“The president was so impressed that he loaned the young 19 year old evangelist his presidential jet to travel to meetings through the entire country, giving him the use of stadiums and asking mayors to declare a holiday when the young evangelist arrived in their cities to preach.”
How a genuine revival impacted Bolivia
In 1995, Julio Ruibal, a prominent charismatic evangelist from Bolivia who lived and worked in Cali, Colombia, was martyred for his faith. The story of his courageous ministry of unity and opposition against Cali’s drug cartels is chronicled in the well-known Transformations video, produced by The Sentinel Group. However, less known internationally is his role in a genuine revival that impacted Bolivia in the 1970s.
In the early 1970s, after his conversion in Los Angeles, Julio returned to the city of La Paz, Bolivia and began to share Christ. After a core group of young people came to the Lord and started gathering in homes, conversions began to multiply exponentially until there were more than 5,000 new Christians.
After word of this spiritual outbreak spread in the predominantly Catholic country, Ruibal found himself in a meeting with Bolivia’s president, Hugo Bánzer Suárez. The president was so impressed that he loaned the young evangelist his presidential jet to travel to meetings through the entire country, giving him the use of stadiums and asking mayors to declare a holiday when the young evangelist arrived in their cities to preach.
During the next several years, hundreds of thousands of people were converted to Christ. Today the evangelical population of Bolivia has grown to more than 11 percent.
“As repentance was his lifestyle, it became a fruit of the revival.”
Looking back to those days, Ruibal’s widow Ruth says the Bolivian revival was marked by repentance and simple obedience to Jesus.
“Julio’s conversion was dramatic and his repentance was deep. He would lie on the living room floor saying, ‘Jesus I have found You; I have found everything.’
Up until then, Julio was supporting himself by running a yoga academy. He told all his students about his conversion, and half the students were saved while half left. He closed down the academy and from that day, for the rest of his life, he lived by faith. Most people would have tried to save the academy or wait until they had something else to do. But Julio was drastic in obeying. As repentance was his lifestyle, it became a fruit of the revival. People were getting right with others, making restoration for prior wrongs and dramatically stepping out from sin.”
The Bolivian revival affected the nation and the culture. “This was a sovereign move of God over a nation, not just one church being revived,” says Ruibal. “Up until that time, Bolivia had had more presidents than years of independence. There had been so many coups. At one point there were four presidents in one day. However, when President Bánzer opened the country to the gospel, he stayed in power for eight years. That was a first for Bolivia. Bolivia experienced its first economic boom. Churches sprang up everywhere and poverty was diminished.”
“God had replaced the bone eaten away by cancer!”
There were also many miracles. “The miracles were so remarkable and abundant that it is hard to adequately describe,” says Ruibal. “One of the outstanding miracles involved a woman who was dying of bone cancer. She was bed-ridden and her upper leg could not be moved for lack of bone. Her sons asked Julio to pray for her. He led her to the Lord and then prayed for healing. Then Julio felt the Lord telling him to lift the lady to her feet. He helped pull her up and she stood. God had replaced the bone eaten away by cancer! There were other types of miracles, too. Food was multiplied supernaturally. At a dinner, fish appeared on a plate in front of several elders. Once, money multiplied so that we could feed some leaders who had cometo minister.”
The revival was marked by sweeping conversions that sparked church growth. Before the revival the largest evangelical church in La Paz had about 90 members. Missionaries from many denominations had labored for decades with little results. What Julio, then only 19 years old, brought in was a commitment to prayer.
“When we started the church in 1974 we would teach the young people and then in the evenings they would go to home groups to teach what they had learned,” says Ruibal. “We would then reunite after the meetings and pray for the people in the meetings. This meant we prayed from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. or 3 a.m. every night. There was a lot of prayer.”
“From then on the stadiums were too small to hold the crowds.”
The stadium meetings had their own challenges. “It started in the stadium in La Paz, with thousands attending. But one day when the meeting was to start at 10 a.m., the police called Julio to ask for his advice. The crowds had come around 5 a.m. to get seats in the stadium, but when they arrived they found the stadium was already filled. People had spent the night there, and the overflow crowd was now at 40,000. The police feared a riot. That day Julio preached to the crowd within the stadium and then from the wall of the stadium to the overflow. Miracles took place as people repented and came to Jesus.”
“From then on the stadiums were too small to hold the crowds. The meetings were held on mountainsides and in plazas. There was no PA system at that time large enough to reach the tens of thousands of people, so they were encouraged to bring their transistor radios and turn them up as loud as possible. Since the meetings were being broadcast, everyone could hear the preaching. The Assemblies of God sold 33,000 Bibles and New Testaments in only two weeks. In fact, the Bible Society of Argentina and other outlets had to send them their stock of Bibles as well.”
As a result of the revival many new churches were planted in Bolivia. “Ekklesía, the church we started in La Paz, has more than 23,000 members today,” says Ruibal. “Daughter churches were started in every state in Bolivia and also in Colombia and Argentina.” Also other churches benefited. “There were about 15 churches started in the city of La Paz alone as a result of the revival.”
Source: Ruth Ruibal, interviewed for Charisma Magazine
Joel News International 879, Oct 16, 2013