Mission History in Bolivia
Northern Virginia is home to the largest concentration of Bolivians in the United States, and there is always a flow of information and visitors back and forth. Through a series of connections, a WELS pastor in Virginia learned of people in Bolivia interested in Lutheran teachings. Today, WELS missionaries travel to Bolivia to help the church there grow.
It all started in October 2006 when Guillermo Viorel came from Bolivia to visit his children in Virginia. During his visit, he attended Grace in Annandale, Va. He met Pastor Tim Satorius and talked to him about Bolivia.
Guillermo belonged to a church body in Bolivia called the Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Bolivia (FIEL). This synod of six congregations and approximately 200 members needed help training church leaders. Satorius wondered whether WELS missionaries might be able to help.
In May 2007, Satorius and Missionary Larry Retberg went to Bolivia. They met with Guillermo and other FIEL church leaders. The visit was encouraging and the leaders asked the pastors to return.
Retberg was part of the former Latin American Traveling Theological Educators (LATTE). Members of the five-man LATTE team traveled to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Colombia to train men to be pastors and to instruct church leaders.
Retberg visited Bolivia in November 2007 to teach courses on basic doctrine, law and gospel, and fellowship. Seven pastors and about 30 lay leaders attended. They set up the classroom, invited others to come, and prepared certificates to be handed out at the end of each course. After hearing what God had to say about Baptism, the leaders decided to begin baptizing babies (previously most had not). They also decided to incorporate the Lord’s Supper into their services.
In April of 2011, missionary Philip Strackbein was sent to Bolivia as a full time resident missionary in order to work with FIEL full time. His assignment was to continue to work to help the Bolivian church with some Scriptural doctrines that they were still not putting into practice.
Unfortunately, after a years time, in April of 2012, missionary Strackbein had to separate in fellowship from the Bolivian church when it became quite apparent that they had no intention of correcting some of their doctrinal errors. Four faithful leaders of the Bolivian church, including the pastor of the Redeemer congregation, also decided to separate in fellowship from the FIEL. Thanks to the Lord, a new small confessional Lutheran congregation of about 15 members was formed. The name of the new Lutheran church is ICELC (Christian Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church). Right from the start, this new Lutheran church is in full confessional agreement with all the doctrines of the Bible and with the Lutheran Confessions. It enjoys a blessed fellowship with WELS and with missionary Strackbein who continues to live in Bolivia with his wife, Kathy.
So we rejoice that the mission work in Bolivia continues. It is an example of how local congregations and foreign missionaries can work together. By doing so, the gospel crosses new borders and touches more souls.