The Raphá Discipleship Center: for Bolivians, by Bolivians

February 23, 2018 |

A bricklayer volunteered his time to help clear the land and lay the foundation for a home in rural eastern Bolivia. Working alongside other rural and indigenous volunteers, he told his story of being turned away from seminaries because he lacked a high school diploma.

The home he was building will house the directors of a new discipleship center being built in rural Bolivia for the indigenous and rural communities of the region. He was overjoyed to learn that this center would not require its applicants to have completed high school and enthusiastically stated he would be the first student.

With tears in his eyes, he said, “Finally there’s going to be a place where I’m accepted—there’s going to be a place for people like me!”

Eastern Bolivia is a bustling region of industry and agriculture, housing 34 of Bolivia’s people groups and Bolivia’s largest city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. For decades, missionaries, local pastors, indigenous community leaders and rural laborers have yearned for a strategic ministry to provide educational and theological resources. As Bolivia’s indigenous church continues to grow, its people look to seminaries which often close their doors to students without high school diplomas.

This vision for a discipleship center grew over many years through joint initiatives of Fundación Raphá, South America Mission’s (SAM) Indigenous Rural Outreach team (IRO), and other key local partners. Raphá is a Bolivian organization for the flourishing of indigenous communities founded by indigenous pastors with help from a group of SAM missionaries. Their president is a Bolivian doctor who has served with his wife in medical ministry for more than 20 years. Raphá’s partnership with SAM missionaries and with local indigenous leaders, César and Mirtha Surubí, exemplify the heart of this project: for Bolivians, by Bolivians.

The discipleship center will serve as a safe space for mentorship, life skills training, agricultural sustainability practices and medical aid. The indigenous and rural communities of eastern Bolivia currently lack financial stability, education, and adequate training to develop into vibrant communities transformed by the gospel. Raphá and SAM’s IRO team have seen what they describe as a “vacuum” in church leadership despite the evident hunger for growth in the indigenous church.

In February 2017, the IRO team traveled with Raphá members to the Semiraitá indigenous center in Brazil to gain excitement for their vision and learn from the ministry there. The witness of Semiraitá and solidarity built among the team proved to be the ultimate catalysts towards the realization of the dream. Two months after their return from Brazil, Raphá purchased the land for this discipleship center, and in late 2017 Raphá members and indigenous leaders broke ground together and set the foundation for the first building. Now, Raphá members and SAM missionaries are working in tandem to oversee the center’s development.

As the Surubís and SAM missionaries relocate to live near the property, the excitement continues to grow.

When asked about the hope and anticipation that they feel, SAM missionaries enthusiastically declared “It’s not just a North American thing. The church is in dire need of discipleship and while the North American church is helping, we are truly serving in supportive roles. We have seen plenty of projects over the years where the locals don’t see the purpose or the project doesn’t suit the culture, even though the projects sound good on paper. This center is truly an initiative being pushed by the local community, which means that it will last in the long term because of that shared vision!

César Surubí echoes this enthusiasm for local community involvement: “Theological centers, seminaries, and universities do not allow the entry of people who have not finished high school, which is difficult for many indigenous leaders. The indigenous church is now taking responsibility for this project and carrying the work forward.”

César and his wife Mirtha will be living at the center full-time to oversee the daily operations. Their decision to serve in this capacity only enhances the discipleship center’s purpose, as they both share indigenous backgrounds, César himself being of Chiquitano heritage. Even as indigenous and rural volunteers gathered to help clear the land last autumn and set the foundation for what will be César and Mirtha’s home, there was evidence of God’s hand in this work. César watched young Ayoré men work diligently, many of whom he mentored and discipled when they were raucous teenagers. To see these young men work together to set up a space for theological education was a testament of God’s faithfulness to this ministry.

“It is a privilege to serve my brothers in this area,” César declares. “I do not doubt that it is a responsibility for which we need the wisdom of God… The indigenous church will act like a bridge between the communities and organizations that will become its ally.

Sustainability is what excites the team most about this discipleship center.

Though it will serve as a place for theological education and deep mentorship, the team will intentionally teach life skills to help the indigenous and rural communities sustain their families. Classes and sessions on finance, agriculture, and carpentry will give vital skills alongside Biblical discipleship to holistically minister to the students.

Even in the construction of the center, they see community involvement growing.

Raphá’s president has frequently visited the land and brought Ayoré friends with him to participate in the preparation of the land. By doing this, the Ayoré are investing in the project and taking ownership of its future. While laboring to clear the land, the young Ayoré men would ask deep theological questions. This desire to know more is the direct fruit of the Surubís’ and Raphá’s ministry to the Ayoré for so many years.

