A group of young Christians in rural Bolivia live too far apart to meet together very often. The solution—discipleship training via smartphones.
The Andes Mountains of western Bolivia are so steep that electrical poles seem to defy gravity as they connect one remote village to another.
It isn’t unusual for residents of Chuma, Bolivia, to walk along the winding cliff-side dirt roads for hours to get to the next village, dodging fallen rocks that evidence the threat of a landslide. It takes some of the young people being trained in evangelism and discipleship by Samaritan’s Purse three to five hours to reach Chuma on foot in order to meet together.
So, Samaritan’s Purse staffers David Cachi and Eugenia Lopez arranged for the group of young Christians from several churches around Chuma to obtain smartphones for ministry purposes. Samaritan’s Purse paid for the phones, and the discipleship group pays for the phones’ monthly data usage cards.
“Only one or two of them ever had a cellphone before,” David said. “They have been responsible to use it well, sometimes offering to help their peers pay for their data usage cards if they were unable to earn enough that month.”
The smartphones have been a vital link to keep the discipleship group connected when some of the young people spend their summers, December through February, harvesting produce in the Amazon’s rainforests.
Before David and Eugenia began leading the discipleship group, the young people weren’t able to interact with each other on a consistent basis. Now, the group of 18 communicates regularly through a group app they use to post prayer requests, ask each other for advice, study the Bible, and refer to online Bible commentaries.
“It’s a way for us to support each other when someone asks for prayer,” said 18-year-old Wilfredo. “We’re happy to know that others are praying for us.”
David and Eugenia communicate with the group members every day via the app, posting devotional passages, setting monthly meetings, and coordinating area evangelistic events. They also lead the group through discipleship coursework.
Spiritual Addition and Multiplication
In addition to growing in their own faith, the young people use the app as an evangelical tool, hosting discussion groups, showing Christian videos to friends, and inviting them to be a part of evangelistic activities.
“Once they realized they could reach more kids…it motivated them to be more active in reaching out,” Eugenia said.
Within one year, the discipleship group has multiplied into several other groups that the young people started and lead in their own communities.
Women in the discipleship group have started a women’s Bible study and a Bible class for children. A couple of the young men lead youth groups in their churches or communities.
Modesto, 30, started a youth group that meets in his community weekly.
“I’ve had nonbelievers ask me, ‘What’s on your phone?’” Modesto said. “I look up Scripture, bookmark it, and show them a particular part of a verse.”
A few of the young men in the group have begun preaching sermons in their home churches.
“In the beginning some thought, ‘They’re young, what do they know?’ But after seeing they’re serious, they realized the young people also can share with the body of Christ,” David said. “Now, pastors intentionally invite them to preach.
“When I first went to their churches to see them preach to the whole congregation, it was motivating to me to prepare more to lead them,” he said. “I’m challenged to keep pace with them.”
Taking the Lead
Many in the group initiate evangelistic events for young people in their communities.
“They are the ones asking us, encouraging us to do more things with churches in the communities,” Eugenia said. “They are visiting churches in the area. They are the ones taking the initiative to feed them with the Word.”
David said, “It’s like they’ve been woken up to the gifts they have to share the Gospel. Now, they feel trained and empowered to be able to teach and evangelize.
“We’ve made an investment in these young people, to look for future leaders and raise them up,” David said. “But these aren’t just our future preachers and teachers, they have become those things.”
Constancio, age 17, sees his ministry as raising up a new generation of believers now. He leads a Bible study group of 50 youth, ages 14-18, some older than him. He became a Christian two years ago, the only Christian in his family.
Constancio has encountered some opposition from individuals in his community who have tried to disrupt the youth group’s meetings.
“Sometimes, we’re scared when they try to interrupt our meetings,” Constancio said. “But we’re never going to stop doing it.
“The Word of God says to encourage each other, to raise up a new generation to know God. Samaritan’s Purse is helping us to do that.”
“The Word of God says to encourage each other, to raise up a new generation to know God,” he said. “Samaritan’s Purse is helping us to do that.Thanks to your help—you’ve encouraged us that we can do it.”