Since the last military junta was ousted and democracy reinstated in 1982, Bolivia has had ten presidents, including one ex-dictator. Its economy has been weak for many years, although successive leaders have tried in various ways to bring about stability and growth.
The story of the last decade has been the rising up of the 60 per cent indigenous population, marginalised by the elite ruling class, to protest against perceived injustices. Direct action in the form of marches, strikes and road blocks over issues revolving around land rights and the management of natural resources and utilities has been common, and in many cases effective.
Bolivia is a country of great cultural and geographical diversity and beauty. It is the highest and most isolated of the Latin American countries, right at the heart of the continent and landlocked. Amongst the high, cold, and dry mountain-rimmed Altiplano to the west, the medium elevation valleys in the middle, the low hot and wet, forested plains of the east and north-east.
La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world at just under 12,000 feet. Not all cities are yet linked by paved roads, and transport to areas outside the main towns and cities can be unpredictable.
Bolivia is rich in natural resources, especially minerals, gas, petroleum, hardwoods, soya and other crops including potatoes, rice, corn, sugar cane, yucca and bananas. Coca cultivation is on the increase.
Bolivia is multicultural with dozens of ethnic groups and a small proportion of descendents of immigrants from different parts of the world. The New Constitution approved in a referendum in 2008 recognises Spanish and the 36 languages of the indigenous nations and peoples as official languages.
In 2006, 60 per cent of the population was classed as living in poverty, with 38 per cent living in extreme poverty – the majority living in rural areas.
Family remains important, with the most people living close to their family. However, the economic situation has led to the migration of more than two million Bolivians to Spain, the USA and Argentina. Often one parent goes leaving the husband/wife and children behind. This has led to family disintegration, with the separated parents often taking other partners, or children left to grow up alone. The absence of the mother is seen as the absence of the core of the family. Values are changing with money becoming more important than family in many cases. About half the population is currently under the age of 15.
Article four of the New Constitution states that “The state respects and guarantees freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, according to one’s worldview. The State is independent of religion.”
This has been a big change because until the New Constitution the Roman Catholic Church was the official church and enjoyed special benefits.
Despite the state’s declared independence from religion, the government promotes the traditional religions of the original peoples. This is causing resistance from both the evangelical church and the Catholic Church, despite its historical tolerance of syncretism. The majority of evangelicals have in the past come from the lower classes, and these are the people being most politicised by the government and encouraged to return to “traditional” beliefs and practices.
The evangelical church has not been very interested in social action until recently. However, some of the Bible and mission training colleges are starting to include integral mission in their syllabus.
The main foci of the Latin Link members working permanently in Bolivia are on working with children and young people at risk and with churches: strengthening them through developing leadership alongside national Christians. The team would like to see more people working with churches in parts of the country outside of the main cities.
‘Given the current political situation, we don’t need people who are just theologians. Instead we need professionals to work in social projects and be involved in holistic mission, ready to teach and preach, and disciple believers. The church remains weak in many cases and help is needed to bring it to maturity in a culturally appropriate way. There is a need to prepare leaders and help people see their identity as Christians as more than just turning up for church on Sunday. We need people to come in who are willing to live a lifestyle appropriate to their context and to encourage local believers.’
Bolivia offers the chance to explore a new, shared reality, with the prospect of seeing real gains for the Kingdom of God. Bolivian Christians need to know God in a clearer, deeper and more committed way. They are easy to relate to, informal, and open to God’s word. There are opportunities to work with huge numbers of young people and children to form them for the future.
The Bolivia team is looking for people with a heart to serve God and be sensitive to the culture here; people ready to live alongside Bolivian believers even when that is not comfortable, and model servant leadership to them; people willing to pioneer, to be prepared to go to places where there are less comforts and where there are no other foreigners.
We want people who have got some real world job experience. Skills may include preaching, teaching, discipling, pastoral, youth and children's work, music, project management.
Applicants must be willing to study and learn Spanish (or the other languages spoken in Bolivia) well.