Perched some 13,000 feet above sea level, the city of La Paz, Bolivia, is unlike almost any other place on earth.
There’s no quick way to describe it. Sure, you could say it’s a metropolis of more than a million people living in a region more than twice as high as Denver, Colorado. But it’s much more complex than that.
Pastor Johnny Dueri, a La Paz native and executive committee chairman of the March 8-10 Festival of Hope (Festival de Esperanza) with Franklin Graham, gives it his best shot.
Describe La Paz:
“La Paz is like a canyon, but it’s filled with houses,” Dueri said.
He pauses briefly, then extrapolates.
“It has mountains on one side and flat lands on the other side. And rivers that go underneath. … It’s a valley, but not really a valley.”
Clear as mud, right? Dueri finally finds words to try to do his city justice.
“At night, it’s illuminated like heaven.”
Not Vegas. Or a Christmas tree. Or the solar system. But “heaven.”
La Paz might not be heaven to everyone, but then again, most people don’t have the passion for this city like Dueri does.
Born and raised in La Paz, Dueri, 59, spent his college years in southern California, bouncing between UCLA, Pepperdine and UC-Santa Barbara, graduating with an electrical engineering degree. But in 1976, he came back.
Sure, California was nice, but La Paz … well, La Paz is home. Dueri couldn’t escape this burden to reach his city for Christ.
“I’ve always had a calling on my life,” said Dueri, who worked for 25 years before finally becoming a full-time pastor a decade ago. “I’ve always wanted to do ministry, but it was what I did on the side. It’s very hard to see it as a job. I enjoy it too much.”
So shortly after moving back to Bolivia in the mid-70s, Dueri and two other close “brethren” began a small church. Some 37 years later, that church is still going.
The three “brethren” are still together. In fact, there are eight pastors who serve three campuses of the non-denominational Congregational Christiana, including one in the bedroom community of El Alto.
And these three churches are among the 800-plus churches that have caught the vision of this weekend’s Festival of Hope. So much so that expectations are through the open-air roof of the soccer stadium where Franklin Graham will present the Gospel message of Jesus.
“We’re expecting a lot of people to come to the Lord,” Dueri said. “We expect the churches to grow. We even expect the authorities to be touched somehow.”
They are also praying for favorable weather this weekend. Forecasts for the 50s and rain have dramatically improved over the past week to low 60s with little precipitation.
“La Paz has a mild climate,” Dueri said. “Right now we’re getting off the rainy season. We’re praying it will be sunny for those three days.”
And if not?
“People are used to the cold here. They’ll probably put on a coat and come. It’s not too cold. Not like cold in the U.S. It rarely snows here.”
Just a couple hours down the mountain it’s actually quite warm in Bolivia. In fact, within an afternoon’s drive down an “old curvy road carved into a mountain” — known to some locals as “death road” — you’ll find a subtropical climate where pineapples, papaya, watermelon and tangerines are grown.
In other parts of Bolivia, quinoa is grown and has become a hot export as a trendy grain full of protein, particularly popular in many U.S. diets. Also found in the flatlands that extend to Peru are potatoes, corn and peas.
But this weekend, the Festival of Hope is not about food. Rather, it’s about the sustenance that only the Father can provide through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
“Our prayer is for our city to be touched by God’s power and the Gospel of the Good News,” Dueri said.
For Dueri, nothing would make him happier. He invites others to join him in prayer for his country to experience revival through the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit.
“We’re expecting people to understand that the only way to change life is through Christ,” Dueri said. “He’s our only hope.”
More Festival Information:
In Spanish, follow the Festival de Esperanza Bolivia Facebook page.