Just outside the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, a woman sits on an oxen-driven cart, shouting to potential customers to buy her food. She drives along a dirt road that leads to the center of Santa Cruz, home to 1.3 million people.
A map of the city reveals paved roads that form a web of 7 concentric circles, each larger than the last. Poverty, it seems, increases with every ring.
It is here, among the poor, that the gospel has historically spread. "Although the gospel was growing," says Rolando Justiniano, who leads Cru in all of South America, "it wasn't affecting the moral and social situation of our country."
Bolivia ranks among the 25 most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International, a watchdog organization that fights government corruption. Years of disappointment left Bolivians eager to understand true success.
Although Rolando didn't know how, he knew he needed to communicate the gospel to leaders -- those with influence -- in order to exponentially change this country. "If you reach a leader, that leader won't necessarily bring more people to Christ by themselves," says Rolando. "But through their influence they will facilitate many coming to Christ."
Lorgio Balacazar is the kind of man Rolando knew he needed to find. A native of Santa Cruz, Lorgio went to medical school, worked several years in the family business that owns three Santa Cruz radio stations and now works at the Civic Committee for Santa Cruz.
Although not a political organization, the Civic Committee wields social power, much like a lobby, to influence the government. Lorgio is the manager, second to the president. It is through Lorgio's work at the Civic Committee that he first met Rolando.
For years Rolando tried to forge relationships with people like 37-year-old Lorgio. Many were busy or simply uninterested. But when Rolando created a program called OPTIMIZARE, based on Ron Jenson's book Achieving Authentic Success, he knew it could work. Rolando and Ron co-created a four-level training course, which included self-study and workshops.
Beginning with the network that Rolando had slowly begun to establish, OPTIMIZARE was advertised as a course to improve leadership skills. OPTIMIZARE is a Spanish acronym standing for 10 foundational life principles that form the core of the training.
These principles focus on personal discipline, building a strong self-image and learning how to handle problems. Students set goals and write a life mission. They discuss balance, conflict resolution and not giving up.
Like many, Lorgio attended OPTIMIZARE hoping to improve his leadership skills. Within 15 minutes he knew the material hit a deeper need.
Lorgio and his wife, Teresa, were on the brink of divorce. "I was in the eye of the storm," says Lorgio, who first attended the training in July 2003. "Maybe that's what touched me most. I knew I needed out of my situation." At the end of the two-hour OPTIMIZARE seminar, Lorgio not only wanted to take the course, but he also wanted to teach it to others.
What Lorgio didn't know is that the seminars are designed to help students discover their deepest need: a spiritual life. "Through the program, businessmen discover their spiritual development has been very low," says Marcelo Nava, director of OPTIMIZARE. "When they discover the imbalance, they get interested in developing the spiritual side."
All the seminars are pre-evangelistic; during the 2-hour meetings teachers don't invite people to pray and become a Christian. Instead, they openly express how their relationship with Jesus changed them. However, at social events, which OPTIMIZARE participants are often invited to attend, the gospel is intentionally communicated.
When Lorgio asked Marcelo if he could teach, he was unaware of a spiritual prerequisite; the other 17 Bolivians learning to facilitate OPTIMIZARE were already Christians.
Marcelo was impressed with Lorgio's enthusiasm and decided to include him, although he wasn't a believer. Marcelo knew that the intense training and interaction with the other facilitators might be what it would take for Lorgio to see his need for Christ.
Within a month, Lorgio surrendered his life to Jesus. "I always thought I would believe in God when someone showed me intellectually who He was," says Lorgio. "OPTIMIZARE showed me a style of life. After I was convinced of the lifestyle, they showed me that it was in the Bible."
For Lorgio, the biggest evidence of change is at home. Before becoming a Christian, Lorgio let things go bad in his marriage and left his wife twice. When he began to walk with Christ, his attitude changed. "I found out I needed them," says Lorgio, referring to his family. "No success is any good if you cannot share it with the people who are important to you."
This meant making time at home a priority. "I used to draw things for my father," says Lorgio's 11-year-old son, Diego, "and he would look at them and put them down. Now I give him things, and he thanks and hugs me."
Diego also sees the difference in the way his father treats his mother. "I know he's madly in love with her," says Diego enthusiastically. "Even if they fight, I know he won't leave." Through OPTIMIZARE Lorgio learned the importance of prioritizing this family time, and now teaches others to do the same.
On a Monday evening, men and women sit two by two in desks at the OPTIMIZARE office near the center of Santa Cruz. Lorgio explains to the group of 11 -- including a university vice president, a doctor and 2 women just out of college -- that each student must work to develop the seven key areas of his or her life: faith, family, fitness, friends, finances, firm (career) and fun.
One of the tools Lorgio introduces is a log to record progress in each area. "Life is the best teacher," says Lorgio, who encourages them to spend time each evening recording what they learned that day.
In that time Lorgio is able to see what areas he is succeeding in and what needs improvement. Did he have time to study God's Word? How did he treat his co-workers? He knows that if Christ isn't the center of every action and decision, he doesn't have the power he needs to meet his short -- or long-term goals.
He explains to the class his weekly goal to spend quality time with his family. Lorgio admits that meetings at the committee occasionally keep him away from home at lunch, an important family time in South America. But each Friday night he takes Teresa out to dinner, no matter how late he comes home. Saturday afternoons and Sundays are family time as well.
Lorgio's change also spills into work. He now spends his first 2 hours in the office reading God's Word and praying. Lorgio understands that work is another part of God's plan to use him, so he wants to be sure to listen to what God has to say. "Being a Christian is not being passive but active," says Lorgio. "God is asking us to do the most we can to fulfill our purpose."
This is exactly what Rolando hoped leaders like Lorgio would learn through OPTIMIZARE. Over 2,000 Bolivians, many top-notch leaders, have started the training.
Last October, 200 Bolivians graduated in the first formal ceremony. The training has been so successful in Santa Cruz that Cru is now teaching it in other areas in Bolivia.
In neighboring Tarija, leaders also learn about their need for a spiritual side of life. Like those concentric roads that expand outward from the center of Santa Cruz, OPTIMIZARE is spreading to change Bolivia.