Report on Visit to South America (Dec. 26, 2005-Jan. 14, 2006)
I met with José Luis Podestá, a seminarian who lives in Venado Tuerto, about 7 hours west of Buenos Aires, in that city, and with some members of the OP church there. He is a former Roman Catholic cleric who is presently studying for the ministry using FLET (a PCA oriented group in Miami). He has been trying to establish a church there for about a year, and met with limited success. Recently, he has organized a chapel of about 10 young people (high school through early twenties) and has been working with them. He has been in contact with people in Argentina through the website he established, http://www.iopresbiteriana.com.ar/ One of them, Fabian Maldonado hopes to begin a mission work with contacts he has, as well as some of the students from Venado Tuerto who will return to the university there when school begins in March. While obviously there is need for growth numerically, José’s progress towards ordination and his understanding of the faith is going well.
Uruguay and Brazil
The work in Uruguay and southern Brazil consists of five preachers and five churches. The preachers are pastors Gustavo Mello and Mario Cezar Da Conceiçao, ruling elders Angelo Pesce and Elder de la Rosa, and deacon Angelo Pesce. The churches are in Rivera, Mandubí, and Piedra Pintada, in Uruguay, and Palomas and Santana do Livramento, in Brazil. Four of the five are fully bilingual in Spanish and Portuguese, with the worship services in Brazil conducted in Portuguese and in Uruguay in Spanish. I attended the meeting of the Orthodox Presbyterian Presbytery of South America East, where they agreed to plans for mission work in other parts of southern South America, to establish relationships with the other OP churches in Latin America, and to seek a relationship with the OPC in North America. I visited worship services in each church and met with and spoke with people from each of the churches (except Mandubí, where, due to my late arrival, I missed a scheduled service). Three of the churches have free meeting places, and the other two pay rent for their meeting places. While they say they are committed to the reformed faith and presbyterian government (and I have no reason to doubt what they say), and are teaching this to their churches, it seems to me that they need to deepen in their understanding of the reformed faith, especially in the area of their understanding and application of covenant theology.
I also unsuccessfully attempted to meet with pastor Mario Chiliz in Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay and some eight hours from Rivera). He has written to me and wishes to become a part of the OPC there. He has been in contact with the men in Rivera. He pastors a church in Montevideo and also has organized a small work in Toronto, Canada.
I met with two pastors of the Presbyterian Church of Bolivia, Rene Morales and Boris Restovich, each of whom is a pastor of a church in Cochabamba. They have only one other congregation, pastored by a Brazilian pastor in the city of Sucre. Their churches were founded by the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, which sent seven missionaries to Bolivia, who have since withdrawn. The men I met with seem sincerely reformed, and concerned with the maintenance and growth of the reformed faith in their nation. I encouraged them to consider contacting Rev. David Quisbert, pastor of the Bible Presbyterian Church of La Paz, and to continue their contacts with the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, and will continue in contact with them.
I visited Guillermo Arévalo, director of the IBIENA, founded by the Swiss Mission in Peru. Their task is to train indigenous pastors from some twelve ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had purchased multiple copies of reformed commentaries and Bible helps that I had sent them. I will, d.v., continue contact with him and with other people there to provide them with reformed materials, and will attempt to get materials in Quechua from churches in the presbyterian churches that speak that language in the highlands of Peru.
I visited with Carlos Mario Marín, pastor of San Pablo OP Church in Medellín, and attended a worship service of his church, and met with his elders and people from his church. I also attended a worship service with pastor Hernán Quintana and met with his elders. He has asked to join the OPC there with his church, but pastor Marín and I observed many troubling things in his worship service (at which I preached) and in our discussions with him and the elders. They seem to have no understanding, commitment, or even interest in the reformed faith. Pastor Marín and I agreed that we would not recommend them for membership.
Pastor Marín and I traveled together with his wife to Barranquilla, where we met with people from the churches and missions there. I met with Ener Sanjuán, pastor of La Paz (Peace) OPC in Barranquilla, and with Seminarian José Rios who serves at Emanuel Church in Barranquilla and at the OP mission in Sabana Grande, mission works of La Paz. We had a meeting of the Presbytery of Gran Colombia of the OPC in Colombia, where they decided to receive pastor Marlon Uparela and his church in Cartagena into their Presbytery. They also agreed to receive José Antonio Ríos as a licentiate from the PCA. They took under care Hugo Martínez, who is coming from a congregation of the Reformed Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, and agreed to start a mission work in Bogotá under the supervision of the Medellín church. They discussed the progress of St. Augustine Seminary, a school they have organized to train their pastors. They also agreed to write to the General Assembly of the OPC to ask to be received as a presbytery of the OPC. We then traveled to Cartagena where we met with pastor Marlon’s family and a student from his church.
In all, the pastors of the churches in Colombia seem to be thoroughly committed to the reformed faith and to presbyterian government and practice. They seem well on their way to forming a well founded presbyterian church. They have asked me to participate as an observer and advisor at their meetings of their presbytery, and I hope to be able to do so. The next stated meeting of their presbytery is in April.
I am continuing contacts by computer and mail with other men in Peru and Chile, especially with Miguel Morales in Iquique, Chile, who has moved there to minister to his indigenous group, the Aymara, and who we are assisting to get a theological education through MINTS (a PCA associated seminary in Miami).
I am maintaining contacts with others in Latin America, especially Oscar Tenes in Guatemala. I am also arranging for the MacLennan family from the London, Ontario, OP Church to bring some books to the church in Trinidad, Spiriti Sancti, Cuba, where Alfredo Forhans is the pastor.