by Chibana Sugako, missionary
Methodist Church of Bolivia
La Gloria Church, Santa Cruz
e 2012, I was appointed to La Gloria Church in Bolivia. The land of Bolivia is about three times the size of Japan. The church is located in an Okinawan immigrants’ community in Santa Cruz, the second largest city after La Paz. This community was established by people who had migrated from Okinawa, Japan during the period of 1954 to1964 and carved out an area of the jungle by overcoming many difficulties. Today such infrastructure as electricity, water, and gas has been developed, so we feel no inconvenience in our daily lives.
The Okinawan immigrants’ community has three districts, with a total of over 800 native Japanese and descendents of Japanese, about 500 of whom live in District One. Many of these Japanese-Bolivians have been successful in agriculture and ranching, et cetera, and have become wealthy land-owners.
Our church, located in the first Okinawan immigrants’ community, was pioneered by Pastor Yamahata Katsumi and his wife Yoshie. It started as a church school worship service with 26 pupils in December 1959. The following month, adults began attending as well, and the church has continued to this day.
I have the privilege of serving with Pastor Okuma Reiko, who has ministered for the past 30 years in this region. At present 15 to 25 persons gather, including children, and we all worship together from 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. In addition, we have prayer meetings every Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening and a house meeting on the last Saturday of every month. Likewise, we visit the sick and the homes of non-believers and engage in literature evangelism as opportunities arise.
I have experienced many blessings during the six months since I arrived, one of which is that a member who had left the church several years ago has returned. We are all very pleased and give thanks to the Lord for that.
Our church has been in existence since the early days of the founding of this community. Pastor Yamahata and his wife began a program of Japanese-language education in January 1960, and this was later developed into a Methodist school from kindergarten through high school, with instruction in Spanish offered during the morning and in Japanese during the afternoon. The school existed in this form until it was transferred to the Japan Association of Bolivia in 1987. La Gloria Kindergarten, however, remained under the management of the church until April 2012.
Over the years, almost all children of Japanese descent grew up being exposed to the Christian faith during their kindergarten and Methodist school days. Thus, the people in the community have no sense of incongruity with the church. The church takes the lead in the annual memorial service, with Bible reading, hymns, and prayers. And when someone in the community dies, almost all of the funeral services are held at our church. Thus, the church and the community have a deep and strong relationship.
Since my arrival, I have been making an effort to be involved in the Japanese community activities. Nevertheless, even though there has been this close relationship with the community, there are still difficult issues relating to evangelism. One is that only about five percent of the Japanese community actually come to the point of receiving baptism and becoming followers of Christ. I wish that a much larger number would commit their lives to Christ.
The second issue is that no men attend the worship service. After graduating from high school or university, young men stop attending the service. The third issue is that of language. In the Okinawan immigrants’ community, the second generation speaks in Japanese when members of the first generation are with them, but otherwise they all speak in Spanish. Among their children, there are those who do not speak Japanese at all, as it is just a foreign language to them. Presently, our services are all in Japanese, but in the near future, we need to begin offering a Spanish-language service as well. We are, as a church, searching for ways to solve these issues, and so we are praying together to find concrete solutions.
ボリビア福音 メソ ジス ト教 会
一つは、洗礼にまで導か れ、 キリ スト 者として歩んでおられる方々は、第１移住地の日系人の約5％ です。もっと多くの方々が洗礼へと導かれることを願っています。
二つ目は、成人男性の礼 拝出 席者 が皆 無だということです。成人男性は、高校、
三つめは、言語に関する こと で す。移 住地オキナワでは、一世の方が同席の場合には、
教会では、これらの課題 解決 に向 け て、模索しております。今後、具体的な取り組みができるよう、