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  • Writer's pictureSharon Soper

Tribute to Lawrence Giesbrecht

Sunday, April 16 was my birthday, and it fell on a very special day when all the LIEAB churches came together to celebrate their 50th year anniversary at Zafranilla. It was my privilege to participate in this time of thanksgiving to God and to help share pieces of the history of how it all began.

The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC) came from Canada to reach out to the newly settled “Canadiense colony Mennonites.” This is where I accepted my first RN assignment to staff the 24/7 rural clinic at Chorovi in 1982. The Bolivian nationals surrounding the Chorovi compound were increasingly receptive to the gospel, and this birthed the first Bolivian national Anabaptist church in 1973. The offspring of this small national church eventually formed into the Bolivian Anabaptist Evangelical Church called LIEAB (La Iglesia Evangélical Anabautista en Bolivia).

The vision of the EMMC significantly expanded in a decentralized move away from Chorovi and we began reaching out to the national migrants flooding the surrounding areas of the city of Santa Cruz. After my two years serving in Chorovi (and Zafranilla) pastor Daniel Gomez and his family and I were commissioned to start work in this new development. The rapid growth of the church in La Fortaleza also led to starting the Anabaptist school next door.

Exactly one Sunday after our 50th year celebration of God’s faithfulness, we were saddened to learn that Lawrence Giesbrecht had passed away on April 23. He was the EMMC mission director in Canada for eight years. Lawrence and his wife Susan encouraged our vision for community outreach and for discipleship efforts that led to a formal development of SETA (Theological Education by extension). What has always meant so much to me is the way I was especially treated like family during those years, and this continued long after my tenure with the EMMC. The Giesbrechts along with my field directors John and Neta Banman will always be remembered for their pioneering efforts in church planting and for the founding of the Anabaptist school in La Fortaleza.

When sharing at the 50th celebration of LIEAB, I recalled the words of Lawrence and how he made sure to remind everyone that it is Jesus who said: “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Though we contribute our human efforts, and even in the midst of our mistakes and struggles, we are eyewitnesses to how Jesus has and is establishing His radiant church. We celebrate and rejoice in having been able to share the privilege of depositing our little grain of sand to expand God’s kingdom. The Lord is so good! To God be all the glory! We celebrate all that God will continue to do in Bolivia, and we take this special moment in time to thank God for all who have sacrificed their lives, resources and prayed fervently for the people of Bolivia to come to know Jesus.

During the 50th celebration, there were eight of us celebrating our birthdays, and we basked in this moment as an estimated attendance of 500 people sang Happy Birthday to us. I think this will be my best birthday ever! It continued for the next four days as groups of friends came to visit.

We continue to see God’s sustaining hand on the family of Ruben Mercado. While still missing Ruben, many remain faithful to the Luz y Esperanza Church and the vision of “Generación Sana” that was something Ruben pioneered. After two years of silence, Ruben’s vision of reaching the next generation is reignited. Pray for the key leaders including Ruben’s daughters Abby and Heidi who are leading and coordinating this event. Please pray for the organizers (Esteban Gonzales is director) and that the youth will come hungry for spiritual renewal. This International youth conference “Generacion Sana” will be held August 16-20 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

As for the political situation in Bolivia, we are relatively stable. There were a couple of months of strong protests and strikes in support of Governor Camacho who was kidnapped from his home in December. These measures did not succeed and Camacho still remains in prison. Last month, one of the larger banks shut its doors, and the country has “run out of dollars” so the prediction is that the country is on the brink economic collapse.

Laura and I have been laughing about some of our past experiences with Susan and Lawrence. One time we filled and sealed a “hundred’ tiny packets with dirt in the super flour factory. Our inspiration (or hairbrained idea) was to ask the people from the EMMC churches to give a $10 donation for each packet of dirt. This was a fundraiser to purchase a lot for the fast-growing outreach in Los Ambaibos. There was a shocked look on Lawrence’s face as he stared at this larger than expected parcel of soil packets, and he very politely proceeded to explain all the reasons why this would never work. Maybe our squelched enthusiasm showed on Laura and my face, but for whatever other reason, Lawrence changed his mind and decided to pack it in his luggage. But, he further explained, it would likely never cross the border. After landing in Winnipeg, Lawrence and Susan reported this “precious cargo” on the customs form. They had nothing to hide and even tried hard to let them know they were carrying “dirt from Bolivia.” Their forthright honest attempts were totally ignored and nothing ever happened! The rest is history, and the EMMC staff attached a commemorative title deed that promptly led to raising the all the funds needed to make the land purchase. Today, El Redentor is the second largest LIEAB church.

All this reminds me of a time when all the field missionaries were feeling discouraged. At the end of our last meeting on that particular mission visit, we concluded by singing this hymn by Charles Wesley:

“Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees and looks to that alone; Laughs at impossibilities And cries: It shall be done! And cries: It shall be done! And cries: It shall be done! Laughs at impossibilities And cries: It shall be done!”

While so much could still be shared, we at least want to take this moment to remember the lives of so many people like Lawrence Giesbrecht who will live on in the retelling of their stories of faith and service. Signs of new life and growth will keep rising, and we give God the Glory for these 50 years of faithfulness and the legacy that inspires the next generation.


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