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Henry and Anna Penner Left For Bolivia in February 2015
Henry and Anna Penner have been in Canada for the last few weeks to attend a close family funeral. We sat down with them and asked about their first year on the mission field in Bolivia.
When the Penners first approached TWR about becoming missionaries, they were warned that typically raising support takes 1-2 years.
Raising support to go to Boliva seemed like a mountain to cross, Henry said. "We just simply had to completely trust God. I prayed 'If You want us there, You'll have to make this happen.' Humanly it was impossible."
Henry was born in Bolivia and lived there until he was 12 and returned for a short mission trip as an adult which is when his passion to minister to the Low German-speaking communities there was sparked. Both Henry and Anna were raised in Old Order Mennonite communities in Southern Ontario and are familiar with Low German.
Anna admits her path to the mission field is a little different. "For me, it was more of a surrendering thing. When Henry first started talking about Bolivia I wasn't on board. When I realized it was really what he wanted, I decided to give it a shot. It wasn't my work and if it didn't work out I wasn't the one who was losing."
Henry at work taking a listener call.
When the Penners raised their support in only four months, everyone was surprised. "I thought I would have more time," Anna said about leaving Canada. "When I saw that God was making all these things work that I thought was impossible, I started to get motivated."
Henry received five weeks training on radio in Bolivia and learned the basics before he was on his own. The main office for RTM Bolivia is in the capital of Santa Cruz. An hour outside of the city, the Penners live on the property for the main transmitter where Low German and Spanish programs are transmitted. They are there on their own with a few local staff to help them navigate the language and culture. "Our main ministry is in Low German, but the language of the land is Spanish so that's been a challenge," Henry admits.
"I enjoy learning new things and working with the radio, but it came to the point where I was frustrated that I had to call for help so often. I needed somebody to take me to the next level," Henry said.
Still, the Low German ministry -- even after only a year, is being noticed. From the volunteers who help at the station, the Penners have learned that people have noticed the programs are consistent. In the past, the programs might not air on a specific day if staff were pressed for time or there was a mechanical issue. Now, with Henry living on site, mechanical issues are dealt with much quicker and Henry makes it a priority to have the programs air reliably when they're scheduled to.
RTM Bolivia had tried a pilot program where they went to a church tent meeting and set up radio equipment and live broadcast the sessions. Henry continued this. "A lot of people from the colony won't come out to the meetings. People might see them and they'll get in trouble. On the radio, they can still tune in. We want to work with the local churches to see this happen more often because it's beneficial to the listeners," Henry said.
"The people don't get out of the colony. To a point, it's forbidden. They're more likely to listen to a radio than anything else," Henry says
Anna agreed. She said in a church you can only do so much. The people leave the building and if they don't receive the message it's difficult to follow up. "With radio you can get into the corners and behind closed doors," she said.
"With radio you can get into the corners and behind the closed doors." Anna Penner
RTM Bolivia property with the broadcast studio. The Penners live in a small apartment on the bottom floor. RTM Bolivia has rooms they rent out on the top floor and Anna oversees the bookings (notice the radio tower in the background).
The Importance Of Relationship There's little value in knocking on a stranger's door and telling them everything about how they're living is wrong. "If you have a listening ear about where they're at, they'll often be willing to talk. When you know where they're at, you can bring up the Gospel," Henry says.
Visiting as a family and getting to know other families, instead of a van full of adults pulling up to the house, has opened many doors. We are better received and seen as less intimidating, Anna says. If you're not familiar with the culture, even an innocent comment can be offensive.
"A lot of missionaries there are good friends, but some of them have never been in these communities. Anna and I are first generation. We have lived the way they live in the colonies. We can relate to them," Henry said.
Culture Shock Has it been difficult moving to a culture that's very different from Canada? How have the children adjusted?
Here [in Canada], we live in a very close-knit church community of family and friends and there [in Bolivia] we're on their own on a very large property, Anna says. "It's been lonely, but we lack nothing."
What does she mean by that?
"In Canada, we wanted so many things and it was always a financial struggle. There's not so much of that there. When you see people living with nothing then you're grateful for everything. Our house there is half the size of our house here, but others there are living in shacks. Suddenly, ours is sufficient. Here, you want what the next person has. There, we don't have things or much money but we don't seem to need anything."
All TWR missionaries are paid in American funds (for various reasons). The exchange rates and sinking Canadian dollar means many of our missionaries need additional support to compensate for the almost 30% exchange loss. SaveSave