“There’s just this momentum that’s been building for so long,” one SAM missionary reflects. “Even in our tenure in the past 8 years that we’ve been connected to the indigenous church movement, seeing it from the outside, we’ve noticed a growth and development from apathy to discovering how to “do church” in their communities. Once they found their own way of “doing church”, it began to take off… The community is growing; it’s not perfect, but that hunger is growing and they want to know more. They want to be able to go deep.”

The process of developing the center will take time and exist in multiple phases, but even once César and Mirtha have a home to live in, the team foresees an immediate impact to the surrounding indigenous and rural towns. Some of the local communities’ more serious struggles are alcoholism, drug abuse, and prostitution, which indicates that a safe space away from those influences, where people could come and seek intentional discipleship, will provide aid to these communities from day one.

To learn more about Fundación Raphá and to financially support their efforts, visit their page: Fundación Raphá.

All photos were taken by Jason Weigner.

‘I am invisible’: the need for increased diversity in missional leadership

February 22, 2018 |

“I’m not malcontent. I am chronically discontent.”

These words still echo from Marti Williams’ presentation to SAM and TEAM Latin American leadership in November.

“This is the definition of a leader. You always see where we can go and you’re not satisfied with the status quo—you’re trying to get us there. So, I’m not malcontent, I’m not that dripping faucet. I’m just chronically discontent with the fact that the church is not availing itself to women and those who do not identify themselves as ‘white’.

Though it sounds harsh, missions in Latin America has historically been primarily white, and leadership within missions as been predominantly male. Marti addressed that this pattern is not inherently ‘wrong’ but that in the process of maintaining a majority white missionary corps or male leadership structures, we are missing out on the opportunity of reflecting in our community the real and beautiful diverse makeup of God’s kingdom.

“I’ve also struggled with the conundrum of the fact that I raise up these women and convince them that they can have leadership roles and skills, but then they go out and are not offered, or allowed, or empowered to serve.”

She then exhorted our leadership observe the women around them and invite them to use their gifts: “as a woman I will not necessarily put my hand up for something. But if someone taps me on the shoulder and says ‘Marti would you be willing to do this?’ Yes, I would. I won’t naturally step forward, though, because I don’t want to be that woman who’s always advocating.”

Most congregations in Western churches are at least 65%-75% women. When pastors tell Marti that they don’t understand where she finds these statistics, she counters with why they aren’t able to see the amount of women in their communities.

“It’s like when you have someone riding a motorcycle,” she says, “and they get into an accident. Most drivers of cars say ‘I didn’t see them’, but that’s because they weren’t looking for a motorcycle on the road. They were only looking for other cars or trucks. We do the same thing within leadership when we are only looking for men or people of our own ethnicity.”

One example of this was when Marti attended a committee meeting and she was the only female among the 6 attendees. A pastor who had said “I don’t know where you get these statistics from” at one point in the committee meeting stated that “there are 5 of us here”. 

Marti reflected, I sat there and thought ‘I am invisible.’”

When we have rigid concepts of leadership based on our own genders, ethnicities, and cultures, we overlook the complex beauty and contributions people of differing backgrounds have to offer. “God created man and humankind in his own image, male and female,” Marti posits. “He intended for both of us to be image bearers because His image cannot be borne by just one. And it takes all colors as well.”

“That’s not my ministry”: why loving your neighbor is everyone’s ministry

February 8, 2018 |

“The poverty is jarring, painful, unjust, overwhelming and very nearly hope-depleting.”


This is SAM missionary Laurie Bremer’s reflection on poverty after living in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with her family for their first 2 years of ministry.

“It causes me to feel guilt, shame, compassion, empathy, and so many other emotions all at once,” she continues, “every time I am reminded that I am in the car and they are on the streets. Just like the last time we drove through this intersection.”

According to Bolivia’s National Institute of Statistics, the portion of Bolivia’s population living in poverty has dropped 20% in the past 15 years, but it still rests near 40%. This reality is the context for many of SAM’s missionaries who have to wrestle daily with how to engage with this poverty as compassionate Christ followers.

“There are some things I imagine one never gets used to,” Laurie states. “Abject poverty is one of those things.”

“Is this just a fool’s errand?” she asks. “From every earthly perspective, it is. This mess is far too big. I want to throw my hands up in despair. I want to run away to where poverty isn’t so confrontational. What an ugly truth to realize in one’s self: I prefer poverty in avoidable pockets that don’t encroach into everyday suburban life.”

