As you know from last week’s article, I and the mission team from my church have been in the South American country of Argentina for the past two weeks. The weather has been rather spotty, uncertain as to whether it wants to rain or be sunny. But, since they are leaving summer behind and entering their fall, that’s to be expected.
It has been a true delight to meet so many of the local folks. We are staying in the town or Carmen De Areco, named for a Spanish soldier who was instrumental in defeating the Areco tribe a few hundred years ago. It is here where we are living in the Free Methodist Church grounds, which has become something of an orphanage as well. The pastor, Pastora Maria as she is known here, has taken in so many children over the years that even during our brief time here, I’m aware of at least four more children who have been dropped off. The latest two came last night, being removed from their family because both parents are alcoholics. She takes them in – no questions asked. And no support except for what comes through the church.
Pastora Maria is as outgoing and gregarious an individual as you can imagine. She seems to have boundless energy in doing the Lord’s work. Her husband, Ricardo, is the superintendent of the Free Methodist Churches down here. He’s always on the go!
The men’s group at church invited our men to meet with them last Monday evening, which included a barbeque dinner over a wood fire. This is the only way they barbeque down here – real wood! Tasted great! After consuming copious amounts of food we gathered around and our guys shared our various testimonies, each in turn describing the circumstances of how they personally came to trust Christ as their Savior. The week before we’d met with these men and heard their stories. Let me share several of them with you.
The first man was someone I took an immediate liking to. He’s a retired police chief who has been through more than his share of challenges and difficulties. He served in the police department of the capital, Buenos Aires, most of his career. Only toward the end of his law enforcement service did he come to be the police chief of Carmen De Areco because this is where he wanted to retire. He said that as a young boy he didn’t really have any religious background, but he really wanted to know if there was a God At the age of fourteen he heard how Christ had died for his sins, so he asked Jesus into his heart then and there. Later he married and had several children and even more grandchildren. However, in 1978, he was involved in a police action against insurrectionists. He caught a couple of bullets leaving him partially crippled. He drove a couple of us around town and then to his home where we met his wife and one of his daughters who is working on her PhD. They could not have been more gracious.
The next man I want you to know about was a lawyer in town who had a number of problems. He was an alcoholic which was causing his marriage to spin out of control. Venting his anger toward life and God, he would drunkenly stagger to the park across the street from the church and shout foul things at the Pastora and God. This went on for some time. But he was always treated with kindness and respect by the people at the church. One day he came to the church, a broken man, asking the Pastora’s forgiveness and gave his heart to Jesus. He’s now one of the leaders and is first to greet you with the traditional hug and kiss on each cheek.
The last man I want to tell you about had a far different story. He’s a very large man, only six feet, but an easy 350 pounds. A little more than a year ago, he and his wife moved to Carmen. She began to attend the Free Methodist Church, but he wanted no part of that! He developed an ulcer in his leg which increasingly festered and caused him pain. His wife asked him, even pleaded with him, to come to church. She told him the people would pray for him there, and that God could heal him. He continued to put her off until he got to the point where he could no longer walk due to the abscess. The doctors had given him medicines that did not work, finally telling him they would have to amputate in two weeks if it did not show signs of improvement. With nowhere else to turn, he came to church, telling his wife that he would only come with her if God would heal his leg. The folks prayed for him and the leg began to heal. Now a year later he’s walking as though nothing happened. And except for redness in the area where the abscess had been, you’d never know there had been a problem. He, also, is now one of the leading men in the church. If anything is going on at the church he’s here helping out. He also can run a mean barbeque!
So as our time in Argentina draws to a close tomorrow, we are leaving having been enriched by the lives we have encountered.