Robert Dame – Missionary to Bolivia, Part II
Every Indiana Bible College student who ever sat in on a missions class with Brother Jim Sleeva over the past three decades would affirm the truism that “exposure breeds a burden.” Missionary to Bolivia Robert Dame, a 1997 IBC graduate, was no exception. His exposure to missions began before his arrival on the IBC campus. He had already spent time as a short-term missionary in Argentina, South America through the Associates in Missions program, where he quickly expanded his high school Spanish skills. Within three months, he preached his very first sermon, not in English, but Spanish. By the time he reached IBC, he was already fully committed to a missionary calling.
The Journey to Bolivia – Together
Each May during his years at IBC, he worked two jobs to earn enough money for another summer AIM assignment to Guatemala, where he worked with missionaries Monte and Dianne Showalter. On his fifth AIM tour there following graduation, he met his future wife, Lisbeth, who was born and raised in Guatemala City and very active in children’s ministry and campus ministry at the university she attended. Her children’s ministry was focused on impoverished children who lived and scavenged with their parents at the city dump.
Robert remembers, “I did not know it at the time, but while I was confirming that Lisbeth was a missions minded young lady, she was taking me to the dump to see how I responded to ministering to people who lived there. She was not only beautiful, with multiple talents, but I knew Lisbeth would not just be a great missionary wife. She was already a great missionary.”
After they married, they moved to Louisiana to start a Spanish speaking daughter work in the city of Houma. Five years later, they were appointed as UPCI missionaries to Bolivia, where they are based in the city of Cochabamba, surrounded by the snow-capped Andes Mountain range. Married now for the past 23 years, they have a 14-year-old daughter, Pamala Jazmin. Together, they have continued in campus ministry, and serve as South American Campus Ministry coordinators. Lisbeth also served as national Sunday School coordinator and prayer coordinator. During their first term, Robert directed the Bible school and taught leadership seminars, and a primary focus in Cochabamba has been prison ministry.
The work in Bolivia was founded by Vondas and Leah Smith in late 1974. They were joined in 1989 by their daughter and son-in-law, Vonda and Howard Smith. “Darrell and Cynthia Collins were instrumental in expanding the work later with the Bible school in Cochabamba,” Brother Dame said. Over the years, other missionaries have contributed to the work, most recently James and Stacy Marse in the city of Santa Cruz.
Digging Deep Wells
The work in Bolivia, now under national leadership, has grown to a constituency of well over 16,000. “We have a very harmonious relationship with the national leaders,” Brother Dame said. “The missionaries of Bolivia are more of a supportive role and help with being a neutral voice.”
Among the highlights of his ministry in Bolivia now, he said, “are seeing pastors who are now ordained and on the National Board who were students in the Bible school when I first arrived, or handing my reports to my district secretary who was a student in the first year I taught at the Bible school.” Another special highlight was “honoring my grandfather by planting a church in memory of him, a pioneer pastor responsible for starting 16 churches between Maine and Connecticut.”
A unique aspect of their labor for the gospel in Bolivia has been their focus on prison ministry in Cochabamba; he in the men’s prison and Lisbeth in the women’s. An unusual aspect of that ministry is that, when parents are sentenced to prison, their children are housed with them. “We are excited to report that close to 300 men and almost 100 ladies have been baptized in the prisons, and many who have been released now attend our church.” With a Nissan Pathfinder, they haul up to 22 children from the prisons to their church and Sunday school. They provide a meal for them while they are at church.
“At IBC we heard repeatedly ‘exposure breeds a burden’,” Brother Dame said, “but I have learned that passion is birthed from a burden, and passion will help us change the world while others complain about not having enough resources.”
What else has he learned in Bolivia? “If I could start over, I would focus on discipling. Life is too short, and multi-tasking is exhausting, and many times breeds frustration. I must dedicate my life to what the early patriarchs did — build altars and dig wells. Jacob had no idea that one day the Messiah would drink from his well. Difficult as it seems we must dig wells and dig them deep so that long after we pass, others may have a well to drink from.”