Training Pastors for the Spiritual Challenges in Bolivia

Date Posted: 5/14/2012

How do you provide pastoral care to people who are very ill with no access to healthcare?


How can pastors help residents build a cohesive family when extreme poverty and a lack of education require parents to commute great distances to find work?


The TAC is working with Methodist pastors in Bolivia who are facing these and other challenges. Early this year, the Conference conducted a 3-day workshop on how to minister within a culture experiencing dramatic family issues. “The Methodist Retreat Center in Cochabamba was a wonderful oasis for the teams that came for training and return to work in the midst of the extreme poverty of this country,” said, Diane McGehee, Director of the Center for Missional Excellence. (Most pastors and pastoral workers have to travel many miles on foot to reach the multiple congregations where they serve.) In the workshop led by Dr. Ted Smith, pastors and their spouses discussed, among other things, ways to apply the principles in the Love Chapter, I Cor 13, examining healthy relationships within a culture that is plagued by family units broken up by transient parents forced to seek work in places far from home.


On site at the mission church of Luz de Vida


When the TAC team visited a nearby mission church, they observed the great needs – first hand, beginning with an old board stretched across a pile of bricks that served as a makeshift bench. The rustic building nearby, called Luz de Vida, is an outreach ministry center outside of Cochamba. On this chilly morning a group of children are huddled on the bricks sipping hot milk and eating bread.


“When our team arrived, we noticed the children’s questioning expressions and guarded --but hopeful -- eyes,” recalls TAC Missional Excellence Center Director Diane McGehee of her trip to Bolivia last fall to help equip pastors to minister more comprehensively to the great needs facing these communities. “Hunger is such a problem that parents will bring their children to the church because the church provides them a breakfast.”


Gardenia’s Gift

Gardenia, a three-year-old girl watches the newcomers shyly as they enter the hall of this rudimentary church building to find plastic bottles with recycled trash artistically creating an adornment for the altars. “We attended a children’s service where the teens from Pastor Daniel’s church help about 30 children ranging in age from 2-12 to sing enthusiastically before Pastor Daniel tells them the story of Jonah and the whale.”


After the Bible lesson, the members of the TAC team divided among the age groups to share the story again and talk about it. When Diane McGehee went with the preschoolers, giving them simple coloring sheets to decorate, she noticed that Gardenia took a blank page to the corner of the room. “When we reconvened to pray and sing, the very shy little Gardenia was the first to walk over and give me the picture she had drawn to thank me for coming to share with her,” says McGehee. “For the remainder of the trip I could not help but think about how Gardenia had every reason to be unhappy about having only broken, leftover crayons, a single set of warm unmatched clothes, and the fact that she might not eat anything else that day….but she rejoiced in a visit from a stranger and found it in her heart to create something to give away. We definitely learned and received more than we taught or gave!”


Training Pastors in Bolivia: Next Steps


“While it is not the norm for women to speak up in the Bolivian culture,” explains McGehee, “the Bolivian church has ordained three female pastors. The spouses of male pastors also serve as pastors, but they often do so without training.” To help empower the women pastors, the Texas Annual Conference is planning a conference entitled, “Sharing our Stories: Finding our Voices” for June of 2013 at Tiu Rancho in Cochabamba. A select group of clergy women, clergy spouses and lay women from TAC will travel to Bolivia to join the women of the Bolivian Methodist Church. Adds McGehee, “It will be a special time to honor the sacredness of each others’ journey.”


Other training events include:


June 2012 - Hosting a webinar on how to use technology


January 2013 - Team from the US returning to Bolivia to host a live joint workshop with pastors and spouses


The TAC is working directly with a missionary Diane Wimberly in all of these Bolivian activities. “Our goal in facilitating pastoral care across the globe,” notes McGehee, “is not only to teach new skills, but also to increase our own ability to relate multi-culturally by building relationships in which we also learn and are enriched by the new vision and texture that other cultures bring to our own understanding of the Gospel.” A generous grant from the Moody Permanent Endowment Fund is helping to cover the costs of this program.