The Evangelical Methodist Church in Bolivia (IEMB) celebrated 100 years of work in Bolivia in 2006—an important event which served to bring together peoples from within and from outside Bolivia as a testimony to encourage us to continue our work. This work of evangelization started in the year 1906 with programs of education and health through the presence of missionaries from the Methodist Church in the USA. Later on the direction of the IEMB was assumed by national leadership.
At the present time, the IEMB works in an integrated manner in different areas of need with the population of Bolivia, principally with the poorest sectors in the cities and rural areas.
The IEMB is composed of 14 districts, 194 local churches and a membership of 9,190 which is served by a ministerial body of 37 ordained pastors and deacons. The mission, testimony and service of the IEMS is achieved through three distinct areas of responsibility: The National Office of Life and Mission is responsible for activities and programs of evangelization, theological education, Christian Education, Liturgy. Communications and programs with national organizations of women, youth and laypersons; The National Office of Services is responsible for Methodist Educational Service, Methodist Health Service and Rural Development; The National Office of Stewardship and Finances is responsible for the administration and finances of the IEMB.
One very important characteristic of the IEMB is its majority indigenous membership composed of Aymaras, Quechuas, Tupiguarinies, and other indigenous peoples of the Bolivian Amazon. The membership of the IEMB reflects Bolivian society which is made up of some 36 distinct ethnic groups.
In the city of Cochabamba in December 2004, the XVIII General Assembly of the IEMB conferred the responsibility of leadership of the IEMB for the quadrennium 2005-2008 on Rev. Lic. Carlos Poma as Bishop, and for the biennium 2007-2008, on Rev. Filiberto Ramirez as National Secretary Life and Mission, Dr. Rolando Yanapa as National Secretary of Services, and Lic. Javier Rojas, as National Secretary of Stewardship and Finances. One fundamental task with which these leaders have been charged is to produce a process of renovation and projection for the IEMB for a new stage of mission in Bolivia that takes into account the new historic and social challenges.
Another challenge for the IEMB is adapting the gospel theologically, ecclesiastically and pastorally in the socio-cultural context of the Bolivian population and ecclesiastic community. This means putting the Biblical message in a new context, a new understanding of the presence of God among the indigenous people and the search for a new pastoral model that responds to the adapted ministry of the church.
From the perspective of our historic Wesleyan heritage and in the spirit of Methodist connectionalism and ecumenical Christianity, the IEMB expresses its desire to continue developing its ecclesiastic ministry and pastorate. The EMS reaffirms its evangelical vocation of proclamation and criticism and its commitment to social service to the poorest and the marginalized in society. At the same time the IEMS asks for the solidarity and the participation of our sister Methodist churches who are also on the same road of common ministry: the building of the Kingdom of God along with its justice.
In 1835, Rev. Fountain E. Pitts was sent by the Mission Board of the Methodist Church in the United States to visit some of the capital cities on the east coast of South America. Some of these visits resulted in the formation of small groups of Methodists. This was the beginning of Methodism in Latin America as well as in Brazil, as one of these groups was formed in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
In 1836, Rev. Pitts returned to the United States but his successor, Rev. Justin Spaulding, arrived in Rio de Janeiro in the same year. Rev. Spaulding’s ministry was characterized by his ample distribution of the Bible, an unheard of activity in this country, by his stand against slavery, and by the founding of a small school. These were forerunners of the two great emphases of Brazilian Methodists, education and preaching the gospel.
In answer to Rev. Spaulding’s calls for help, Rev. Daniel Parish Kidder was sent to Brazil in 1837. The two returned to the US in 1841, but left the way open for other missionaries who would come to Brazil after the Civil War in the US, a war that lasted from 1861 to 1865.
After the end of the Civil War in 1865, many families from the southern part of the United States immigrated to Santa Barbara do Oeste, in the state of Sao Paulo. Among these was Rev. Junias Eastham Newman who arrived in 1867. But it was only in 1876 that the Methodist Episcopal Church South (USA) sent the first official missionary to Brazil, Rev. John James Ranson. He established Methodist work in Rio de Janeiro. This was 35 years after the first attempt to organize a Methodist group in this city.
Bishop John Cowper Granbery, supervisor of the Brazilian Mission, came to Brazil in 1886 with the purpose of better organizing the work and creating an organization to legalize the properties of the mission. He authorized the transformation of the Brazilian Mission in an annual conference (expression similar to our ecclesiastical region). The work grew and in 1919 there were three annual conferences: the North, the South and the Central Conference.
The Brazilian Methodist Church became autonomous in 1930 and elected its first bishop, William Tarboux, an American. The first Brazilian Bishop, Cesar Dacorso Filho, was elected in 1934. A strong leader, his episcopacy left a profound mark on the church.
The 1938 General Conference approved the founding of a theological school in Sao Paulo. It was 1942 before this school came into being by uniting the theological courses already in existence at Granbery Institute in Juiz de Fora (MG) and at Porto Alegre Institute (RS).
The Methodist Church in Brazil developed the ecumenical spirit of Wesley and therefore became the first church in Latin America to become a member of the World Council of Churches. This organization was formed in 1938, but due to the Second World War, it only was officially recognized in 1948.
The Methodist Church, at the present time is divided into six ecclesiastical regions, one missionary region of the Northeast (REMNE) and one national mission field located in the North and Northwest (CMNN). Today, the church has 144,000 members and approximately 360,000 participants.
The legislative organization is the General Conference. There is an Administrative Board (COGEAM), authorized by the General Conference, to administrate the Church according to the guidelines and orientation contained in the documents of the church. In COGEAM there are bishops, clergy and lay people. Each ecclesiastical region and missionary fields have one bishop. For the first time, there was a woman elected as
bishop. The eight bishops compose the College of Bishops, responsible for pastoral and doctrinal guidance of the church. There are four executive national coordinations: Administrative, Missionary, Educational and Social. The last General Conference was in 2001. For the first time, there was a woman elected as bishop.
These basic documents are Canones (the church Disciplines), the Social Creed, the Plan for Life and Mission of the Church and the National Guidelines for Program. In addition to these, the College of Bishops produces Pastoral Letters to orientate the church on pastoral and doctrinal unity and action.