WAITING FOR THE SERVICE TO BEGIN, I STARE AT THE GREEN VELVET CURTAIN. Perhaps influenced too much by “Let’s Make a Deal” I begin to wonder, “What is really behind the curtain?”
The Emanuel Free Will Baptist Church has been around in some form for more than 20 years. Several years ago the congregation lost the lease on their building and suddenly found themselves without a place to meet. Although another place was rented, the location was unsuccessful. When we arrived in 1999, members were meeting in homes.
I recall an early discussion clearly. Dennis Owen and I were seated in a very small kitchen with eight of the women from the church. With less than six months of language study, I understood very little. But the tone of the conversation led me to believe Dennis and I would be lucky to walk out without physical damage. These ladies wanted to know, “When are we going to have a church building?” Dennis assured them if they faithfully continued meeting in homes, we had a plan to get them a church.
We determined, “We will rent no more!” A VISION project and strategy were adopted to meet that goal. The plan involved assistance from the States, the missionaries, and most important, the Uruguayan churches. A partnership between the three entities would allow us to start a new work every five years, debt free.
The promise was fulfilled two years later. The Emanuel Free Will Baptist Church in Malvin Norte held their first service in June 2001. Members were so excited about their new building they did not want to wait for everything to be completed. Armed with cleaning rags and paintbrushes they prepared for the first service. The church was dedicated September 15, 2001.
The church is strategically located to reach a multitude of people. Over 40,000 individuals who need the gospel of Christ live and work within a 10-block radius. Many people have walked in off the street to see what is going on and have found the Savior.
As my thoughts return to this side of the curtain, I review the evidence of God’s blessing. There are many stories to tell.
Favio and Julio decided to start a soccer team with neighborhood kids. They were sure the two of them could handle the 10-15 kids that might attend. On their first day 58 boys showed up ready to play soccer.
Mari and her family found a church home and a place to work.
Robert Pereya and his family visited the church and stayed, wanting to help us. He is an excellent musician and a candidate to become the church’s first deacon.
Enrique, who has undergone several difficult operations, has consistently shared his faith with his doctors.
Graciela’s husband needed a liver transplant. At the same time, she was dying of cancer and caring for their Down Syndrome child. Yet, her life radiated the joy and love of Christ.
Other memories flood my mind: open air films proclaiming the gospel to crowds of people on the church’s front lawn and sidewalk; families reached through the daycare; three years of family camps in Montevideo; American visitors standing for an entire church service, because there was nowhere to sit; teams from the States working in the muck and the mire to help build the addition; beginning a Sunday School for the hordes of children wanting to attend—a countless stream of images.
Has it been easy? No.
Have there been problems? Yes.
Is everything perfect? No way! But the Lord has seen fit to use this group of people to be salt and light in their needy community.
The greatest part of this story is the limited missionary involvement in this work. We are present to worship, encourage, partner, and advise. But success comes from God’s blessing and the Uruguayans who, having caught the vision, are implementing it in their daily lives and in the work of the church.
So, what’s behind the curtain? A velvet wall stands between the current auditorium and entry to our new facility. However, I believe there is much more. If history is any indicator, wonderful stories of lives changed by God’s grace will be written beyond the green drape.
Satan has erected walls in Uruguay. Atheism, the occult, poor economic conditions, and rampant health needs pose as barriers to the gospel. Pray with us and for us as we work with Uruguayans to build the church God wants in Uruguay.
Jaimie and Tammy Lancaster have served in Uruguay for seven years. Learn more about their ministry at www.fwbgo.com.