A Lutheran Church in Bolivia’s Highlands

Bolivian Lutheran church leader Rev. Emilio Aslla. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay
Bolivian Lutheran church leader Rev. Emilio Aslla. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

We Have Great Hope, Says Church Leader Aslla

(LWI) – Advocating for the rights of marginalized communities in Bolivia’s remote areas remains an important role of the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELB), says Rev. Emilio Aslla, head of the church of which membership comprises mainly indigenous people living in the country’s rural areas.

“We are not part of the government, but we are making communities aware that it is possible for change to take place. As a church we believe that the State should recognize the people in the rural areas,” Aslla told Lutheran World Information (LWI) following a recent visit to The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Communion Office in Geneva.

Aslla said the Bolivian Lutheran church today supports the reform process in the Latin American country by training its members to use the new Constitution adopted in 2009, guaranteeing citizens’ democratic right to vote and claim their rights in a secular state.

For the first time, the constitution accords respectful recognition to the indigenous people, so that they now have the right to preserve their own languages and have leaders representing them in the Congress, the IELB leader explained.

Nearly 70 percent of Bolivia’s population of 10 million people is made up of indigenous people. Although the county is rich in minerals and hydrocarbons most people earn their livelihood from subsistence agriculture and experience high levels of poverty.

Solidarity with the Most Excluded

The Lutheran church began its ministry in 1938 among Bolivians living in the highlands, with no access to education, work or political involvement in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. “It [IELB] was excluded,” Aslla explained.

The early experience of exclusion defined IELB’s ministry and partnerships, Aslla remarked. “Our work has been with those most excluded such as rural people, and that has also been the reason for the growth of the Lutheran church.”

Today, the 22,000-member IELB has a rich cultural diversity shared by the Aymara, Eko, Guaraní and Quechua indigenous people and the Spanish speakers. Around 30 pastors and over 100 lay leaders serve its 105 congregations located mostly in the highlands including the Andes region.

Aslla emphasized the church’s commitment to a sense of fellowship, inclusiveness and solidarity based on the Christian faith. ”We have great hope: the Lutheran church in Bolivia is a church of the people. It is a church of the Reformation—a reforming, inclusive and hoping church.”

Celebrations in Bolivia to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 will include “Following the Footprints of the Reformation,” a project that highlights music and liturgy because “singing for life is our hope,” the IELB leader said.

Diversity in the LWF Communion

Belonging to the communion of churches in The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is important, Aslla said of the church that joined the LWF in 1975. “The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ unites us in our diversity and that gives us strength, whereas otherwise we would be isolated,” he added.

Aslla’s message to churches in the LWF communion: “We must pause and consider what the Good Samaritan did, so as to recognize one another, whether large or small, strong or weak. That enables us to journey on together toward ‘the good life’. Even with our differences we are a strong community, and we must journey together and work together. With the LWF we do not feel that we are excluded.”

PHOTO ESSAY

Clean Water for Remote Villages in Andean Region

Together with the Department for Mission and Development, IELB is helping to bring much-needed drinking water to remote and vulnerable villages in the Andean highlands.

Go to Photo Essay