Bolivia's Missionaries Forced to Leave

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CWN.org - In South America, a political crisis is forcing scores of missionaries to leave Bolivia.

Whether they've served the Bolivian people for most of their lives or just a few years, it's a heart-wrenching decision.

Dana Wilson is one of the younger generation of American missionaries in Bolivia. But after 10 years she's going home.

"To have to leave has been quite a shock. I never expected to come to this point," she said. "Bolivia is my home now. The church is the family and I have many friends here."

Wilson has been managing a home for street children in Santa Cruz along with missionary, Adriana Sprouse.

"I'm very sad to leave," Sprouse said. "But I'm coming back... soon. Real soon."

Missionaries began leaving Bolivia after President Evo Morales expelled U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg Sept. 10. Five days later the U.S. Embassy issued a travel warning urging U.S. citizens in Bolivia to "remain vigilant…and consider departing if the situation" allowed.

Meanwhile, Bolivian evangelicals are concerned the government is promoting an anti-Christian agenda.

Dr. Timoteo Sanchez is chacellor of the Evangelical University.

"They are trying to bring new laws, like homosexual marriages, abortion. Trying to say that family is not important and some others," he said. "So we see that this is a terrible time and there is a lot of confusion on our churches."

One reason North American missionaries are feeling threatened is because they've been promoting Christian values in Bolivia for decades.

One of the most notable is Dr. Mery Scheflen. in the past 56 years she founded primary and secondary schools, a theological institute and the first evangelical university in all of South America.

Scheflen's work was recognized by President Morales himself. Yet she found herself among the first missionaries to leave Bolivia.

"I feel like I'm almost a Bolivian because I've lived in Bolivia more than in the United States. I thought I would live and die here," she said.

But Scheflen also expressed hope.

"I expect these things to pass over, then come home to Bolivia," she said.

Not all missionaries are leaving Bolivia. But the loss of even a few adds to the turmoil Christians face in South America's poorest nation.

The director of a missionary training center in Cochabamba says at least half the North American missionaries in that city have already left.

He adds that government records indicate 80 percent of Bolivia's 1,000 missionaries are from the U.S.

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