Report on visit to Latin America December 2008 to January 2009

I arrived in Guatemala City on December 26, only to be not met by the people who were supposed to meet me. I don’t know what happened, and haven’t heard from them. Perhaps a mix-up in communication or something, but, so it is (n.b. I received communications apologizing for not meeting me).

That evening I went to San Salvador, El Salvador, where I was met by Eliseo Martínez, pastor of the OPC in San Salvador. we talked, some that evening, and then on Saturday, we had a more formal visit wit h the consistory, which includes pastor Eliseo, Francisco Lozano (a senior in Seminary), and Miguel Renderos, a university and seminary professor. We talked about their vision for the OPC of El Salvador. Their immediate plans are to build up the central church, so that Francisco can pastor it when he graduates next winter, and to build up the mission work in San Marcos, and continue the Bible Study in Santa Ana with a view to it being a future church plant. They asked if the OPC had responded to the request of the churches in Colombia, and I explained that the OPC had not done so, but that there was a report which was submitted which indicated what the OPC should do with respect to churches wishing to join the OPC, i.e., that they not be allowed to do so. They asked me if there was some way for their candidates to be examined for ordination and for a presbytery to be organised, although not a part of the OPC. I told them that the OPC report had also said that something should be done, but that I didn't really know how we might go about it, and that I would consult with the Foreign Missions  Committee and get back to them.

On Saturday, I went to the OP mission work in San Marcos, a suburb of San Salvador. There was an attendance of about 30 people. I preached from 1 John 3:1-7, and was well received. Since there was no morning service on Sunday, I went to the  CRC in Santa Tecla. There were about 15 people present. The pastor is Carlos Mejilla, but a member of the church, Ivan, preached from Luke 14:11-14. His sermon seemed somewhat political. Although they sang a Psalm, some of the hymns also seemed political. They celebrated the Lord’s Supper, with no fencing of the table. Afterwards, there was a meeting of the consistory, with women as members. Over lunch, the pastor explained that they have women elders because they have gifts and not many men were willing, and reformed churches should always be reforming. I briefly explained our perspective on the issue. For these reasons, I doubt the OPC in El Salvador will work with the CRC, something that they had been urged to do by Louis Wagenveld, a CRC missionary who h as helped the CRC greatly (n.b. He has written to me on my travels, and I will meet with him upon my return, d.v.). We visited the CRC in Huizucar, where I met the consistory, also with women members. We then climbed a mountain for about an hour and half, and arrived at their new mission in Almendra. They sang songs, and broke a piñata for the children, and announced that there would be a service the following Sunday. That evening; I attended the worship of the central OPC. There were about 50 people present, and pastor Eliseo preached, and I brought greetings from the OPC of North America. Afterwards, I met with Jaime Olmeda, another seminary and university professor who used to be a part of the OPC and had left. He met with me to explain that he had repented of departing, and had determined to return, and become a part of the church, although only as a member at first.

On Monday I headed out for Buenos Aires , arriving very early on Tuesday morning. I meet with (Carlos) Daniel Borrini, a man in Buenos Aires who is of the reformed faith. He would like to see an OP church in his city, since there is at present no faithful reformed church there. He has gone to the San Andres Presbyterian Church, but due to liberalism and woman elders, cannot continue to do so. He does not wish to be a pastor, but seems very Biblically literate, and would seem to be a good prospect for service as a ruling elder. (My wife and I hope to visit the four churches in Argentina further in April).

Later Tuesday, I went with some difficulty to Rivera, Uruguay, arriving there at midnight (n.b. On Sunday I was told that one of the members of the church had been stuck in Montevideo since Tuesday and had been unable to get out, so maybe m y difficulties were not as great as I thought). I went to the Falk's house (OK, my house that the Falks live in), and they hosted me for my stay there. They have been, as always, most gracious to me.

On Wednesday, we met briefly with Marcos Lara, one of the preachers here, to make arrangements for going to Mandubi, and then spent much of the day with pastor Gustavo Mello. I had much time to20talk with the Falks about the progress of the ministry, as well as their needs and concerns. They seem to be settling in well, and like the house, and have great hopes for the future progress of the ministry here.

On Thursday, we went to Mandubi for a Bible Study, where I exhorted from Luke 4:16-30. Afterwards, there was a meeting of the pastors, preachers, elders, deacons, and church workers, which is to say, Gustavo Mello, pastor, Henry Vega, elder (recovering nicely from a severe illness), Marcos Lara, elder and preacher (in Brazil), Bento Sandin, deacon and preacher, lay workers Michel Lima and Narciso, and Jonathan Falk and myself. Each of the men presented their vision for 2009 for the Uruguayan church and missions, mostly in general terms. Marcos emphasize d the need for a central meeting place in Brazil, and his hope to find a place in Santa Ana do Livramento, in part because his constant travels from place to place do not seem very productive.

