Report on South American Visits, December, 2004

I spent two weeks visiting with three men and their works in South America.

My first visit was with Guillermo Arevalo, who works in Pucallpa, Peru, in the Amazon region of Peru. He is a professor at the Swiss Mission, an independent mission whose purpose is to train native pastors who serve in about twelve languages the length of the Peruvian Amazon. My first concern was about the Mission itself, and I inquired about their doctrinal stand in interviews that I had with their European employees. The Swiss/German administrators and teachers are drawn from various “free” churches in their countries (Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, and Mennonite). They are evangelical and fundamentalist in their views of the Scriptures and salvation through Christ, and thoroughly reject liberalism and neo-orthodoxy.

Guillermo himself teaches classes when school is in session, and then visits the native villages to help with the pastoral labors and instruct pastors in their own settings during the breaks. He lives with his wife and two children, and his brother and mother were on an extended stay with him when I visited. His wife and children are believers, and he sets an example of piety and godliness for them. He has served elsewhere in Peru as a pastor of the CMA, but resigned from them due to doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences. He wishes to become a member of the OPC, both from the Biblical imperatives about church membership, and also because the Swiss Mission requires membership in a Biblical church. In his part of Peru, there are no Presbyterian or Reformed churches, although there is one church with Presbyterian/Congregational origins that denies predestination and the doctrines of grace to some extent. While I was there, he renewed his request to be received as a member.

My second visit was with Jose Luis Podesta, who lives in Venado Tuerto, Argentina, a city of some 70,000 people some hours west of Buenos Aires. He has begun a mission work in his city, and gathered a few people thusfar, who meet on the Lord’s Day for worship in the home of one of the members.

Jose Luis is a former Roman Catholic cleric (more than a seminarian, but he did not take his final vows yet). He was converted to Christ in Italy as a result of reading reformed writers like Calvin and Luther. He would like to start an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in his hometown of Venado Tuerto, and see the church expand throughout Argentina. He knows of no other true reformed or presbyterian church in his country, and in my internet searches I managed to find information that confirmed his opinion about the abysmal state even of those churches claiming to be “reformed” or “presbyterian.” Jose Luis lives in the same home as his mother, who is a Roman Catholic, but still supportive of her son. I also met in Buenos Aires separately with Jose Luis’ brother and sister in law, Carlos and Laura, and although they are unbelievers, they had nothing but commendation for their relative.

I must admit some misgivings about the idea of starting a new church from scratch. Its is not that I am opposed to his beginning a church there, but frankly I wish that Jose Luis could be received into the OPC and guided directly by us, as opposed to just being encouraged to start something all on his own. Failing that, I would hope that we would offer him as much spiritual support as might be possible, given his situation.

My final visit was with Gustavo Mello. He lives with his wife and two teenage children in Rivera, Uruguay, a town of about 80,000 residents that abuts the Brazilian city of Santa Ana do Livramento, with another 120,000 residents. There is no presbyterian or reformed witness in either city. My Brazilian Presbyterian brothers explained to me that there was originally a comity agreement between the Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians that gave Livramento to the Anglicans. And there is indeed an imposing Anglican building there, but only three members of the church.

Gustavo presently works at a pizzeria and as a police detective, but since he does not take bribes, his salary is very low as a policeman. He speaks Spanish and Portuguese with equal facility. He was formerly a pastor of a Nazarene church, but had to leave both for doctrinal reasons and because his superintendent asked him to phony up some statistics on church growth, and he was unwilling to do so. He would like to start an Orthodox Presbyterian church in Rivera or in the neighboring city of Tacuarembó. It was interesting to walk around town with him, since about every other person on the street greeted him warmly by name (no, he wasn’t in uniform), which I presume would be a real advantage for church growth. I have the same misgivings about somebody starting a new church from scratch, have encouraged Jose Luis and Gustavo to communicate with each other. There is, however, no presbyterian or reformed church in Uruguay, nor has there ever been, so I don’t see what else he can do. Again, I would hope that we could offer him as much spiritual support as might be possible in his situation.

In summary, I think I have explained the situation of these three men. I obviously chose to visit them as opposed to others because they seemed most committed to the reformed faith, and needful of encouragement in getting churches started. I hope and expect that I will be able to continue to encourage them in their efforts, and return to visit them and observe the progress of their works.

Yours in Christ,

Steve Larson

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