By Kevin Armbrust
In August, two new locations for preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ opened in the northwest region of Uruguay. A small country in South America just south of Brazil and east of Argentina, Uruguay is a largely rural land full of cattle, sheep and canola. German settlers brought Lutheranism to the country long ago, and now the Lutheran Church of Uruguay (Iglesia Luterana del Uruguay, or ILU) is renewing this work and continuing to spread the Gospel.
LCMS missionaries in Uruguay work with pastors of the ILU and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) to bring the Gospel to the people of Uruguay. The Rev. James Sharp, area facilitator for the LCMS Office of International Mission, has worked in the country with his wife, Angela, since 2015. Recently, the Rev. Philip Jaseph and his wife, Deaconess Rachel Jaseph, were called to join the work in Uruguay.
A place ‘to be’
On Aug. 27, Lutherans in the city of Salto, Uruguay, hosted their first service in newly rented space. “Facebook and Instagram can become our gods, but we can’t blame them. The sin comes from our heart,” said the Rev. Maicon Schieferdecker, LCMS alliance missionary from Brazil, at the beginning of the service. Schieferdecker then led the congregation in Confession and Absolution.
Later, the congregation moved outside to dedicate this new location. “This is a special place, not because the bricks are special or it is built special, but because when you walk in these doors, the Word of God is here,” said the Rev. André Luiz Müller, ILU president. “The altar is special because here you receive the body and blood of Christ for you.”
Making the sign of the cross, Müller dedicated the new space in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Schieferdecker then led the children back into the building first, noting that the church is for all generations — past, present and future. After the service, those in attendance stayed for snacks and a light supper, rejoicing in the fellowship of shared faith and rejoicing in this new opportunity for ministry in Salto.
The next morning, Aug. 28, Müller and Schieferdecker dedicated a new church building in Chapicuy, a small town about 40 minutes south of Salto. “Just as the temple in the Old Testament was a house of prayer and the forgiveness of sins, so this temple will be a place where sins are forgiven by Jesus and we pray in His name,” proclaimed Müller during the service.
“This church was present, but now we have a physical place to be, a place to invite people so they can join the church,” explained member David Rode. Rode said that many people in Uruguay do not understand why anyone would get up on Sunday to attend church. “Sunday is a rest day, a day for soccer games. … Most people are not Christians, and they don’t understand the importance of church. … It’s hard to explain, but it’s just the place I need to be.”
Longtime members Traudy Müller and Helga Schefer said they have both anticipated and prayed for this day. “It’s been many years of meeting in people’s houses. There’s nothing better than having a church building to meet in,” said Müller.
Shefer recounted that when she was young, pastors would come from Argentina and conduct services in the fields. People had to cross the river to go to church in Argentina. “It’s beautiful to see all the generations in church,” said Schefer. “Now we can see our grandchildren in church together.”
Following the service, the small congregation came together for lunch and fellowship as the children played and all rejoiced in the blessed event.
The Rev. André Luiz Müller serves as the “principal pastor” of the ILU and pastor of San Pablo Lutheran Church in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. Montevideo boasts Colegio San Pablo, a Lutheran school with 1,800 students in preschool through high school. The school covers three campuses and is looking to expand. Lutheran teachers (even those who speak English) are desperately needed.
Angela Sharp teaches math to the middle school students at Colegio San Pablo. But she said her job is about more than just teaching math. “It’s about who I am as a child of God … how I live my life through my vocation and how I live my faith.” Sharp explained that she often has opportunities outside of class to talk to students about the issues they face and to share her faith with them.
Not many of the school’s students are Lutheran, so the opportunity is great for outreach. “I talk with students informally and during their break time. I get to know them and show them love,” said the Rev. Christian Hoffman, a Lutheran pastor from Brazil who serves as the school’s chaplain. “I teach Christian education classes and meet with students. They also write out prayer requests.” As Hoffman walks throughout the three campuses, everyone greets him — students, faculty and staff — reflecting his constant efforts to point people to Christ.
The Sharps and the pastors of the ILU are overjoyed that the Lord has seen it fit to call the Jasephs to Uruguay.
“I’m excited to … bring God’s Word to people … who are suffering,” said Deaconess Jaseph. “We are here in a place where there’s such a spiritual vacuum, such a lack of understanding [of] who the true God is. … I’m looking forward to walking with people, getting to know them, to build that trust and to share with them the truth of the Gospel.”
“The amazing thing about mission work is that things don’t happen immediately,” said Rev. Jaseph. “Sometimes it takes 10 to 20 years. And we’re reminded of the missionary work of Saints Paul and Timothy. … [I]t’s a process of … preparing the soil and watering. … God always reaps the harvest … in His time.
“In the meantime, we’re caring about the people who are here in front of us. We’re loving them where they are. And we are teaching them Law and Gospel and walking with them through their lives.”
The people of Uruguay are proud of their independence and their progress. The nation is known for its atheism and resistance to religion.
“On the Uruguay flag, there’s a large sun that represents enlightenment, the 19th-century idea of human progress and all that came with it,” observed Rev. Sharp. “This country that has totally given itself to those enlightenment ideals, to reason and science, is the country with the most depressed people in all of Latin America. … We are here to share the true light, the light that came into the world, Jesus Christ … [to] those people who really are in darkness.”
Posted Oct. 5, 2022