
My prayer on that day will be that this be a first step, a commitment to the hard work of educating ourselves to extend Christ’s love across borders. Perhaps for some of us, this will begin a journey with the people of Bolivia and other countries around the world in which Christians are imploring their sisters and brothers in the global north to join them.
At the end of that wonderful worship service that began our time in Bolivia, there was a succession of bands that performed the traditional music of the Andean people with guitars and drums and flutes and pan pipes. It was lively and vibrant, and eventually all of us joined the costumed dancers and we twirled and circled and laughed (and gasped for air at thirteen thousand feet) as the music went on for almost an hour. This is an invitation into joy – the kind of joy that only can be experienced when we commit to walk with one another in moments of challenge and difficulty as well.
On November 15, please join with your family - in La Paz, Santa Cruz, Oruro, El Alto and San Francisco - to ask for God’s care and protection for the people of Bolivia, and to pray that God’s guidance might compel us into ever-deeper relationships with our sisters and brothers there.
Let the journey begin,
(See the following entry for information on how you can support San Francisco and Joining Hands for Life's effort.)