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Christian Community Outreach in Bolivia

Christian community outreach  Church La Capilla 20 de Mayo began in 2004 under a small shade tree on the street, with some borrowed chairs and a lot of enthusiasm from neighborhood children.

At the time, Pastor Raul was a youth pastor at another church in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He began visiting the Normandia neighborhood to spend some time with the children, sharing the gospel with them, and providing the families with clothes, medicine and other items.

“The teenagers have high possibilities of joining gangs, drinking and using drugs. Children and teenagers live this reality. When they are older they mix the alcohol with marijuana or other things. They can find alcohol in every store for less than $.15. Girls get pregnant very young, so the best way they see they can support their children is to work in prostitution, in the best cases, they wash clothes or make Jell-O to sell. The majority choose prostitution or to work in a bar, drink, and receive some tips from the drunken men. Most of the pregnant girls do that.”

Because the teenagers are at risk of joining gangs, dropping out of school, or following their parents’ steps into alcoholism, the Compassion-assisted child development center at Church La Capilla 20 de Mayo, which the church opened two years ago, provides strong spiritual and educational support.

Education in the outlying neighborhoods is poor, so the center tries to help the children as much as possible in math, spelling and grammar.

“For these youth, studying isn’t important because at this age they already want to work and earn some coins. I speak about this with the parents because the parents would rather their children go to work in anything and produce something. Studies aren’t important to the parents.”

Parents make their children work at any job where they can earn money, such as washing cars, taking care of cars, selling things, or helping at the market. The childen allowed to attend school are those who can’t work yet, usually the youngest.

Through the increased awareness of the importance of studying, all of the adolescents who attend the development center are still in school.

“They are the children who we taught with puppets, sang and played with under a tree when we first came to the neighborhood. We are advancing with them. They stayed in the church and … they know that if they do God’s will, they will be OK. They have temptations from the world, but they are prepared for that, so they could go out and be sure that what they are doing is correct, not only in front of the pastor or tutor — they have to make those correct decisions and put limits on their own.”

Thanks to the testimonies that the children and adolescents give in their homes, many parents now attend the church. They see the good things God is doing in the lives of their children. The worship ministry at this church is made up of the teenagers; they play the instruments.

However, this is not the only way La Capilla Church is reaching out.

A short time after starting work in the area, church staff learned about a woman, Ana Maria, with six children, who had just become a widow.

“I lived at the church three years ago and now I participate in the church activities. Before I didn’t know anything about the church. I knew the pastor when he used to meet under a tree. He and his wife used to come on Saturdays, [and they] brought clothes. It was good. She was like a mother for me.

“When my husband died, my 4-month-old son got sick. I didn’t know what to do. My son was about to die, but the pastor’s wife gave me medicine. I didn’t have anyone, they gave me everything, I love them very much. They gave me food and then I came to live here. Now, I’m in peace here. I attend church and I am very happy. As they say, the Lord helps me a lot.”

Another testimony comes from a family who the church found living in a dump. The husband had just had an accident and couldn’t walk. The mother had just given birth to their third child. They didn’t have anything to eat.

Immediately the people from the church went to them and built a small room for them  out of wood and canvas on land the church owns.

“I was very thin when they picked me up,” says the husband. “Now I’m recovering. The church helped me find a job as a caretaker of a house. They built a room for me and my family. Now we attend the church and the family meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We are very thankful to God and to them.”

The church holds discipleship meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays at houses in three neighborhoods. Around 100 people attend these meetings and are growing in their faith.

One cultural issue the church has encountered is that people often do not get married. They just start living together and have a family. However, this year the church celebrated the weddings of four couples. The church is planning to organize more weddings in response to requests from many parents who want to do things correctly, as they have learned in God’s Word.

La Capilla 20 de Mayo church is serving the community and, thanks to God’s help, is accomplishing many improvements and changes. Pastor Raul reports that the rate of alcoholism is diminishing. Although it is still a problem, he believes the church’s influence keeps it from growing.

“People ask them what happened to you that you look so good, so they share their testimonies of how they stopped drinking, and attend church, etc. People are impressed that some of them left the alcohol for God. Those testimonies, plus the development center, the Child Survival Program, and our work with the teenagers is a big package to share with the community. One of the most beautiful things is that their lives are a testimony so others can get close to God.”