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Moments with missionaries: Abe Degner

A celebration in Cochabamba

The streets were packed with tourists, vendors, and colorfully dressed dancers. It was carnival weekend in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and thousands had flocked to the city to celebrate. We were there to celebrate too—but not because of carnival. We had something so much better to celebrate: the planting of a new church.

This is the goal of Academia Cristo. We give free online Bible studies to students all over Latin America, but the end goal is not online Bible study. Those studies help identify and train people to plant biblical, Lutheran churches where they live.

Inglesia Cristo WELS Internacional congregation
It was a time to celebrate when Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional received an Academia Cristo group from Cochabamba, Bolivia, as a congregation.

That’s how a new church was born in Cochabamba. In April 2020, a maxillofacial surgeon there named Eduardo Milanesi saw an Academia Cristo ad online and began studying with us. The Holy Spirit used the gospel he was learning to bring newfound peace and purpose to his life. He wanted to share what he was learning with others. He started bringing his Bible with him into check-ups and surgeries and telling his patients about Jesus. In less than a year, Eduardo finished the 13 courses in Academia Cristo’s discipleship program, confessed doctrinal agreement, and started gathering a group in his medical office to study God’s Word. We call groups like these “grupos sembrador”—planter groups.

It wasn’t easy. Eduardo was still working full time as a surgeon while leading his group in worship and Bible study. His group wrestled with COVID restrictions, addiction problems, and marital struggles. Academia Cristo provides study and worship materials for church planters like Eduardo to use with their groups to help ease their workload, as well as a “consejero”—a missionary who counsels them as they navigate tough situations.

For the next two years, Eduardo’s group met every week, and by God’s grace, they began to grow—not just in numbers, but in faith and knowledge of the Scriptures. In January, the group completed the studies Academia Cristo prepared for planter groups and were received by Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional, WELS’ newly formed sister synod in Latin America, as a congregation.

That’s what brought us to Cochabamba on carnival weekend. Representatives of WELS, Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional, and a sister church in La Paz, Bolivia, all traveled to celebrate. It wasn’t a celebration of our work or Eduardo’s work. It was a celebration of God’s saving work in the hearts of all present—especially in the hearts and lives of the new believers in Cochabamba. As Eduardo likes to say, “A Dios sea toda la gloria.” To God be all the glory.

The new church in Cochabamba is the first one planted through Academia Cristo. Over the past three years, God has blessed us with 51 other church planters and 21 planter groups—all on the same path Eduardo and his church took. God-willing, there will be many more celebrations like the one in Cochabamba in the future.

Learn more about Eduardo’s path to becoming a church planter through Academia Cristo.

Read more about mission work in Latin America.

Author: Abe Degner
Volume 110, Number 05
Issue: May 2023

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