In February my husband Reinhard and I had the privilege of traveling to Bolivia. Reinhard was to put his carpentry skills to good use in the final stages of the renovation project of the church building known as Shalom, which is located on the highway going through the town of Cuatro Cãnadas. I was to work at U.E. Monte Sión with the teachers and/or teach Grade 1. The highlight of our visit, however, was to be attending Dedication Sunday on February 18th. This was my twelfth trip to Bolivia, and I have come to appreciate and love the people of Via Gracia and Valle Esperanza. I am so thankful I was able to attend the dedication services.
When we arrived on February 1st and saw the bare sanctuary of Shalom, it didn’t seem possible all the work still needing to be done would actually be finished by the 18th. There were no pews, no sound booth or sound system, no bathroom partitions or vanities. Hundreds of feet of wood trim still needed to be installed, the carpeting on the walls wasn’t completed, there was no air conditioning, and the utility company needed to finish hooking up the power. The amount of work that needed to be competed seemed overwhelming. But, we know that with God’s help all things are possible.
Prayer is the Christian’s most powerful tool, and for the Shalom renovation project it was a tool employed most diligently! People in Germany, Canada, the USA, and South America prayed earnestly and unceasingly. We prayed that building materials would be delivered in a timely manner. We prayed that no one would get hurt on the job. God graciously answered that prayer when He protected one young man from being electrocuted shortly before Dedication Sunday. We prayed that God would send willing hands from other congregations; and they came. We prayed that the Lord would give the workers the strength and endurance required to get the work completed on time. We praise God for His protection, His faithfulness, and for answered prayers.
The young people of Valle Esperanza worked diligently from early morning till late at night. They painted, upholstered the pew seats and backs, assembled the pews, did clean-up, and willingly helped wherever they were needed. The women of the congregation painted, cleaned, installed wall carpeting, cooked, and served meals. The men ignored their work at home and instead worked tirelessly at Shalom. On the 15 working days in February before Dedication Sunday, the families of the congregation took turns bringing a hot lunch and coffee break snacks to church every day. It was a real blessing for the workers because they could focus on their work and not have to worry about meals. The congregation is not large, and it was a true act of service to prepare and deliver food for 20 to 30 people every day. The unity, the brotherly love, Christian fellowship, and the bonding that occurred as the congregation members worked alongside one another became evident. Toward the end the workers were tired to the point of exhaustion, but their joy at having a beautiful house of worship and their anticipation of Dedication Sunday superseded their tiredness.
As Dedication Sunday neared there was a heightened sense of excitement and our prayers for God’s blessings and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the services intensified. On Friday the first guests were expected. From Argentina 19 persons arrived, including Pastor Manfredo and his wife Mirian Günter from Oberá. The trip by car was arduous and took about 22 hours, but the Argentinian guests came joyfully. On Sunday, the congregation from Via Gracia arrived. Because not everyone owns a car, one young man from Valle Esperanza left at 4 a.m. in his pick-up truck and drove to Via Gracia to pick up all who still needed a ride. Five or six young people sat in the box of the truck for the 2.5-hour ride in the heat and the dust and the bumpy roads to Shalom so they could be at the dedication services.
On Dedication Sunday three services were held, with Pastor Harvey Elke and Pastor Ron Taron as guest speakers. It was estimated that between 300-350 people were in attendance. The Holy Spirit worked mightily, and over the course of the Sunday evening service and the special services of the following week almost all the young people were kneeling at the altar, either for the very first time or to rededicate their life to the Lord. As well, a number of older people sought time with the pastors. Some were strengthened in their walk of faith, others repented of their sins, while a few expressed a desire to begin attending the Church of God services. The Lord truly blessed, refreshed, encouraged but also reprimanded, and we praise Him for His Word which is sharper than any two-edged sword.
Our prayer for the Church of God at Shalom is that they continue to stay strong in the faith, that they let the light of the gospel shine through them, so that they might fulfill the great commission: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).