Seizing Opportunities by Faith

Bible Distribution in Bolivia by Becky Gates


Our group carrying boxes of Bibles to the village of Tiquina

“Becky, when can we go on another mission trip?” Babi asked.

I had to smile at her eagerness, but I also wanted to go. Just before I left the USA to return to Bolivia, Tim, our accountant, had informed me that I had rec eived some more money for Bibles. I felt like jumping for joy! “Babi, I have to go to La Paz to do some paperwork for my visa. Let’s plan on doing it then.”

So it was that Babi and her son, Arthur, Mike and Andre, two of our volunteers from Germany and I headed for the highlands of Bolivia. David and Richard, my son-in-law, joined us for the first part of the journey. They had a meeting at the Union office in Cochabamba. The rest of us stayed at the bus terminal while they went to the meeting, but after 12 hours of riding it felt good to stretch our legs before the next 8 hours of travel. While I watched the luggage, the rest of the team handed out booklets of the last few chapters of the Great Controversy. They handed out over 50 within a matter of minutes. I was so touched when I noticed an older Indian lady sitting on her luggage, intently reading the booklet we had given her. Just about then two policemen marched up to me. Uh, oh, I thought, I wonder if they are upset that we are handing out literature.

“Excuse me, madam,” one addressed me politely. “Do you have any more of those booklets? We want some, too!” We were more than happy to oblige them.

A few minutes later a young lady came and stood next to me. She was waiting for someone. I handed her a booklet and struck up a conversation with her. Her name was Lora. “Do you have a Bible at home?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Well, the Bible tells us that Jesus is coming soon, and this little booklet will tell you some of the things that will happen before Jesus comes.”

A shocked look crossed her face. “Jesus is coming here to earth?” she asked incredulously.

Now it was my turn to be shocked! “Why yes,” I exclaimed. “That’s what the Bible teaches.”

“I never heard that before,” she said, clearly bewildered. “How is he coming?” she wondered.

For the next 15 minutes I had the joy of sharing with her how Jesus will come in the clouds of heaven with all His mighty angels to resurrect those who have died in Jesus and take all His people home. I encouraged her to read her Bible every day and to get to know Jesus personally so that she could be ready for His coming.

When we arrived in La Paz, we discovered we had picked the wrong week for a mission trip. It was the Independence Day holidays. Friday through Monday nearly everyone was marching: schools, businesses, government offices, etc. But reflecting on it later, I know God’s timing was perfect.

Thursday I went to the little shop where I buy the Bibles. I was delighted to find that there was a sale going on. For every Bible you bought, you received a free New Testament. I was also thrilled to discover that they had received another shipment of Bibles in Aymara, the dialect spoken in that region of the highlands. The trip before they were out of those Bibles. They are four times more expensive than the Spanish Bibles, but I bought five to leave in churches that we might visit, because many of the older people, especially women, do not speak Spanish. We purchased 415 Bibles, 100 Bible story booklets for children, and 56 pamphlets for young people on how to plan for the future based on Biblical principles. From our media center in Santa Cruz we also brought 300 booklets of the Great Controversy and a stack of pamphlets on the 8 Natural Remedies, which included many Bible promises. Unfortunately the pamphlets got stolen at the bus station, probably while I was talking to Lora. I just pray that the person who stole them will read them and be changed by them.

Our co-ordinators, Dante and Janeth, had arranged for us to visit the little SDA church in Tiquina by Lake Titicaca. They rarely get foreign visitors, so they were thrilled to have us. We all helped with the service. Hermilio, another of our volunteers had an inspiring sermon. We were thrilled to discover that they were planning an evangelistic series starting the following week. That afternoon they were planning to go to the next village to invite people to the meetings. We thought that would be the perfect opportunity to join them, inviting people as we handed out Bibles. After a wonderful potluck (they love to share their humble fare) we went down to the plaza to look for transportation. Unfortunately all the taxi drivers we could find were drinking and dancing. Most were so drunk they were staggering around. We handed out literature to them, praying all the time that God would somehow use it to reach them. However, we sadly had to abandon our plan to go to the next village.

Our original plan was to give out two boxes of Bibles in Tiquina and two in Copacabana, which is a tourist town near Lake Titicaca. The leaders of Copacabana are pushing hard for their people to return to their pagan roots, so I feel a real burden to reach these people with God’s Word. When we got to Tiquina, I realized that we had actually brought five boxes. I saw God’s hand in this, however, because there was a Peruvian family vising that Sabbath. They were thrilled to take a box back to their little church across the lake.

