Oklahoma delegation covenants with conferences in Bolivia and Chile
At the end of March, a Delegation from the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church traveled to South America to covenant with the United Methodist conferences in Bolivia and Chile.
In Bolivia, the OKUMC delegation met with the new leadership team of the Iglesia Evangélica Metodista en Bolivia (IEMB, or Methodist Church of Bolivia) to renew their covenant for another four years.
The partnership with Bolivia is the OKUMC’s oldest and most extensive international partnership, spanning 30 years. Oklahoma Bishop Jimmy Nunn and Bolivia Bishop Antonio Huanca renewed the covenant partnership during a ceremony on the shores of Lake Titicaca, a sacred place in the country. Bolivian Methodists gathered from across the country to celebrate the covenant renewal.
One of the OKUMC’s newest international partnerships is with the conference in Chile. In 2018, a delegation from the Chilean Methodist Church led by Bishop Jorge Merino Riffo traveled to the Oklahoma Annual Conference to begin a new partnership and give a presentation. In 2019, Bishop Nunn joined Bishop Merino Riffo in Santiago to complete the covenant signing that began in 2018.
Ministry in Bolivia
In addition to attending the Bolivian covenant ceremonies, the OKUMC delegation traveled to several churches and ministries around the La Paz area and met with local church members.
The delegation’s first interaction in Bolivia was at 3:45 in the morning upon landing at the airport. A delegation of Bolivian Methodists greeted their Oklahoman visitors with a band and flower wreaths.
“Everywhere we went, we were met with such just extraordinary hospitality,” said Bishop Nunn. “Many places people would spread out their food literally on the ground and we would all take something, eat it and share meals together in the churches we visited.”
Methodist churches in Bolivia are made up of almost 90% of indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples, who often live in poor or rural communities.
The Oklahoma delegation toured local United Methodist projects in Bolivia. Some projects, like the church of La Semilla (the Seed) in the North District of La Paz, were still in their beginning stages.
“In this area there isn’t a church. That’s why we wanted to build a church here: to share the love of God with our neighbors,” said Angela, a young woman who serves as the district superintendent of Distrito Norte A, a rural area of La Paz. “The neighbors see us building here and almost every day they come by and they say, ‘Hey, when will you open the church? We want to come, to gather, to praise the Lord!’”
Several churches the Oklahoma delegation visited were near completion, such as Manantial de Vida and Estrella de Belen in the fast-growing suburb of El Alto. Others needed to add on another building to hold all the new people, including Paraiso Fe Esperanza in El Alto, Rio Jordan in the small town of Uni, and Jancokawa (an Aymaran word for Holiness and Justice).
“Everywhere we went, I kept hearing the words that, ‘the Oklahoma conference helped us with this,’” Bishop Nunn said. “I learned so much about the generosity of the people of Oklahoma towards Bolivia just by going and hearing these stories.”
Regardless of where they were in the construction, worship and fellowship still happened at each church in Bolivia every week.
The delegation learned that two ministry centers were also under construction: The Senior Adults Home, the only retirement home in Bolivia upon completion, and a UMW center called Tabitha’s House, which will help women escape domestic abuse and offer training courses.
“The Bolivian people are people of joy,” Bishop Nunn said. “There was singing, there was dancing, there was celebration and a sense that all people really do matter.”
Ministry in Chile
Chile is a more prosperous country than Bolivia, and the Chilean people have overcome some tough times. From 1973 to 1990, the country was under an oppressive military dictatorship that tortured and killed many of its people, often targeting Methodists and indigenous people. The covenant signing in Santiago took place during the First Methodist Church’s 50 Year Celebration of Autonomy.
“We are so excited, we just spent a glorious week here in Chile, we were actually in two groups,” said Karen Distefano, the Volunteers in Mission country coordinator for Chile.
Bishop Nunn’s group travelled North to Iquique to visit several Methodist schools.
Distefano led a second group around Temuco where she said they visited a community healthcare center, a technical high school run by the Methodist Church, an elementary school for indigenous children, and the community’s church located next to the school.
“We finished the day at the Obra Rural, a Methodist program to support human rights and women’s empowerment programs through job-skill training and support groups,” Distefano said.
Distefano’s group eventually joined Bishop Nunn’s group for the rest of the trip around central Chile.
Methodists in Chile are important to the education system. When missionaries first came to Chile, they invested in schools, with schools like Colegio Inglés in Iquique dating back to the 1800s.
In Santiago, Methodists have one of the only schools for Kids with Special Needs called the Juan Wesley. It is a great school with several one-on-one programs for the children.
Several of the Methodist churches the Oklahoma delegation visited were affected by recent earthquakes in the area.
One church in Villa Alemana was old and had termites. Local Methodists plan to break ground on a new church soon in the hopes of completing it by October. The Oklahoma delegation prayed over the new site a.
“For me personally, it was a renewing experience to be in both Bolivia and Chile,” said Bishop Nunn. “There are so many opportunities to partner with these countries in education, church relationship, language skills, and construction projects. There are just many, many ways, so it was an encouraging trip.”
To learn more about missional opportunities in Bolivia or Chile, visit vim.okumcmission.org.