• Population: 10 million

  • Area: 1,098,580 km2

  • Climate: Tropical Jungle (‘Oriente’) to Cold Highlands (‘Altiplano’)

  • Capital/Seat of Government: Sucre/La Paz

  • Currency: Boliviano

  • People: 50% Highland Amerindian, 44% Mixed Race, 4% Lowland Amerindian, 2% German

  • Official Languages: Spanish and all 36 languages of the indigenous nations and peoples

  • Religion: 91% Christian (16% evangelical), 9% Other faiths/none

Geography and climate

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Bolivia is a country of great cultural and geographical diversity and beauty. It is the highest and most isolated of the Latin American countries, right at the heart of the continent and landlocked. It has the high, cold and dry, mountain-rimmed Altiplano to the west; medium elevation valleys in the middle; and low, hot and wet forested plains in the east and north-east.

La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world at just under 12,000 feet. Not all cities are yet linked by paved roads, and transport to areas outside main towns and cities can be unpredictable.

Bolivia is rich in natural resources, especially minerals, gas, petroleum, hardwoods, soya and other crops, including potatoes, rice, corn, sugar cane, yucca and bananas. Coca cultivation is on the increase.

Politics and economics

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Since the last dictatorship was ousted and democracy reinstated in 1982, Bolivia has had ten presidents, including one ex-dictator. Its economy has been weak for many years, though successive leaders have tried in various ways to bring about stability and growth.

The story of the last decade has been the rising up of the 60 per cent indigenous population, marginalised by the elite ruling class, to protest against perceived injustices. Direct action in the form of marches, strikes and road blocks over issues revolving around land rights and the management of natural resources and utilities has been common, and in many cases effective.

People and society

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Bolivia is multicultural, with dozens of ethnic groups and a small proportion of descendants of immigrants from different parts of the world. The new constitution, approved in a referendum in 2008, recognises Spanish and the 36 languages of the indigenous nations and peoples as official languages.

In 2006, 60 per cent of the population was classed as living in poverty, with 38 per cent living in extreme poverty – the majority of these living in rural areas. About half the population is currently under the age of 15.

Family remains important, with most people living close to their family. However, values are changing, with money becoming more important than family in many cases.

The economic situation has led to the migration of more than two million Bolivians to Spain, the USA and Argentina. Frequently, one parent goes, leaving the spouse and children behind. This has led to family disintegration, with the separated parents often taking other partners, or leaving children to grow up alone.

Religion and the Church

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Historically, the Roman Catholic Church was the official church in Bolivia and enjoyed special benefits. However the new constitution says: ‘The State respects and guarantees freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, according to one’s worldview. The State is independent of religion.’

Nevertheless, the government particularly promotes the traditional religions of the original peoples. This has met with resistance from both the evangelical church and the Catholic Church (despite its history of tolerating syncretism).

The majority of evangelicals have in the past come from the lower classes, and these are the people being most politicised by the government and encouraged to return to ‘traditional’ beliefs and practices.

The evangelical church has not been very interested in social action until recently. However, some of the Bible and mission training colleges are starting to include integral (holistic) mission in the syllabus.

Latin Link’s work in Bolivia

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The Latin Link Bolivia team is growing and vibrant, with a good number of members serving longer term and many others coming each year on the shorter term Stride and Step programmes.

They serve in a wide range of ministries, including work with children and young people at risk, strengthening churches by developing leadership alongside national Christians, student work, prison and justice work, evangelistic outreach, and social action.

Mission opportunities in Bolivia

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Bolivians are easy to relate to, informal, and open to God’s word. The Latin Link Bolivia team would love to see more people working with churches, especially in parts of the country outside the main cities.

Given the current political situation, we don’t need people who are just theologians. Instead we need professionals to work in social projects and be involved in holistic mission, ready to teach and preach, and disciple believers, including large numbers of children and young people.

The church remains vulnerable in many cases and help is needed to strengthen it in culturally appropriate ways. There is a need to prepare leaders and help people embody their Christian identity beyond church on a Sunday.

So the Bolivia team is looking for people with a heart to serve God and be sensitive to the culture here; people ready to live alongside and encourage Bolivian believers, even when that is not comfortable, and model servant leadership to them; people willing to pioneer, to be prepared to go to places where there are few comforts and no other foreigners; and people willing to study and to learn Spanish (or the other languages spoken in Bolivia) well.

For more information, please see the Opportunities page of our International website (this will open a new tab).