Cochabamba is not a Latin American dance or a Mexican pastry. It’s a small town in Bolivia, situated 8,500 feet above sea level, home of New Tribes Mission workers Bob and Joyce Wilhelmson (right with Israeli guest). Surprisingly, it’s a haven for backpacking Israelis. The Wilhelmsons’ home has become a witnessing hub to hundreds of these Israelis each year.
The couple was trained through New Tribes in 1952. They worked with the Yuracare and Quechua Indians before coming to the Yuquis, a tribe in Cochabamba. During the early 1980s, an Israeli backpacker made his way to the Yuqui camp and met the Wilhelmsons. He told some other Israelis of the good treatment he had and soon two Israeli couples followed. Bob and Joyce spent much time with the visitors and explained their missionary work and invited them for lunch. That night, the Israelis returned with five friends! They asked many questions about spiritual matters. During the first year, 25 other Israelis stopped by.
Israeli travel guides began to include blurbs on the Wilhelmsons’ slide shows and Bible talks, and they are advertised” in Israeli backpacking equipment stores. By 1992, nearly 3,000 Israelis had visited.
[A typical visit] begins around 5 p.m. with a tour of the Mission Home to see the facilities.…Bob then shows the visitors slides of the Yuqui work…a discussion of Christian missions and what true Christianity is usually arises while they are fed supper.…”
“Afterward, Hebrew Bibles and Hebrew-English New Testaments are passed out and…there is discussion concerning Messianic prophecies and their fulfillment in Yeshua…Frequently there is so much interest that the discussion lasts past midnight. The Wilhelmsons then give them any Hebrew literature they want and a New Testament. Some have taken phone numbers of Christians in Israel that they can talk to if they have further questions.”
Brown Gold Magazine, October 1992)
As of this past August, the missionaries welcomed their 8,000th Israeli visitor! Adi was heard to say that day: “You Gentiles need Yeshua, but I’m Jewish so God will accept me without Him.” Orit added, “In Judaism we are taught that when Messiah comes we will all be resurrected anyway, so…not to worry!” Monique, a South African visitor, replied, “It’s not enough to just believe in God, you have to believe in Yeshua, too.” Jeremy scoffed but at the end of the visit said, “You’ve sure given me a lot to think about.”
Often, Bob and Joyce host one group for lunch and another for supper. Sometimes this adds up to 12 hours a day of witnessing! A Bolivian Christian woman helps keep house; she’s even learned to make labana (an Israeli yogurt cheese) and chocolate chip cookies! But the main work of this ministry remains a “Ma and Pa” operation. The couple, in their 60s, has suffered from various health problems in recent years, and needs prayer for healing and strength. Mostly, they ask prayer that God would send them “many more (Israelis) to hear about their Messiah.” Israelis in Cochabamba? You bet!