While Laurie may be particularly outspoken or self-aware in this realization, she certainly is not alone. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates, the United State’s poverty rate hovers around 12.7%, or 43.1 million people. Despite this fact, though there was a rise in charitable donations last year, only 25% of the US adult population volunteered their time to a charitable organization.

It’s simply more comfortable to click “donate”.


Eradicating poverty, ending homelessness or solving world hunger requires action and effort. Even if our calling is to a specific career or ministry that feels disconnected from these issues, we must still avoid isolating ourselves from the “least of these”.

“We know many hardworking, long-suffering missionaries who are involved in street ministry. They work with addicts. They work with children living on the streets… I know that I am not called to this ministry,” Laurie declares. “But that does not negate the question, ‘What am I doing here that makes a difference in the life of the impoverished people in Bolivia?’ Because it is not okay for my answer to be ‘nothing’. I can’t just say ‘Well, that’s not my ministry’… I truly believe that the ministry in which we are engaged will bear fruit and [that] some day it will rain blessings upon the least of these.”

Because it is not okay for my answer to be ‘nothing’.

Laurie and her husband serve in professional class ministry, interacting daily with pilots, lawyers, doctors, dentists, academic and civic leaders in Santa Cruz. Though her ministry focuses mostly on the middle and upper classes, she sees the direct connection to the impoverished communities around her: “As overwhelming as the depth of poverty reaches here, what if there was revival at all levels in Bolivia? What if professionals with the ability to make a change were awakened to how God has called us all to care for the least of these?”

It’s not an excuse to avoid the homeless. She will see them every day. They will ask for money at her car door and she will continually feel the overwhelming burden of the impoverished in her city.

But Laurie does not despair: “Without Christ, it would feel overwhelming and hopeless. It would BE overwhelming and hopeless. But we know that He cares greatly for those who have so many desperate needs, just as He cares for those who have so much affluence that they feel no need for Him at all.”

The call to love our neighbor extends beyond all socioeconomic boundaries. We do not have the right to limit the command to love your neighbor as yourself based on personal preference or comfort.

“Do we know that we will live to see the eradication of such terrible poverty in Bolivia?” Laurie asks. “No, we do not. But I know this for certain: Because of the faith and the hope that we have, fools or not, we will go down fighting on this errand, if that’s what we’ve been called to do.”

SCCLC Jan ’18 Flood Relief

January 9, 2018 |

SCCLC Flooding

A flash flood unexpectedly struck Santa Cruz, Bolivia on the night of January 1st. Rains inundated and covered the entire campus of the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center (SCCLC) in a span of just a few hours, filling classrooms, offices, the gymnasium, and library. The SCCLC is an international k-12 Christian school with more than 200 students.

Giving to help restore and rebuild the school has begun. You can join the relief efforts here: www.southamericamission.org/floodrelief

Teachers, staff, students, missionaries, and parents spent the first week of 2018 scrubbing the floors, extracting the mud, sorting the debris, and restoring what was left of the school’s resources. Many of the volunteers that week had flooding issues of their own at home, but they sacrificially gave their time to the SCCLC. This international Christian school plays such a vital role in its community that its students, faculty, and network of parents so actively participate in its restoration now.

The initial, modest estimate of damage is $35,000. The school also estimates that $20,000 is needed to work on the property to ensure that future heavy rains do not damage the classrooms and facilities again in this way. The goal is big, but God is bigger.

SCCLC Flooding

With your help, the SCCLC can be revived, its classrooms and offices can be guarded against future flooding, and its students and teachers can approach the rainy season each year without fear.


The SCCLC needs your help today. Your donation of $50 or $100 would help buy new text or library books. A gift of $1,000 could restore an entire classroom worth of supplies and furniture. A greater amount would help with the much needed flood prevention for a school that seeks to fulfill the Great Commission in Bolivia. All donations are tax deductible.

Please give what you can today: www.southamericamission.org/floodrelief

Year-End Giving in 2017

November 3, 2017 |

year end giving

It’s November—Summer is long gone, Thanksgiving approaches, and Christmas shopping begins (if it hasn’t already). As the holiday season blurs before you, there are a few easy ways to pause and consider how to generously use the resources that you’ve been given through year-end giving.

Here are 3 ways to give back before the year is up:

1—Amazon Smile: the best thing about Amazon Smile is that it costs you nothing. If you’re shopping on Amazon, the Amazon Smile Foundation will donate 0.5% of any purchase to the organization of your choice. As you purchase Christmas gifts, groceries, household goods, or new winter coats for the family, head on over to smile.Amazon.com to make your money go further. You’ll be prompted to enter in the name of your organization before shopping: just enter in “South America Mission”, located in Fort Mill, SC, and make us your benefitting organization.

