This week, we have the privilege of hearing from the Penner family, who have been serving with RTM (TWR in Spanish) Bolivia since 2015. The main office for RTM Bolivia is in the capital of Santa Cruz. An hour outside of that city, the Penners live near the property where the main transmitter for Low German and Spanish programs are transmitted. Their main ministry is to those who live in the Mennonite Colonies and speak Low German, but the language of the land is Spanish.
Before COVID-19 struck Bolivia, Henry was working at the station every day, doing programming and live hosting. The country of Bolivia has been in lockdown since March 20. “At this point, we have just over 1000* cases in Bolivia. We are only allowed to go shopping once a week, with one person from each family allowed out from 8:00 a.m. to noon." *The number of cases has continued to rise since this report from Henry in mid-May, and as of June 22, there are 24,388 cases.
During the first week of the quarantine, Henry had a permit to drive until noon, so he could go to work for a half-day. However, the government cancelled a lot of these permits, so for several weeks, Henry worked from home. “I recorded my audio files at home and through my computer, I was still able to do most of my radio programming, but the internet was very slow at home,” said Henry. After this strict three-week lockdown, Henry was able to drive to the station again, explaining that “The last two weeks I have been staying two to three days at the station guest house, so I can get more work accomplished. I am making sure that the radio is programmed and getting the much-needed message out during this time of crisis.”
These last few weeks, Henry has been commuting to work as normal as the restrictions have eased a bit in the country compared to the cities. Henry has been doing a live update to the Low German listeners two times a day, six days a week on local and national breaking news. Epifania and Ariel, the caretakers at the station, have been using this time of quarantine to finish painting the station—a project that was started when TWR Canada missionary Kevin Baker from Alberta was there in December.
The pandemic has not had a large impact on the Mennonite communities because they all live on self-sustaining farms in the countryside. It is in the big cities where COVID-19 has hit the hardest. There has been an increase in conspiracy theories concerning the virus floating around on social media. “What we try to do at the RTM station here is bring hope during these times, not confusion,” said Henry.
“We as a family are doing well and we are healthy. We stay encouraged because we know we have an anchor in Christ.” Schools have not been meeting in person since the beginning of March, but the kids continue to meet with their teachers online. This has given Anna a lot more work to do at home as she’s overseeing the children and making sure they’re doing their work and helping where she can. “It has taken some time to get into a routine with five children in the home, but most of all we are very grateful for the health that God has blessed us with,” Henry and Anna reported.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you, including churches, who are praying for us and the ministry here in Bolivia. I know that you are praying regularly. May God bless you. We need it and appreciate it,” says Henry. Please continue to pray that the programs in Bolivia will speak hope to the listeners, and that lives will be transformed as a result.