Shoeshine Boys Find Confidence in Christ

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According to a recent census there are 3,600 shoeshine boys in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.

Most of them are young men or adolescents, forced to work in the streets to help their needy families. Many of the shoeshine boys are so ashamed they hide their faces with ski masks.

"I cover my face because of my brothers. I don't want kids to tell my little sister in school that her brother is a shoeshine boy," said Wilfredo Silvestre. "I've used a ski mask since I was 12. Since then, no one in my neighborhood knows I shine shoes."

"You do have to hide your identity," shoeshine boy Ramiro Tapia added. "If you say you shine shoes, people treat you poorly."

But in recent years many of the young Bolivians have overcome discrimination, thanks to the group "Kayuparu," which means "at your feet" in the Aymara language. American engineer, Randy Davis, runs the ministry.

"I love how they're motivated to change their lives. They also struggle with alcohol, as well as the discrimination they suffer from being shoeshine boys, because many people think they're thieves, that they're the source of problems the city has, but in reality that's not true," Davis explained.

The ministry uses sports to win the confidence of the young men and eventually share the gospel. They also take them on hikes in the Andean Mountains.

"After that, we have discipleship -- small groups where the kids who want to change their lives, who really want to be a believer, can grow and develop their Christian life," Davis said. "We're also always pointing to the church, because we believe that our work ends when a young person is plugged into a local church."

After five years, the work with the shoeshine boys is bearing fruit.

"It's very different to live without Christ and to live with Christ," Silvestre said. "Two very different things, because when you live with Christ, your live makes sense. You have a hope that's up above. But when you're not with Christ, you don't have any hope. You just live to be living."

"He gave a purpose to my life, and I realized that He is the one who gives meaning, direction to my life," Tapia said.

Because of the confidence and Christian love the shoeshine boys have found through the Kayuparu ministry, many have taken off the masks that hid their identity and their shame. Now they show the joy of knowing that a new life exists for them in Jesus Christ.

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Stan Jeter

Stan Jeter

CBN News Senior Producer

CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/StanJeterCBN.