Conversations about God
A look at the church in Uruguay
March 19, 2009 - March 19, 2009—As the Festival de Esperanza kicks off in Montevideo this evening, it will be the first time many in Uruguay will hear about the love of Jesus Christ.
by Janet Chismar
Alexis Medina, senior pastor of Centro Cristiano del Cordon, says that Uruguay is different from other Latin American countries. It is more European. Most people who live here are from Italian or Spanish heritage.
"One of the things that is very important to mention is that our society is very humanistic," says Medina. "You can see the percentage of Evangelical Christians is around 3 percent. People don’t care about God. Many churches are empty."
In other Latin American counties, the Catholic Church and the government were linked. But at the beginning of the 19th century in Uruguay, the two decided to separate. In Montevideo, roughly 54 percent of the population call themselves Catholic, but only 4 percent practice the religion.
The first evangelical church was built in January 1844. Evangelical churches even now are small, averaging only 40 attendees.
Medina is a third generation Christian. "My grandfather came from Russia. He accepted the Lord in 1946. I was born in a Christian home. My father was a pastor. Now I am serving the Lord here in Uruguay with my wife and my son." His wife descended from the Waldensians, a group of 19th century religious refugees from Italy.
Located close to downtown Montevideo, Medina's church is near a number of universities. "Our focus is to work with the young people," he explains. "We are trying to share the Gospel with them. This church started in 1996 with nothing, but the Lord helped us and little by little, it is growing. We have been seeing the faithfulness of the Lord."
Across this small South American country, more than 15,000 homes showed the My Hope broadcasts September 27–29, 2007. Centro Cristiano del Cordon is one the churches that participated. "The seed was planted," says Medina. "Now we are expecting the Lord will help us grow the many seeds that were planted in those days.
"My Hope prepared the souls and helped us to get to this Crusade. The people now connect the Festival and My Hope," Medina adds.
"You can see the city now is shaped differently. Many people are in the streets giving out pamphlets for the Festival. In my opinion, it’s the first evangelical effort that has united many, many churches. Hundreds of churches have joined together. It is important to remark that not only will people hear the Gospel, they will also see the unity of the churches."
Ernesto Dueck is another Christian who calls Uruguay home. The former national coordinator for My Hope Uruguay now serves on the Franklin Graham Festival Committee.
Dueck and his wife were missionaries in Mexico when God called them back to Uruguay. “We said no,” he laughs. “I was born here – German Mennonite background. There is a large Mennonite community in Uruguay. I said no way – nothing changes in Uruguay. But God promised He would visit Uruguay and that change would take place.”
Now, says Dueck, he is seeing change, first with My Hope, and this week with the Festival. “God is moving in the right direction in this nation."
Festival de Esperanza con Franklin Graham will take place March 19-21 at Charrua Stadium. Musical guests include Lilly Goodman, Marcos Vidal, Dennis Agajanian & the Gutierrez Brothers, and The Tommy Coomes Band. Check back over the weekend for new stories and nightly updates.