Fostering friendship on the other side of the world

A friend in need is a friend indeed. This is something our brothers and sisters in El Bolsón were able to experience first-hand. And they made more than just one new friend—it was more like 120 friends all at once. Following is a story well suited to the International Day of Friendship, which is observed on 30 July.

The congregation of El Bolsón in Argentina is located at the proverbial end of the world. The next congregation to the south is 130 kilometres away, and the next congregation to the north is 185 kilometres distant. In order to visit the congregation of El Bolsón, the district ministers, Bishop, and Apostle have to travel great distances. For example, Bishop Claudio Videla has to travel 1,500 kilometres as the crow flies from his place of residence to the congregation. “This is not always easy for the members and ministers of our congregation, who often feel alone and forgotten,” relates Heiderose Tienes-Liebner from El Bolsón.

Friends pray for one another

When a letter arrived from the congregation of Nordheide in Germany following the “My congregation in a shoebox” campaign that was part of the 2014 International Church Convention in Munich—written by none other than retired Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber—the joy in El Bolsón was great. “It was like receiving a caress from God Himself,” said Priest Rudolfo Benítez.

Suddenly the 25 members of the El Bolsón congregation no longer felt so alone. They had found approximately 120 new friends in Germany! They stay in virtual contact with their friends by exchanging photos, videos, and brief texts. And their friends pray for them too—for example, when there was a drought in El Bolsón in 2015 and wildfires ravaged the region. Together with Apostle Jörg Steinbrenner, who was there to conduct the service when the German congregation learned of the situation, they all prayed for their friends in South America. A day later, they received an e-mail from El Bolsón: “It’s raining!”

In addition to praying for the Argentine congregation, the members from Nordheide sent a donation intended to help their friends in El Bolsón. And the donation did just that, albeit in a manner no one would have expected.

Friends help one another

Part of the donation was for the benefit of María Delgado. Our sister was then in her early fifties and had been on dialysis for nine years. Three times each week she would have to make her way to the hospital. There were also many operations. Together with the then Apostle Norberto Pablo Bianchi, the members from El Bolsón decided that the money should be used to make peritoneal dialysis possible for María. This dialysis uses the lining of the abdomen, or belly, to filter the blood inside a person’s body. Now María no longer needs to go to the hospital for dialysis.

In order to create the hygienic conditions necessary for this type of dialysis in her modest hut, she needed a kitchen stove, a furnace, and a water heater. In addition, a tiled addition was built to ensure even greater hygiene. The latter was funded by friends and members of the El Bolsón congregation, so there was even some money left over from the original donation. “The donation from the members of the Nordheide congregation means life for me,” said a grateful María, who passed away recently.

A young sister visits her friends

A few years later, the remaining amount was used to help a young sister by the name of Cony, who was then 18 years of age. The members of El Bolsón came up with the idea to use the rest of the funds to finance Cony's trip to the International Youth Convention (IYC) in Düsseldorf in 2019.

Despite the generous donation, the money did not seem to suffice. Cony's father sold his quad bike to enable his daughter to travel. “He didn't hesitate for a moment to sell it so I could have the money,” says Cony. “It was a wonderful act of love for me.” The young woman had only recently moved away from her home village of El Maitén to train as a sports teacher, and had never taken any sort of major trip before in her life. And then there were many problems that worried her: “The only place I could find peace was in the divine service,” she says. “But already on the way home from church everything turned dark again. I wrestled with the Lord again and again: ‘All I ask is one thing: a little caress from heaven so that I can go on.’ But heaven remained silent.” And then, contrary to all expectations, everything worked out after all: “And in the end I received much more than a little divine caress,” says Cony. “For me it was as if I had been embraced by God Himself when the Chief Apostle took me into his arms!” Cony was able to enjoy the IYC in Düsseldorf and even meet some of her friends from the Nordheide congregation in person for the first time.

Children’s friendships are boundless

The children from the congregation of Nordheide showed their friendship in a special way on Christmas 2019: “They went without Christmas gifts, and instead sent a monetary donation to the children of the congregation of El Bolsón,” relates retired Priest Walter Gerke from Nordheide. On Easter, the children of the El Bolsón congregation received gifts that had been carefully selected for them by the members of Nordheide. In order to show their gratitude to their friends in Germany, the children of El Bolsón sent a video with a big thank-you to the other end of the world.

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