On Friday, we met again with pastor Gustavo, and had lunch at the home of one of the members, Ruth. On Saturday evening we went to the worship service at the Mandubi church. I preached on Lazarus and the rich man from Luke 16:19-31. The attendance was sparse, about 15 people, but all seemed most attentive and interested, and all stayed afterwards to talk. There was one new couple, who also attend the central church, and they seemed especially enthusiastic, not least about the hymnal, since they got to sing actual hymns. It was explained to me that the work has suffered due to the illness of Henry Vega, but with his recovery, there are hopes for the recovery of the work there as well.

On Sunday evening, I went to the worship service at the central church in Rivera, where I will preached from St. Luke 2:1-38, emphasizing the humility of t he birth of the Saviour, with reference to 1 Sam. 18, Leviticus 14, and Philippians 2 (all of the churches here always have their worship services in the evenings, to accommodate the many people who work in the daytime, that they might evangelize them). There were about 40 people in attendance, including a new couple and a couple who returned for the second time. I was well received.

Early Monday, I  traveled to Montevideo. I took a bus to my hotel, and was mugged by two men in daylight in the city's central plaza. They did not get anything from men, and I only suffered some ripped pants and some slight injuries.

I arrived in Panama on Tuesday, where I met with Pastor Rafael Gonzalez. He pastors a small church here, which he wishes to call the OPC of Panama. We talked at length (about three and a half hours), and will continue our discussions.

Tuesday evening I arrived in Bogota, Colombia, where I met with Vincente and his wife Sagrario. He is the pastor of a small congregation in Bogota, and we discussed the reformed faith and other issues.

Early Wednesday, I arrived in Barranquilla, Colombia, where I was met by pastors Ener Sanjuan and Jose Rios of the OPC of Colombia. That afternoon the Presbytery of Gran Colombia convened. It follows the pattern of North American presbyteries, with the addition of receiving a report of the progress of each of the churches and mission works.

On Thursday, the meeting of the Presbytery continued. There were seven ordained men present, with two other men, one of whom is a seminary student at the OPC San Agustin Seminary. He was taken under care in the same manner as would be done in North America. There was an examination for ordination which lasted about two hours, again in much the same manner as an examination in North America (an elder who was to be ordained as a minister). I was a little concerned about the brevity until they explained that the licensure exam had occurred some months earlier, and was more comprehensive. Careful minutes were kept, and I was provided with a copy, together with copies of the papers which were submitted, which again, were comprehensive. In the evening there was an ordination service (which seemed odd to me, since it presumed that the examination would be successful, but, I guess they had a high level of confidence, given the previous licensure exam). I preached from Philippians 2:5-11. The service followed the OPC Book of Church Order, an English copy of which was presented to those ordained. On Friday I had further discussions with men from the churches there, including one pastor who came from Cartagena, who was unable to come to the meeting of the Presbytery.

On Saturday, I went to Costa Rica. I was met by Moisés Campos, who pastors a congregation in San José. We proceeded to a Bible conference some 100 kms. from the city. Although Moisés headed the conference, it was an informal grouping of non-pentecostal evangelical churches. I was presented to the group, but did not preach. After the end of the conference on Sunday, we returned to San José. Moisés urged us to do more in terms of working in Costa Rica, perhaps sending missionaries, or a work team, or something of the sort. He inquired about the process of sending men for study at seminaries in the U.S. On Sunday evening, we met with Eddy Cortes, who wishes to begin a second congregation in the city, although some distance from Moisés´ congregation. He seems even more desirous of beginning an opc in Costa Rica. We also met with Guillermo (Bill) Green, a missionary of the URC. Also present was Nicholas Lamme, a member of the New Lennox, IL, OPC, seminary graduate from MARS, and a licentiate (?) of the Presbytery of the Midwest. Guillermo is very desirous of working with us, and has a most active publishing ministry, and is working hard in ecumenical activities. I don’t really understand why the two ministers who have contact with us don’t just associate with Guillermo and his church, but it may have to do with his polity.

By God’s grace, I returned home to the US on Monday evening.

In summary, it was a very encouraging visit. I saw progress in every area. Almost all, if not all, of the brethren would like a closer relationship with the OPC, and hope to see growth of the reformed churches in Latin America.

Thank you again for your prayers, both for me, and for the brethren in Latin America.

Yours in Christ,

Steve Larson

Reports on Visits to Latin America
Church of the Living Lord
of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Santa Ana, California