Can’t remember to go to a different url for this cause? Google Chrome makes it even easier for you with a plug-in called “Smile Always” that automatically reroutes you to Amazon smile every time, ensuring that each purchase makes a difference.


2—#GivingTuesday: this social media-based movement has grown rapidly in the past few years. As Black Friday and Cyber Monday expand larger and larger each year, a counter-cultural movement to give back emerged. Giving Tuesday is a call to donate to non-profits on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, as a way to launch the giving season. This year on November 28th, when the Thanksgiving weekend has come to an end, consider giving back to a non-profit.

South America Mission received more than $50,000 last year on Giving Tuesday. People generously and selflessly chose to give back during a season culturally marked by consumerism. Get ready to give again to SAM on Giving Tuesday 2017, and have your gift to SAM’s Vision Fund DOUBLED!


3—Year-End Giving: historically, year-end giving has made up 30% of many non-profit organization’s annual donations. Individuals and corporations annually look at their own budgets and consider end-of-year tax-deductible donations. Non-profits, likewise, evaluate their projected annual budget and total amount still needed in order to meet their goals.  Most year-end giving happens on the last 3 days of the year, but there’s no need to wait until the day before the New Year to invest in a worthy cause.

In 2016, approximately 15% of the year’s total donations were received in December, helping South America Mission meet our funding needs for the year.

Every donation counts and every gift makes a difference. Join us this year in making ministry possible and continuing to bring the redemptive hope of the gospel to every town, tribe, and nation in South America. Donate now.

CCB Peru Celebrates 25 Years

May 2, 2017 |

CCB Peru tribal students
The fog lifts each morning on the Ucayali River, as locals travel into Pucallpa, Peru, for trade, education, and work. Pucallpa, the capital of the Ucayali Region, is Peru’s largest port city, and sits at the Northeast end of the only highway extending from the Pacific coast to its region. It rests on the edge of Peru’s upper Amazon basin rainforest and is home to the CCB Bible Institute.

 

In 1992, the CCB or Centro de Capacitación Bíblica opened its doors for the first time, and in 25 years it has grown from a class size of six to an average of 50 students, representing over the years a total of 18 different tribal groups, and resulting in 360 graduates 90% of whom are active today in ministry.

This past January, the CCB welcomed 70 students from five tribal groups who will participate in its two-year program. Graduates immerse themselves with the local Shipibo-Conibo Tribal Evangelical Church Association, serving by making disciples, training others in evangelism, modeling leadership for the emerging generation, as well as carrying out social and community development projects that improve health and increase access to food, water and education.

One goal of the CCB is for students to discover and use their spiritual gifts to strengthen communities of faith, including their individual families. Students work diligently on thesis papers during their time at the CCB, while the faculty and staff, who are Peruvian pastors and lay leaders, mentor the students. As each program cycle brings new students, it also brings its hurdles. “Each year differences in language, levels of education, and customs of other tribal groups bring new challenges to the program of CCB,” SAM missionary Tom Hough explains. Despite these changes, the training center continues to grow and impact its community.

Tom expresses excitement when he talks about the impact of CCB’s outreach programs, set up through a partnership with the Shipibo-Conibo church association. He recalls, “[they] continue to travel through the vast jungle region of Peru into many different tribal groups… During 2016 more than 25 major trips were made… visiting more than 50 villages on 12 different river systems.” Tom speaks confidently, and hopefully, about the CCB’s purposes being accomplished, “lives are being transformed because of the efforts of the graduates through evangelism and discipleship. The process is working and tribal churches are being planted.”

The growth, momentum, and impact of the CCB is invigorating, and its continued success after these first 25 years will be the direct result of the time and resources that so many have given, and continue to give, to see this ministry flourish. Funding received to sustain the ministry of the CCB helps cover students’ transportation needs to and from villages, room and board, tuition, textbooks, and costs associated with medical care the center strives to provide. $600 enables an indigenous pastor to train for an entire year at the CCB, and contributes to the advancement of the gospel of grace in the Amazon basin of Northeast Peru.


Make it happen Will you donate to sustain the discipleship and pastoral formation work of CCB $50 per month sustains a pastor at CCB for one year. Help keep the momentum at CCB in 2017 as it celebrates 25 years.

To donate, visit: www.southamericamission.org/ccbperu.

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