There was also a little Indian lady named Justina who was visiting from Copacabana. She spoke very little Spanish. With the help of the head elder we learned that she is not an Adventist and is having a lot of problems at home. Consequently, she and several of her neighbors have been getting together to pray and search for God.

“Do you have a Bible?” I asked.

She shook her head sadly. I had brought one Aymara Bible for the church. At that moment I felt impressed to give it to her instead. I wish you could have seen her face. Tears sprang to her eyes as she reverently held the Bible. Carefully she began to open its pages and read the words written there. Then a huge smile crossed her face. “Thank you, thank you!” she exclaimed. “I will share this with my neighbors.”

The elder was a little disappointed that he didn’t get the Bible, but Dante and Janeth had promised him that they would return to help with the meetings, so I told him I would send him another Aymara Bible with them. That made him happy.

Babi and Justina kneeling together in prayer

A few minuites later I was so touched to see Babi and Justina kneeling together in prayer. Babi is just learning Spanish, but tears were streaming down Justina’s cheeks as she listened to Babi’s fervent prayer. I feel certain the Holy Spirit helped Justina understand that prayer. Just that morning we had earnestly prayed that God would lead us to those who were searching for truth, and I knew God had answered that prayer.

Justina and the head elder advised us not to go to Copacabana that day as it is notorious for its drinking and fighting on the holidays. We had been told the same thing in La Paz the day before, so we decided to heed their advice. However, I felt happy knowing that at least one Bible was going to that village. Who knows, maybe God will use Justina to pave the way to do a mighty work for the gospel in Copacabana. Please help us pray for Justina.

Not too long ago we got a new volunteer for the highlands. He is a baker named Steve, who has come to run the new bakery that is being built at the boarding academy in Collana. On Sunday Steve, Mike, and a couple of Bolivians worked very hard making hundreds of delicious, healthy bread buns to pass out at the festivities that would take place at the village plaza the next day. Five communities would be meeting there and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to join them to pass out our Bibles. Like I said, God’s timing is perfect!

What an exciting day it was. The Bolivians love to march. All the town leaders were dressed in their typical costumes and draped with red, yellow and green ribbons, representing the Bolivian flag. The miners were wearing their hard hats, proudly bearing their shovels and picks. A group of older ladies marched past all dressed in green skirts and hand-crocheted cream-colored shawls, each one with a unique pattern. I suspect they belonged to a crocheting club. On and on the groups of people marched. Next came the students. Each school was represented (those that don’t march are fined). Nearly every school had a band. How the Bolivians love their bands! Our school had also decorated a pick-up truck with their typical blankets. In the back sat a little oven and next to it sat Steve, dressed in his white baker’s uniform, smiling and waving bread buns at everyone. The crowd loved it.

After the ceremony the local government had arranged to give everyone an orange, a real treat for the highlands. We set up our boxes of bread, Bibles and literture next to them. Right away a group of people crowded around us wanting Bibles. The government officials asked us not to hand out anything until the ceremony was finished. One little lady said, “Please give me a Bible. I’ve wanted one for so long. I’m afraid I won’t get one after the march.”

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “We promised the officials we would wait till after the march.”

After the ceremony we were almost mobbed by people wanting Bibles. I was surprised that they seemed more interested in Bibles than the oranges and bread. As I handed them out I reminded the people that Jesus is coming soon, and that they needed to get to know Him by reading His Word everyday. An older man reached out his hand towards me. “Please give me a Bible,” he begged. As I handed him a Bible, someone snatched it out of my hand. Again I tried, but the same thing happened. Finally the third time he got the Bible. He hugged it tightly, then raising it to his lips, he kissed it over and over again. “Thank you, thank you,” he said. “I’ve wanted a Bible for so long.”

I got so choked up I had to leave for a minute to wipe away my tears. I have 7 Bibles at home in 4 different languages, and in English I have 3 different versions. All of them are precious to me. I don’t want to part with any of them! But there are so many that do not have this privilege.

When I returned to the USA I told this story in Sabbath School. After the service someone asked me, “How do you know those people don’t just want the Bible as a relic or good luck charm?” I’ll be honest, I don’t know, but what I do know is that we prayed that morning that God would place His Word in the hands of those who really needed it. We claimed the promise of Isaiah 55:10, 11 that says, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” And I believe with all my heart that God answered that prayer. He keeps his promises!

Andre grabbed a handful of Bibles and headed into the crowd. Handing a boy a Bible, he told him, “Here is a special gift for you.” The boy’s eyes opened wide. “It’s a Bible,” said Andre.

