Bolivia Update

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The work in Bolivia is growing. There are two congregations, two schools and many opportunities to reach out. The work is sometimes difficult, but God blesses His children and gives the growth. The primary goal of the mission is to reach Old Colony Mennonites with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They live in a system of rigid rules and laws, and while they are God-fearing, they do not believe that one can be assured of one's salvation.

The nearest city to both congregations is Santa Cruz. It is a large city, with well over one million inhabitants. There you can find many of the amenities from home, including big, clean grocery stores, and great restaurants. The infrastructure is being improved continually, and the city is growing.

The first mission location was named Via Gracia or, "Way of Grace." It is a 40 minute drive from Santa Cruz. It is situated near many of the Old Colony Mennonite villages. About eight families live along a main road, called Brecha 5. The mission building, which houses the church, school and a number of apartments for workers, is also found along this road.

The families in Via Gracia have come from the colonies nearby. They receive different kinds of support from the mission, including spiritual and financial help. The school is a key element of the mission. Most families are large and the children need to go to school. We saw our role as teachers two-fold: to give the students the best education we could within that environment, but more importantly, to teach them about Jesus and His love for them. We had many opportunities to do so.

Every morning began with songs of praise. Whenever we as teachers were feeling tired or discouraged, this time of singing lifted our spirits. We also took time to share a Bible story with the children. Some were new to them, others, well-known and loved. We wanted to make God's word exciting, important and relevant to them.

Each Friday there was also a Bible class for the older students. There they could learn about different topics in more detail. For example, they memorized the Beatitudes and learned what they meant. The children learned about what it means to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world". We tried to make the lessons practical and meaningful to them.

In Bolivia we were faced with a difficult challenge. As educators we understand the value of knowledge and the difference an education can make in someone's life. We wanted to do our best to give the students a good education within their culture and environment. However, as God's children, we also understand the necessity of Christ in our lives. Sharing Him with our students was the most important thing we could do. Our prayer is that God would continue to grow the seeds that were planted.

The second mission location is in Valle Esperanza, which means "Valley of Hope." This name was chosen by the people who had left the Old Colony and found true faith in God. The name is fitting, because there is so much promise in the work that is happening there.

Since we first visited Valle Esperanza in August of 2011, a congregation has been born and is growing. God is truly blessing His work. Now, two years later, our brothers and sisters there have a building to meet in, and have plans to build a church. The believers in Valle Esperanza are dedicated to His service and offer their time, talents, and money to support the work. We are thankful to God for answering so many prayers.

When we look to the future for Bolivia we are hopeful too. We know God's grace is sufficient for every soul who comes to Him. We trust that God will continue to give strength to the workers there, and to supply workers in the future. Having been there and having seen it for ourselves, we recognize the great need. The most important thing we all can do is pray.

Prayer is powerful. It affects change like nothing else. It moves the arm of God. We learned this from our own experiences. We learned to take nothing for granted, and ask God to supply all our needs. We prayed for health and God answered. In two years, we never got seriously ill or needed medical aid. We prayed for protection and God provided. We never got into an accident or were hurt in any way. We prayed for strength, and despite the difficulties, God brought us through. Some days the prayer requests were for tangible things, like water and power, and even in that God provided. We praise Him for it.

The lessons we learned, the people we met and the experiences we made with God during our time in Bolivia are unforgettable. We are grateful to have been able to serve there and we are thankful we said "yes" when He called us there. Bolivia will never be far from our hearts or our prayers.

David and Karina Knelsen

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