Beyond Church Walls

May 16, 2016 • Bolivia
Bolivia GBV program
Pastor Ezequiel and his wife at their home

Families experience reconciliation and healing through a Samaritan’s Purse ministry in Bolivia

Bolivia GBV program

Pastor Ezequiel and his wife in training with Samaritan’s Purse

Pastor Ezequiel found great joy in shepherding his small congregation of 50 people in their rural Bolivian village. Preaching from the pulpit was the easy part. But helping people deal with marital strife or other personal problems—well, that thrust him completely out of his comfort zone.

When Ezequiel first heard about the Family Well-Being program offered by Samaritan’s Purse, he was both skeptical and excited. Program staff visited his church and explained that he and his wife could serve an important role as family counselors to help prevent violence in their community.

The pastoral couple and four members of their church regularly attended the training sessions. Ezequiel appreciated the practical instruction and felt better equipped to counsel people through a variety of difficult, real-world challenges.

“My vision changed, and I knew that God wanted us to be light in the middle of darkness,” Ezequiel said. “He can give us the wisdom and the power to be able to help those who have need. In cases of domestic violence, we can be instruments that God uses in the restoration of a victim or in the repentance of an aggressor.”

Weeks later, Ezequiel faced a crisis that would present him with the opportunity to put his training into practice.

News of the attempted rape of a 9-year-old girl rocked the community. The child was asleep in her bed one evening when the attacker broke into the house. Her mother, who was attending a meeting in town, returned to find the intruder with her daughter.

Neighbors ran to the house when they heard the mother’s screams. For the attacker, there was no outlet of escape.

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Pastor Ezequiel’s church and the surrounding area where the incident happened

With no law enforcement stationed in many remote Bolivian communities, residents typically decide among themselves what punishment fits a crime. In this case, the man was caught in the act and was unquestionably guilty. He would most likely be tied to a tree and beaten to death.

As a crowd began forming at the high school soccer field, the leader of the community summoned Pastor Ezequiel and asked him to voice his opinion of what should be done.

Ezequiel pushed through the shouting mob. He saw the accused man, shaking and resigned to his fate. Praying silently, the pastor was shaking slightly too as he turned to face both the mob and the accused.

Calling for quiet, the pastor asked everyone to consider that life is sacred and that it is God’s job to create it and to take it away. Ezequiel said the behavior of the accused man is due to sin, but God calls sinners to repentance. He encouraged the townspeople to let the proper authorities judge this man’s crime. Taking his life was not the answer, advised the pastor.

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SP Beni Ministry Program staff member Eva Pandique presents Pastor Ezequiel with training material. 

The accused man fell to his knees. He expressed remorse for his actions and pleaded for mercy from the mother of the young girl and all of the community.

Town leaders decided to spare the man’s life. They asked him to sign a document in the presence of the crowd, promising he would change his behavior. He also agreed to turn himself in to the Child and Adolescent Protection authorities.

This emotionally-charged situation was resolved peacefully because of Pastor Ezequiel’s intervention.

“I thank Samaritan’s Purse for the Family Counseling training that I received,” he said.  “[Before,] it was difficult for me to leave the four walls of my church, but with God’s help, we are able to help our community.”

God’s Word Impacts Lives

Ezequiel and his wife began providing psychological and spiritual counseling to the traumatized child and her mother. They encouraged the family to forgive the man who hurt them and to pray for him. The mother and daughter attend Sunday school and worship services at the pastor’s church. Both are believers.

Meanwhile, God has been working in the attacker’s life too as Ezequiel counsels and shares the Gospel with him.

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Pastor Ezequiel at home with his son; wife; and Eva Pandique, the ministry program technician.

“The man continues to show himself repentant and says he doesn’t know why he did what he did, that he was wrong in his mind to have done that,” the pastor said.

Local leaders now call upon Ezequiel to offer his advice regarding issues affecting their community. Once reluctant to conduct ministry outside the church, he welcomes opportunities to minister to families dealing with conflict, abuse, or addictions.

Since 2013, more than 70 people have received training as either family counselors or community defenders through the Samaritan’s Purse program. In cooperation with the leaders of three Bolivian municipalities, the program seeks to promote the human rights of women, children, and adolescents and to mobilize public sectors to achieve this end.

Family counselors like Ezequiel and his wife are equipped to help both the victim and his or her aggressor—healing the wounds of the victim and encouraging repentance and transformation of the aggressor.

Project staff apply Biblical values during workshops for municipal leaders and during training sessions for children and their parents. When families receive counseling, they hear the Good News of forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ. The impact has been significant.

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Pastor Ezequiel at his pulpit

In one community, an older man verbally and physically abused his wife. Samaritan’s Purse staff members made a home visit to counsel the couple. After several visits, the husband’s attitude began to change. The couple has since reconciled and joined the local church.

Child abuse was reportedly taking place in a school in another district. Both the teachers and the children received training. Project staff explained the laws that protect children and shared from God’s Word.

“The school teachers are now more conscientious of their treatment of the students, and cases of abuse have diminished,” said one Samaritan’s Purse staff member. “Parents thanked our staff for the project. Entire communities benefit from the trainings, from the youngest to the oldest.”