ENORMOUS CHALLENGES IN THE LAND OF LATIN SECULARISM
There are no mountains, no jungles, no tropical heat, no spicy-hot foods and no indigenous population. And this is a Latin country?
Well, no-that's just it. Uruguay is really not a Latin country in the popular sense, even though it is located in South America. Spanish is spoken here because of Uruguay's colonial roots, but its differences with other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America make Uruguay a unique and challenging place of ministry. The population is 88% Caucasian, reflecting the waves of Spanish and Italian immigration that established Uruguay as a nation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the first half of the twentieth century, Uruguay removed religion from its government and educational system, established a "cradle-to-casket" network of social welfare and called itself the "Switzerland of Latin America." From then on the people have been paying the price for "throwing religion out of their lives":
Because of these realities, the BMW team is committed to these three main objectives:
BMW'S HISTORY IN URUGUAY
In 1967 Tom Zartman, a single missionary with Worldwide European Fellowship, arrived in Uruguay to help some churches already in existence there. He had a vision to encourage and strengthen churches. After a few years in that ministry, a church in the city of Rocha asked him to help their small congregation develop. He agreed, and for the next couple of years he and his wife Jean, along with a single missionary, Barbara Maneley, assisted that congregation as it matured.
Then another single missionary, Paula Wiebe, was added to the mission team. She had already worked in Uruguay with CEF, and she continued on the field working in the city of Rivera. In 1976, Jerry and Linda Glass arrived in Uruguay and began working first with Paula in Rivera and later in the Montevideo suburb of San Fernando. Paula has since gone to be with the Lord.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's two Uruguayan couples, Sam and Ruth Lopez and Miguel and Miriam Garroni, came to BMW from a Bible institute operated by a church in Uruguay. The Lopez family began working immediately in the area of Montevideo and the Garronis headed to the city of Corrientes, Argentina. Belinda Spilman arrived in 1978 to work first in San Fernando and then in Montevideo with the Lopezes. Throughout the 1980's a number of graduates of Citadel Bible College arrived on the field. Tim and Joellen Willoughby arrived in 1983, and worked with the Lopezes in the Christ is the Way Church. After Joellen's death Tim returned to Uruguay to work in the city of Minas with his new wife, Kari.
Dave and Pris Wile arrived in 1990 to work with the Lopez and Spilman team in La Union area. Keith and Wendy Hock arrived also in 1990 to work with one of the national churches. A few years later, the Hocks and Glasses formed a new team and began ministry in the Montevideo neighborhood of Parque Batlle. Ron and Shelly Clipperton joined the Parque Batlle team in 1997.
The current BMW team in Uruguay consists of the Hocks, Glasses, Lopezes and Belinda Spilman in Montevideo and the Willoughbys in Minas. The Garronis have retired in Montevideo but are still active in ministry. Ivan and Tania Largent are preparing to come to the field to assist a national pastor and his wife as well as to reach the large agricultural community in Uruguay's interior. Joel Willoughby is planning to serve a one-year internship with several BMW teams as he seeks God's direction regarding a future permanent ministry. John and Kristen Ball and their three children have just been appointed to Uruguay and are raising their support. They will probably be joining the team ministering in the interior.
BMW'S STRATEGY IN URUGUAY
To realize their goal of accelerating the establishment of Bible-believing Uruguayan churches, the missionaries on the BMW/Uruguay team realize that their first task is to bring each church in which they are currently working to the point of true autonomy.
The team has a clearly articulated strategy for this process, which historically has taken anywhere from 15 to 20 years. There is currently a healthy desire among Uruguayan believers to step forward and participate in evangelism and discipleship. However, preparing men to pastor churches and others to lead ministries alongside these men continues to challenge the BMW team. A church-based training strategy called Bible Training Centre for Pastors forms part of this leadership training, and students from various regions of the country are now enrolled.
The future looks promising but equally challenging. New missionaries are needed on the field to help plant churches in areas of the country without a gospel witness. They will be trained to become church planting "technicians", forming partnerships with nationals. We look forward to participating on the front lines as the Lord continues to build His church in Uruguay.