Report on Visit to South America March 21-April 2, 2005

On March 21, I met briefly at the Mexico City Airport with Areli Jaramillo (who was accompanied by one of the members of her church). She had offered to help us with our website by scanning materials, such as St. Augustine’s City of God and Calvin’s Institutes. I interviewed her and gave he a laptop computer and a scanner to do her work. I then went to Colombia.

Background Information on Colombia. Colombia has 2 large Presbyterian churches, the Presbyterian Church in Colombia (PCC) and the Presbyterian Church, Reformed Synod, and there is the smaller Cumberland Presbyterian Church. All 3 have women serving as elders and pastors. The PCC is liberal and focused on liberation theology. The PCRS is also liberal but has some more conservative, pentecostal congregations. All 3 have ministers who apparently want to be more consistently and faithfully reformed. There is also a small PCA-founded denomination (PCA) with 2 pentecostal congregations, one eclectic congregation, and one reformed congregation.

I went to Medellín and met with two men of reformed persuasion. Carlos Mario Marín is a minister of the PCRS. He received a complete secular and Christian higher education with a seminary degree, and has served in various pastorates in Colombia, most recently in the PCR. Reddy Dorado Vega is a Bolivian married to a Colombian. His seminary education was in Colombia, but his pastoral service was entirely in Bolivia with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (of Korean origins) where he was a pastor, moderator of their Presbytery of Cochobamba, and rector of their small seminary there,

Both men seem deeply committed to the reformed faith, and so, to Christ, and want to see a faithful Presbyterian church in their country. They are working together to start a congregation in Medellín, which held its first worship service the Sunday after I left. Both have applied to be received with their families as members of Westminster OPC and to be received as ministers of the Presbytery of Southern California. I suggested that it might be more practical to start their own Colombian denomination, but they rejected that idea as not consistent with our understanding of the reformed faith and presbyterian practice, and very much want our oversight of their work.   

I also visited with Rev. Hernán Quintana, pastor in Medellín and Moderator of the Presbytery of the PCC there. H e gave me a copy of their (liberation theology) ´confession of faith.´ I met pentecostal pastor Walter Pérez (Iglesia Torre Fuerte) and with two Baptist pastors, one of whom, Oscar Marin, is Carlos´ father.

In Barranquilla, I met with pastor Erner Sanjuan Uribe, and his ruling elders Edgardo Cerpa Barrios and José Antonio Rios (a licenciate of the PCA Presbytery). Ener was a pentecostal, Foursquare pastor, educated in that and in the Anglican Catholic Church (of which he was not a member, and which has since left the country). He came to the reformed faith some years ago, and pastors the La Paz Reformed Church, a small independent congregation. He is asking to be received as a minister of the Presbytery of Southern California, and his church is asking to join the OPC, and José Antonio Rios is asking to be received as a licentiate (he has passed his licensure exams in the PCA). I also suggested to them that they form a Colombian denomination, but they also rejected the idea for the same reasons.

I met with a delegation from Betania Reformed Church, an independent congregation in Villavicencio (outside of Bogotá) with a mission in Bogotá. Their pastor is Leonel Ortíz. I met primarily with ruling elder Jasir Martinez, will communicate further with him and their pastor. They seem to be committed to the reformed faith and to presbyterian practice.

I also met with a pastor from the Assemblies of God, José Albert Barrios, and with a delegation from Salvación Y Vida Reformed Baptist Church composed of their pastor, Alexander Mercado, their co-pastor, Marcos Rebollo, and a member, Cesar Sierra. Jose Barrios is coming to an understanding of the reformed faith, and is desirous of working as a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The delegation from the Reformed Baptist Church seemed more interested in increasing communication between us and in seeking for ways for them to grow in their understanding of the reformed faith.

In Panama I met very briefly with Pastor Franklin Hurtado of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Panama City, an independent reformed congregation. He seems somewhat new to the reformed faith, but very enthusiastic, and wants continued contact.

In Santiago, Chile, I met with Alejando Retes, a pastor of reformed convictions who has a small church in the La Florida district of the city. He is applying to be received as a ministerial member of the Presbytery of Southern California.

In Quilpué, Chile, I met with Miguel Morales. He s a ruling elder and stated supply of the Presbyterian Church of Chile, a liberal body. He is of reformed convictions, and unhappy in his present circumstances. I tried to encourage him in faithfulness. It is his hope to return with his family to minister in the northern city of Iquique (he is of Aymara Indian descent). We will continue contact, d.v.

In Santiago, I met with Walter Vega, pastor of the Reformed Church (an independent congregation), and his elders Daniel Molina, Jaime Mutis, and Marcelo Contreras. They questioned me in details over a number of hours about the beliefs and practices of the OPC, as well as more genera questions about the reformed faith. They are of Pentecostal background and lacking in some aspects of formal education, but seem well-read and self-educated. They know of the Presbyterian churches here (i.e., Chile), but consider them to be Arminian and dispensational. They will meet as a session to discuss the matters considered.

I met later with pastor Pablo Peña of the MIV, Integrated Movement for Life, an independent church of reformed leanings. I preached at an evening weekday service, and was well-received. Although he says he wants to be reformed, and may indeed be so on the questions of salvation and grace, he seems to have Baptist and Pentecostal leanings. In particular I spoke with him and some from his church about our view of women in the ministry, and while they listened and spoke courteously, I believe that they were not yet convinced. We will continue to be in contact with them, d.v.

I also met with Luis Valle, a deacon and seminarian at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church of Chile (PCC), as well as his wife, Sylvia, an inactive elder of the same church, and his son, Luis Alfredo, who is also a student at the same seminary. We had a frank and open discussion, and I am convinced that he and his family are truly committed to the reformed faith. However, when I asked the question about women elders and the implications for Biblical interpretation, they conceded that they did have women elders. Sylvia indicated that she had withdrawn from the eldership because she is convinced that it is unbiblical, and hoped her church would do the same. They indicated that the Presbyterian Church of Brazil had sent missionaries to them with the hope that they could help turn their church around. We parted on friendly terms, and will continue contact.

In every case, I was convinced of the sincerity of the brethren, and of their commitment to reformed faith, and their desire to serve Christ. In almost every case, it seemed obvious that it would be much easier for them to compromise the Gospel and make an easier life for themselves, but their love for Christ makes that impossible. Having said that, not all of the people I spoke with were fully committed to the reformed faith as we know it (as mentioned above). Of particular interest to me was that I inquired of each person if they knew of the regulative principle of worship, and none had ever heard of it. I also encourage each to seek our a reformed church in their own country, and at least in the cases of Panama and Colombia, I was convinced that none such exists (I still wonder about Chile). I did not in any way encourage them to try to join the OPC, but when they inquired how they might try to do so, I told them, but only with admonitions that they were probably wasting their time, and should instead invent their own denominations. They reply, uniformly, was that it was un-Biblical to do so.

In any case, I believe that the brothers were greatly encouraged by my visit, and the knowledge that they are not alone in their stand for the faith, but that they are others of like mind, who hold fast to the Gospel once and for all delivered unto the saints.

Yours in Christ,

Steve Larson

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