Shoe-Shiners in Bolivia Shine for Christ
2 July 2012
Before Ramiro came to the Mallasilla Bible Church, he worked on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, as a shoe shiner. When he came to know Christ through a relationship with a Youth for Christ missionary, Randy, everything changed. Now Ramiro wants all of the thousands of shoe shiners in La Paz to know Christ.
One of Ramiro’s shoe shiner friends, Ivan, was left partially paralyzed after being brutally assaulted by a street gang. Even after multiple brain surgeries, he was left brain damaged so severely that he struggles to talk, walk and use his left arm.
When a wall at Ivan’s humble house began to fall down, Ramiro mobilized the Mallasilla Bible Church’s youth group to help share God’s love to Ivan in a practical way – they served together and rebuilt Ivan’s wall.
Today Ivan knows Christ and is found on the streets struggling, but with great joy, to share a few words with his friends: “Jesus. Saved life. Loves you … Praise him!” The other shoe shiners know exactly what he wants to say.
Ivan was one of the 40 shoe shiners whom Ramiro invited to the Mallasilla Bible Church retreat in the jungle. There were more than 130 people at the retreat who celebrated together as Ivan and others were baptized. Discipled by Randy and mentored by SIM church planter, Greg, Ramiro continues to mature spiritually and thrive as he discovers his gifts and God’s dreams for him.
Mallasilla Bible Church is a church planted by SIM missionaries and Bolivian believers in 2007. Relational evangelism and discipleship are the heartbeat of this new faith community.
We asked Youth for Christ missionary, Randy, why the shoe shiners wear masks. He answered, "They would probably tell you it is to keep them clean from the street dust or to protect them from the fumes that the polish gives off. The real reason is that they want to hide their identity, especially from classmates and family, and I think it originated just simply out of shame for the kind of work they do." He adds, "Not all shiners wear masks. Older (50+ years) and the youngest (8 and under) often don't mask up, and the women are rarely covered .... The masks make the shoeshiners of La Paz a very well defined and exclusive sub-culture."