Report of Visit to Uruguay, February 5-12, 2008.
I left Santa Ana, California on February 5, arriving in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Wednesday, February 6, where I met up with Douglas Clawson (Associate General Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), and with a potential missionary couple. Their purpose in the visit was two-fold, as I understood it. First, to help the Foreign Missions Committee make further evaluation of the needs of the field, since they have adopted Uruguay as an exploratory field. Secondly, to evaluate the fit between the potential missionary couple and the churches and missions already existent in Uruguay and the neighboring area of Brazil. Because the missionary couple is not yet committed to coming to Uruguay, I will refer to them as the missionary and his wife (and you may ask the Foreign Missions Committee their names, if you wish).
We drove up from Montevideo to Rivera, a trip of about eight hours over a good paved road, and arrived Wednesday evening in the city of Rivera. We consulted with pastor Gustavo Mello about our plans. On Thursday, February 7, we went to the country church in Palomas, Brazil. It is a small group with a suitable and usable building. Through double translation, the missionary exhorted the small group. We were well received, and got to know the group better. The people there speak only Portuguese, although the area is not far from the border (perhaps twenty minutes).
On Friday, February 8, we went to another rural area in Brazil, Mangeira Colorada, where I exhorted in Spanish (which was translated into Portuguese) to another small group, some of whom had previously been members of the since disbanded group in Tabatinga, Brazil. We met in a patio area, with a straw roof, and no walls. Again, we were well received, and got to know the brothers and sisters better.
On Saturday, February 9, we went to the church in Mandubí. Mandubí is a very poor urban area, part of the city of
Rivera. There are two works there, although only visited the one that has its own building (which was build with donated materials by the members). It is pastored by ruling elder Henry Vega, who has a real heart for the poor. Although he has a good job at the airport, he has dedicated himself to the service of the people in this community. The Saturday evening service, at 7:00 p.m., was primarily adults, and well attended, and is their usual time for worship services. Gustavo Mello preached from Amos 1, (without a translator!), which gave us an opportunity to evaluate his preaching.
On Sunday morning, we returned to Mandubí for their Sunday School, which was primarily attended by children. The adults who were there were teachers and cared for the children. After opening exercises, the younger children went outside for a class, and the older ones stayed in the building for a class taught by Henry Vega. His wife, Cristina, plays the keyboard for the services there.
On Sunday afternoon, we went to a farm some twenty five kilometers south of Rivera, where the missionary exhorted the group that had assembled. They met outdoors, on chairs, with some less-than-friendly flies. The ministry there is conducted semi-weekly, due to the lack of resources to come out that far every Lord´s day.
Later that afternoon, another service was held on another patio with a straw roof, a few miles back up the road towards Rivera. There was a somewhat larger group, with a number of young men who work in the local lumber industry. Some of them are very new in the faith, and had never attended a church before, but seemed quite friendly and enthusiastic. They are from Montevideo, and expect to return there when their labor contracts are up. Douglas Clawson preached to the group there, through translation.
That evening, at 8:00, the missionary preached at the central church. It is the largest of the groups, with all chairs occupied in their rented worship building. It is devoted exclusively to the use of the church and its ministry. There were sixty or seventy people present, most of them regular attendees. It interested me that there were people of all ages, races, and classes, mostly Spanish speakers but also some Portuguese speakers (all of which is somewhat unusual for Latin America, where people do divide along ethnic, class, and language lines). The missionary preached again through translation, and was again well received. Part of the service was a report of the young people´s group, during which they mentioned that some of the parents of their group do not allow their children to attend the worship services (perhaps the only negative note that we heard while there).
After the worship service, we met with the pastor, elders, and deacon, and explained the plans and expectations of the missionary couple and the Foreign Misssions Committee, and discussed various options about language acquisition and beginning the word of the missionary couple, and the considerations that might lead to them being able to come, or not. Housing was discussed, and other potential concerns were discussed.
The following day, Monday, Douglas, the missionary couple, and I, visited some places that were potential housing, to rent or buy. Rivera seems to be prospering economically, and so housing is in (relatively) short supply.
On Tuesday, we returned to Montevideo, where Douglas and the missionary couple took me to the airport, to return to the United States that day, and they continued on for a few more days in Montevideo and vicinity.
It is our understanding that the Foreign Missions Committee will meet at the end of February, and that Uruguay will be one of the matters considered.
Yours in Christ,