It was a joy and a privilege last weekend to share our home and a meal with Marcelo and Silvana Vargas. Listening to them describe their lives and calling in Bolivia was particularly poignant for me, having spent time during my career in the Pantanal, that huge area of tropical wetland in Brazil which straddles the Paraguay river into Bolivia to the west.
My abiding memories are of times spent with a captain on the bridge of one the oily tugboats which had undertaken the two-week journey all the way up from Buenos Aires hauling food and supplies to the tiny wharf at Corumba before returning, laden with iron ore, destined for Argentina. The steaming riverbank, littered with basking alligators, their mouths wide open, hopeful of snapping one of the iridescent blue/green kingfishers darting in and out of the river was, for me, testament to God's incredible creative genius. It turns out that Marcelo's brother became a Christian at a weekend outreach event in Corumba. I wonder if I was there at the time.
Imagine my horror when I came across this publication on the internet, dated January 2018:
“Bolivia Makes Evangelism a Crime” - This coming Sunday, evangelical churches in Bolivia will observe a day of prayer and fasting in the wake of their socialist government introducing potentially severe restrictions on religious freedom. Article 88 of the mountainous South American nation's new penal code, authorised December 15, states that “whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom, or hosts people with aim of recruiting them to to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalized 5 to 12 years of imprisonment....”
So I showed the article to Marcelo and Silvana and they looked at each other and smiled benignly, almost patted me on the knee and said “fake news old chap, don't worry about it; put about by the opposition to the president.” So, we were then brought up to date with all the news of their Christian training programmes, how students from within Bolivia, Peru, and from the Mato Grosso basin in Brazil are either passing through their centre at La Paz, or being taught through classes at churches in other cities – all without let or hindrance!
Thank God for Marcelo and Silvana's amazing work, and their freedom to operate! Long may it continue.
PS. Have I been so long retired that I get so easily taken in by insidious and fake news? I have since re-visited 1 John, chapter 4 in particular, for his warnings on the subject.