When Bolivia met Uganda – seven ‘inspired’ lessons from a learning exchange visit

AdvocacyWorking through the local church

The American zookeeper Jack Hanna once said: ‘The world is the true classroom. The most rewarding and important type of learning is through experience, seeing something with our own eyes.’

Learning together: PAG Uganda hosts a team of pastors from PAG Bolivia.
Learning together: PAG Uganda hosts a team of pastors from PAG Bolivia.

‘I saw a new seed planted in the hearts of the team from Bolivia.’

Sarah Onduko
Sarah Onduko and Loida Carriel visit a local fishing community as part of a peer-learning exchange in Uganda.
Sarah Onduko and Loida Carriel visit a local fishing community as part of a peer-learning exchange in Uganda.

This idea of witnessing with your own eyes and learning from others was behind a peer-group exchange visit that took place earlier this year when church leaders from the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) in Bolivia visited their counterparts in Uganda. 

The results of this learning exchange were very fruitful. Over the course of one week, the two groups worshipped together and shared ideas. They also visited three different communities, where they were shown examples of community transformation work. 

Tearfund has been partnering with PAG in Uganda for more than 25 years, but it has only just started working together with PAG in Bolivia. One of the key objectives was to envision PAG Bolivia into church and community mobilisation (CCM) advocacy work through community engagement learning and sharing materials. 

At the end of the exchange, the Ugandan group had these wise words to share with their Bolivian guests: 

  1. As the church, we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We encourage PAG Bolivia to start CCM advocacy where it’s possible through the strength and transformation of the church.  
  2. Envisioning of the church leadership is critical. It’s important for the Bolivia team to call for a meeting of pastors and share what they have seen here in Uganda to encourage them and to be Christ’s ambassadors. 
  3. The pulpit is a great resource and offers an opportunity to spread the vision of Christ to the people. There are bible studies that the church in Bolivia can start using straight away. 
  4. The church has an opportunity to engage with leaders both at community and government levels. It’s important that their engagement is meaningful and influential towards pushing for the community’s needs.  
  5. The church in Bolivia needs to examine its past in order to fully understand how it has perceived the community and its own mission. The church cannot be isolated from the community where God has placed it. 
  6. The church should start creating relationships with all stakeholders within the communities. It should also do research to understand better what brings people together in urban environments. 
  7. From this trip, God has affirmed this vision for Bolivia: allow yourselves to be used as champions of transformation within communities and the nation.

‘I personally learn best by seeing and gaining first-hand experience,’ says Sarah Onduko, Social Accountability Officer for Tearfund, who helped to co-ordinate this learning exchange visit. ‘This was a rewarding exchange and I saw a new seed planted in the hearts of the team from Bolivia. The inspiration and aspiration for their church and community was renewed and affirmed.’  

Loida Carriel Espinoza, Regional Advocacy Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean for Tearfund, adds: ‘In Latin America we normally see Africa as a far away continent which we will probably never visit. And sometimes we have even sinned by thinking, is there anything to learn from Africa? What a terrible mistake. 

‘The peer exchange with PAG in Uganda let me – and the Bolivian pastors – know the amazing passion, commitment, and love that a church should have in order to do CCM advocacy. PAG is one of the best examples in the world. We were able to see, learn and do… 

See – that this kind of experience opens the way for similar work in other countries. 

Know – that all the learning will be helpful for our new CCM advocacy programme in Bolivia. 

Do – because from this experience we have started a three-year plan to work with 100 Churches in Bolivia.

Sarah Onduko and Loida Carriel
Sarah Onduko is a Social Accountability Officer for Tearfund. Email: sarah.onduko@tearfund.org. Loida Carriel Espinoza is Regional Advocacy Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean for Tearfund. Email: loida.carriel@tearfund.org.