The Encounter with Christ Bolivia Mission Program was started in 2001 by then District Superintendent Jane Allen Middleton in the New York Conference. After coming to the Central Pennsylvania Conference, Bishop Middleton worked to establish a similar mission here, and the two conferences now work together on many Bolivia mission programs. Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Teams have traveled to Cochabamba, Bolivia, annually since 2002 to work with the Bolivian Methodist Central District. Bob & Ginny Stevenson, who joined First UMC Hershey in 2009, were involved in the Bolivian Mission in the New York Conference from its inception, leading VIM teams to Bolivia annually from 2002 through 2008, and now are coordinators of the Bolivia Mission Initiative in Susquehanna Conference. Several PA volunteers traveled on joint VIM Teams organized by NY Conference in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010. In 2007 two teams organized here went to Bolivia—a medical team that started a clinic in El Alto and a multi-functional team that worked in Cochabamba. Another PA team led by Bishop Middleton traveled to Bolivia in 2010 to perform medical and construction work. A full container of medical equipment also was sent to the El Alto clinic in 2009. Financial support is provided by various Susquehanna Conference congregations for the El Also clinic, a children’s program in Cochabamba and missionaries in La Paz. Bolivian style sewn goods and simple jewelry made by women's cooperatives in two of the Methodist churches in Cochabamba are sold at mission presentations and displays at Annual Conference at various other locations throughout the year.
The 2011 VIM teams will be conducting Vacation Bible Schools at four churches and continuing construction work on a new church facility begun in 2010 as a home for a new, rapidly expanding congregation (Luz de Vida. which translates as Light of Life) recently formed in an area devastated by economic hardship arising from the bankruptcy of the major Bolivian airline. VIM's also will worship and fellowship, and share the love of Christ, with Methodists of the Central District, who have become family to the more-than-100 different persons who have traveled with previous VIM teams, many more than once. The team also will carry with it school, craft and sewing supplies, as well as Mustard Seed Funds, collected from around the Conference. Like the mustard seeds described by Jesus, these funds will grow in ministry as they are invested in a variety of programs to empower the people and make disciples of Christ.
The 15-member team (11 adults and 4 youth) includes 9 members from Susquehanna Conference, 4 from New York Conference and 2 from Baltimore/Washington Conference (who learned about the trip while browsing the Mission Central and Susquehanna Conference websites). Nine members of the team are making their first mission trip to Bolivia, including the four youth. Prior VIM teams have included two or fewer young persons, and the increase in their participation is an important part of strengthening our connection because of the the large number of children, youth and young adults in the Central District congregations. The four youth, who will be sending back reports of their adventure from a Young Person's perspective, are:
• Kara Miller, Evangelical UMC, Middletown, PA
• Two sisters--Broghan and Brynne Schlicher, Evangelical UMC, Middletown, PA
• Evan Bailey, Pleasant Valley UMC, Pleasant Valley, CT