WORLD – Member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continue to provide spiritual and physical care to members in the midst of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, we highlight the response of ILC member churches in Bolivia and Paraguay.
The nation of Bolivia has reported 138,695 cases of COVID-19 to date, with more than 8,300 deaths. There are currently 28,846 active cases of the coronavirus in the country. Early in March 2020, the government moved to close borders and enact quarantine measures throughout the country. Church services were restricted in Bolivia early on.
The Evangelical Christian Lutheran Church of Bolivia (Iglesia Cristiana Evangélica Luterana de Bolivia – ICEL) is working to support its members during the crisis, even as the virus affects some of its own members. ICEL President Limberth Fernandez himself fell ill with COVID-19 but has since recovered. Sadly, a staff worker of the church’s radio station in Sucre has passed away from the disease. President Fernandez further reports that “we have had many cases of members and their families affected by the virus, as well as other deaths” in the past few months.
In response to to the pandemic, the ICEL moved quickly to provide online devotional resources for members. The church’s pastors, vicars, and missionaries, have provided daily devotional videos via the church’s Facebook page, in both the Spanish and Quecha languages. The church has also led a national study of Luther’s Small Catechism which has been well-received.
Congregations themselves have stayed connected through the use of online platforms like Zoom.
Still, President Fernandez notes, online outreach is an imperfect solution, as many members of the ICEL do not have easy access to the internet. “It is impossible for us to reach a large number of our members who are from the countryside,” he says, “places where they do not have access to the internet or that unfortunately are not trained in the use of these technologies.”
The church has provided support for Bolivians in practical ways too, including through the distribution of basic necessities. The church continues to look for additional ways to support people.
A growing challenge for the ICEL is the financial stress that the pandemic has placed on the church. “We have received almost nothing in offerings during this time,” says President Fernandez. The church is working hard to find alternate sources of income to ensure the salaries of pastors can be maintained.
Paraguay has reported 50,344 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with nearly 1,100 deaths. Just under 16,500 cases remain active in the country. In early March, the government suspended school classes and other group events, with quarantine measures being introduced shortly thereafter.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP) continues to serve people with practical and spiritual support in the midst of the current situation. “Our country was one of the first in the region to impost quarantine, which prevented massive infections,” notes IELP President Eugenio Wentzel. But the downside has been an increase in unemployment. For this reason, the IELP has focused on distributing basic necessities to people, including food baskets as well as health and hygiene items.
Like other churches, the IELP has relied on the internet to reach members during the pandemic. “From the beginning,” President Wentzel says, churches “have been working virtually with different platforms to carry the message of the Gospel, with biblical studies, services, and devotionals.”
Different regions of the country have different restrictions, meaning some congregations have been allowed to hold face-to-face services in groups of up to fifty; some areas have allowed gatherings of twenty; others have had to rely on virtual gatherings only.
As a result of the restrictions, the church body also held its annual National Convention assembly virtually this year.
A challenge for the church remains calling and installing pastors during the current crisis. “Our church depends on sister churches to provide candidate pastors for vacant parishes,” notes President Wentzel. The closure of borders makes it difficult to call or transfer pastors. In one specific case, he says, one pastor who has accepted a call has waited months for circumstances to allow him to move to his new parish.
For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.