(LWI) - The Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELB) was started by missionaries in 1938 among the Aymara Indigenous people of the Andean region in Bolivia. Today, partly because of the use of vernacular languages of the Aymara and Quechua people in church programs, the IELB is composed entirely of Indigenous congregations. IELB is the largest Amerindian Lutheran Church on the Latin American Continent.
In this Voices from the Communion interview, President Rev. Germán Loayza talks about how the IELB’s presence within the Indigenous community and outside of the walls of the church is revered by those the church accompanies and brings him great joy.
Tell us about your childhood and your religious and spiritual upbringing?
I come from Lutheran parents and grandparents who were a part of the first Lutheran congregation in Bolivia that was established in 1938. As a child, I went with my parents, aunts and uncles evangelizing, and serving in different places, but it never crossed my mind to be a pastor, nevertheless, I became a pastor and that is why I say that “when God calls, God calls.”
My grandmother used say to me “I am praying for you so that one day God can call you and use you.” I would politely say, “thank you,” but it went in one ear and out the other. Every time I visited, she would repeat the same thing, “Germán, I am praying for you, so that one day God can use you.”
How has this shaped how you lead the church?
We are not a very big church, but we are in the process of expanding our services to the broader community to include suburban areas, rural communities, other Indigenous peoples, children, women and young people. As the leader of the church, it is fundamental and important for me to live in the closeness of God, to know that God shares everything we have and walks with us. Our God is a God who listens, a God who works the miracles in us to trust and believe. Therefore, when God calls you, you cannot say "No.” For God there are no ages, God forms us as children, as young people, even as adults. Even today, I am still learning how to serve God.
Tell us about the Bolivian Lutheran church?
The Lutheran church was established about 250 kilometers north of La Paz, at an altitude of 2000 meters above sea level in the Andean region among the Aymara and the Quechua people. Both cultures have a great sense and way of being with God and living with the Lord. These two cultures are still a big part of the Lutheran Church.
But today, we are incorporating other Indigenous groups, it is no longer only a Lutheran church of Aymara, Quechua and there are multiple languages spoken in the Bolivian Lutheran Church worship. Culturally, the role of pastor in one of our churches is not only pastor to the congregation, but also to the entire community.
Socially, the problems of the region such as poverty and social inequality among the Indigenous, will be the problems of the church; therefore, the church is integrated with the community, the community with church. An example of this relationship can be seen with the miners who protested in the city of La Paz recently, and I meet a miner there and I put on a helmet and joined him to the walk to the palace, he knew we were the Lutheran church not because we had a sign that said, “The Lutheran Church” but because of our actions; we were there walking with them.
It is not that the Lutheran church was protesting, it is the Aymara people, the Quechua people protesting with them, and that is how the Lutheran church is living among the community. I think that it is very beautiful, it brings me joy. The Aymara and Quechua are inclusive people, no one is excluded. Inclusion is the teaching of our Lord that we have always lived.
When we are present in our communities, we say, “lend me your feet Lord to rush to people in need.” To do that work, we can only get there with God.
What is your vision for the future of the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church?
Although we consider ourselves small in numbers, we are extending to Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia. We are in Tarija, in Santa Cruz, in Pando, but not with the same intensity as in the central location in La Paz. Overall, the Lutheran church in Bolivia, and perhaps in Latin America and in the world, needs to recommit with passion to the proclamation of the Gospel.
We have become comfortable in our churches, and we say that Christ has blessed us, and it is true, God has blessed us greatly, but what about those who are still without? I believe that the church should continue to break the walls of its churches in order to show the love, the affection and embrace of God.
My prayer is that we hear God’s voice, let us feel God’s hands, let us feel God’s embrace and ask for divine eyes so that we can see others who are suffering, their hearts and to be able to transmit God’s love to others who need it so much.
What does it mean for your church, your work, you to be a part of the communion of churches?
I was in a post office years ago and I met a German-speaker pastor named Gerardo Duncan. He told me he was mailing letters to the Lutheran church; we began a conversation and he introduced me to the Lutheran World Federation. It is beautiful to be part of a communion that welcomes many Lutheran churches in the world.
The Lutheran World Federation is a global body that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we profile church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and set out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring the churches and communion grow in witness and strength.