“Mommy, Mommy,” shouted the boy in excitement as he dashed down the street. “We got a Bible, we got a Bible!” That really touched Andre, as he comes from a country where practically no one would accept a Bible, even if it is free.

A young woman approached me. She told me that she is an Adventist teacher working in a public school. I gave her 3 Bibles. Later in the day I saw her again. She excitedly told me that she had already given the Bibles away. One was to one of her co-workers, who told her she was so happy to get a Bible. I promised to get her a box of Bibles for her students. The director of our school in Collana also asked for Bibles for each of his students.

When we come to La Paz, we stay with Dr. Patti and his family. He is originally from Collana and strongly supports the school there. During the ceremony he gave a Bible to each of the leaders. After the march several ladies came up to us and said, “We also work in the mayor’s office. May we have a Bible, too?” We were happy to fill their request.

Arthur, Babi’s son, had a wonderful time handing out the Bible story booklets to the children. The Great Controversy booklets also seemed to be greatly appreciated. By the way, Steve’s bread was a great hit. We pray the bakery can soon be up and running. It will be a such blessing to the school.

All too soon we handed out the last of our Bibles. As we were packing up the boxes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the little lady who had begged me for a Bible at the beginning of the march. “Did you save me a Bible?” She had a hopeful look on her face.

“I’m so sorry,” I said once again, shaking my head. “They are all gone.”

A look of bitter disappointment crossed her face, her shoulders sagged. Slowly she turned around and shuffled into the crowd. I felt like I had been stabbed in the heart. Even as I write this is brings tears to my eyes. I couldn’t stand it. I dashed into the crowd, frantically looking for her, praying I would find her. Finally I spotted her. “Senora, if you will tell me where you live, I will make sure you get a Bible.” Her beaming smile was more than enough reward.

I want to share just one more story that happened on this trip. It was a wonderful answer to prayer. Almost 50 years ago when my parents came to work in Bolivia, they took in a little street child named Vicki. They wanted to adopt her, but because of some of the Bolivian laws, they weren’t able to do it. When we left Bolivia, my parents made arrangements for her to continue her studies at the Adventist boarding academy in Vinto. Unfortunately, after she graduated we lost contact with her. For years I have been praying that I could find her again.

On our last trip to La Paz we met an old friend from our childhood days. “By the way,” he said, “I saw your sister, Vicki, not too long ago.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Please,” I begged, “if you see her again, get her phone number for me.”

This time when I got to La Paz, one of the first things I did was call about Vicki. “I have a number for you,” was the exciting news. I called her right away, and we made arrangements to meet that afternoon down by the stadium. She told me she was wearing a purple. “Really? So am I,” I exclaimed.

I can’t describe the joy I felt when I spotted her. I recognized her immediately, and of course she recognized me–there weren’t any other blond ladies around! I don’t know what all the people standing around thought of these two ladies, one white, and one brown, hugging and kissing each other, crying and laughing, and saying over and over, “Oh my dear, dear sister, after so many years we are together again! I can’t believe it! Oh, I love you, I love you!” It was a small foretaste of heaven.

I took her to Dr. Patti’s house and introduced her to David. I showed her pictures of my kids and grandkids. She told me all about hers. Her life has not been easy. I asked her if she had a Bible. Sadly she shook her head. It was my joy to share what Jesus means to me, and the next day I bought her a beautiful Bible. This to me was the highlight of this trip. How I pray she will be ready to meet Jesus.

There are two more trips I long to make. One is to the people who live along the jungle river, Mamore, where David and I spent many happy hours playing so long ago. The other is to Potosi, an area of the highlands that has a lot of mining. Andre and Mike wanted to see a little more of Bolivia, so they went to Potosi, and visited one of the mines. Right away they began to feel uncomfortable, as if there were an evil influence down there. Then they came to a place in the mine where the miners were worshipping their gods. Suddenly they understood why they felt that way. So many of the miners chew coca so that they won’t feel the cold or hunger, and they try to forget their troubles with alcohol. My heart was broken when I heard Mide and Andre’s report. I long to show those people a better way. Won’t you help me pray for them?

I just want to thank again all of those who donated to make this trip possible, and also those who pray for these trips. without the Holy Spirit, these trips would be in vain. I just wish all of you could be with us on the trips and experience the joy that we did as we spread God’s Word. It will be exciting to see the results in heaven! Let’s keep spreading God’s Word, whether at home or overseas.

May God bless each of you.

Becky Gates