The Year 2000 and Bolivia's 65% Unreached
by Dr. W. Douglas Smith
Today 65 percent of Bolivia's 6 million people are still out of reach of existing missions and churches. But we have the testimony of Scripture (e.g., Revelation 5:9 and 7:9) that someday every people group will be represented before the throne of the Lamb, and this will include representatives from every tribe, tongue, and ethnic group in Bolivia.
In preparation for that glorious future, the Holy Spirit is challenging a new generation of national Christians and expatriate workers to complete the discipling of Bolivia's 40 people groups by the year 2000. Two ministries based on the U.S. Center's campus--- Discipling A Whole Nation (DAWN) and the Institute of Latin American Studies--- will soon begin to work with Bolivia's National Association of Evangelicals (ANDEB) toward this goal. Jim Montgomery, the director of DAWN, recently commented, "It seems to us that this is networking for the cause of Christ under the best possible circumstances."
My wife Audrey and I are due to arrive in La Paz, Bolivia in late October to share in this process. During the following eight months we'll be updating and translating a nationwide survey I prepared ten years ago (Toward Continuous Mission: Strategizing for the Evangelization of Bolivia, William Carey Library, 1978) and conducting goal-setting workshops among many of Bolivia's 50 national denominations and missions. I was delighted to recently learn that SIM International has commissioned Dr. Ed Pentecost to pursue similar research, and I look forward to fruitful cooperation on this additional front.
Bolivia's population can be divided into five major blocs of peoples:
*God has blessed the 1.6 million Aymara with a "people movement" over the last 80 years, and today an estimated 20% are evangelical Christians. Yet at least one scholar has identified 26 distinct Aymara sub-groups, some of which remain unreached and shackled by fear of spirits.
The 2.2 million Quechua have shown little responsiveness to the gospel. Approximately 70 percent are members of unreached people groups adhering either to spirit worship or a mixture of animism with Roman Catholicism.
I estimate that about 600,000 of the 1.5 million mestizos, or Bolivians of mixed European-Indian descent, are unreached. Most of these, too, are professing Roman Catholics who actually worship spirits.
Virtually all of the 620,000 urban elite of European descent are beyond the range of existing church and mission efforts. Fortunately, this bloc is receiving new attention from expatriate and national Christians.
Mission agencies such as the New Tribes Mission and the Andes Evangelical Mission have been wonderfully used of God to reach virtually all the lowland tribes in the north and east. Only a few small groups--- such as the Tsimane, Tacana, and Moroata--- remain unreached.
Bolivia is also home to pockets of other peoples you might not expect--- such as Japanese Buddhists, Chinese restaurant owners, and Muslims who have many cultural traits in common with the Latin majority. These easily-overlooked communities received new attention in April, however, when the Institute of Latin American Studies submitted Bolivia for consideration at the monthly meeting of the U. S. Center's Strategy Division. I was greatly blessed and encouraged as representatives of other research institutes shared their insights on how these groups, too, might be reached.
We can't strategize alone. Nor can we act alone. Only in concert with Christ and others in His Church will the final crescendo of praise rise to the Lamb from all of Bolivia's peoples. I'm deeply grateful for the partnership I share with colleagues at the U. S. Center, other expatriate workers, and leaders of Bolivia's Protestant churches--- the latter now including more than 400,000 evangelical Christians and growing at almost 10% per year!
We can fulfill the Great Commission together. What part might God have for you?