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New Horizons

Eleven Days in Uruguay

David A. Crum

In December 2009, a short-term missions team from the Presbytery of Southern California traveled to Uruguay to assist in the ministry of OP missionaries Jonathan and Margaret Falk. The nine-member team included Jane Crum, Adrian Crum, Jana Crum, Emily Cunningham, Geoff Downey, Jake Schroeder, Ben Waggoner, and Kathleen Winslow, and was led by the Rev. David A. Crum, regional home missionary for the Presbytery of Southern California, who wrote the following report. —Mark Bube

The nine participants of Team Uruguay enjoyed Christmas and New Year's during the middle of summer! That's right—we had the wonderful opportunity of working with our missionaries, Jonathan and Margaret Falk, deep in the Southern Hemisphere in Rivera, Uruguay. Rivera is a city of approximately 70,000 residents that sits right on the border of Brazil. It is mirrored on the Brazilian side by the larger city of Santana do Livramento, which has about 125,000 residents. It might be more accurate to say that Rivera makes up the lower third of the international city of Santana do Livramento/Rivera. (Think San Diego/Tijuana, but without any visible border at all; it is quite easy to find yourself in Brazil without even knowing it.)

Here are two countries, yet one city; two peoples, two languages, and, as one might expect, a linguistic blend called portuñol (their reference to the admixture of português and español).

For eleven days (every day except for Christmas), our time was filled with ministry to and with the local church (Iglesia Presbiteriana Reformada de Uruguay, near the center of town) and the mission work (located about fifteen minutes from town) in Rivera. For three days, we passed out thousands of gospel tracts on the streets of the bustling city. We found the residents to be polite, but not very interested in spiritual matters. In our attempt to engage people in conversation, we tried changing tactics by singing in two of the plazas, but with only a little more success. Then we went to a sports complex; getting to know people around a game of soccer or volleyball proved to be a better strategy. The complex was located near the church, which made invitations to services a breeze.

Meanwhile, we also organized and ran a vacation Bible school at the mission work, which saw the attendance increase every day until finishing with fifty-five children present. Each member of Team Uruguay had a specific responsibility for the smooth running of the VBS, and they were terrific in meeting the challenge of cross-cultural, foreign-language ministry. Kathleen Winslow taught the Scripture verses and translated two songs into Spanish, sung for the purpose of memorizing the sixty-six books of the Bible. Ben Waggoner taught the catechism questions and answers, breaking out some perfect pronunciation as he led the children (where did he get that?)! Jana Crum was our go-to gal, showing her amazing gift for ministry to children and her ability to converse with people of all ages. She's tender in the VBS classroom and tenacious on the streets! Adrian Crum and I did the music; Ben Waggoner and Emily Cunningham organized and ran the sports activities; Jake Schroeder was in charge of arts and crafts. All the team members used their Spanish-speaking skills to the best of their abilities. It was wonderful for me to see them in action. I have watched them grow from their earliest years, and now here they were in Uruguay ministering in Spanish!

Things wouldn't have run as smoothly as they did unless there was a coordinator before, during, and even after the missions trip. That part was played by my wife, Jane, who did just a marvelous job. To God be the glory! Towards the end of our stay, she met with a member of the local church who heads up the ministry to children at the mission work, a gifted lady named Cristina (Brazilian by birth and bilingual). She accompanies the singing by playing the keyboard, and she teaches the children. Jon Falk asked if Jane could sit down with Cristina to give her a few pointers on how to hold the children's attention while teaching the material (we used the Children's Catechism published by Children's Ministry International and left it with them for further use), and Cristina did a fine job of teaching on our last day together! Kathleen wrote out the musical score to the Bible books memory songs, and Cristina led the children on the keyboard as they sang it on our last day together.

Geoff Downey, a student at Westminster Seminary California, who speaks both Spanish and Portuguese, gave Bible studies and preached at the mission work. His contribution to the team was invaluable. We were all enriched by his insights, and our communication was enhanced by his language skills. My son Adrian also opened the Word, which enabled him to utilize his fluent Spanish and gave him an opportunity to develop his gifts in ministry. I preached at the downtown church and gave three conferences on various aspects of the Reformed faith. I spoke twice to the women's fellowship, and Jane gave one last talk. Geoff, Adrian, and I each led a Bible study for the youth group of about fourteen. As you might have guessed by now, we had to divide into two groups on several occasions to take advantage of all of these ministry opportunities. As I said, we had a very full eleven days of ministry!

Our adversary, he who hates God and all things good, and who therefore absolutely hates the good news of Christ's kingdom, was seemingly just around the corner at every turn of our trip. For example, I was on the verge of losing my speaking voice and had very little singing voice during the entire trip, due to a cold I contracted two days before leaving the U.S. But I never lost my voice! Adrian was ill the day he was scheduled to teach at the mission work and spent the entire day in bed. (Geoff "pinch hit" wonderfully.) Also, on the last and largest day of our VBS, a local electric factory was performing maintenance on the equipment, which generated such a deafening noise that we could hardly hear ourselves think. The kids just shouted out their Bible memory verses all the louder.

Throughout it all, the Lord blessed us by providing us with the patience to praise him during adversity and to be encouraging to one another in all circumstances. This team had an amazing sense of humor, which it put to good use. Laughter is more than good medicine; it is a gift from the Lord. As team leader, I don't know which I enjoyed more—laughing at their jokes or just listening to them laugh. I was very proud of this team!

I should mention one more item. The team is very grateful to God for the tireless efforts of two ladies who worked behind the scenes to make our missions ministry trip so successful. They are Margaret Falk and Susan Winslow. They provided pre-trip coordination and prayerful planning, got us to and from Uruguay, and helped us after we arrived, which made our ministry to others a great joy and lasting blessing. The Falks are wonderful hosts and faithful laborers, and we quickly felt like we had known them forever, simply because their loving hospitality made us feel right at home. We are very fortunate to have them on the mission field as OPC missionaries!

And lastly, speaking for the nine members of Team Uruguay, we would like to express our deep gratitude to all of you who prayed for us throughout this trip and whose gifts made it possible for us to go in the name of him whose name is above all names. At one point, Kathleen Winslow and I were doing the math, calculating the six-hour time difference, and figuring out where you all were on a Sunday a world away, when Kathleen said, "Pastor Gorrell just finished praying for us in the worship service at Westminster OPC." We felt privileged to go as Christ's ambassadors and to be sent with the prayers of his people.

Yes, we had a marvelous Christmas and New Year's in the middle of summer. Things were so different from anything we had known before. But God's truth is unchanging, universal, and eternal. His steadfast love endures forever, and his glorious salvation is to be declared among the nations. We trust in him, we rest in him, and we go in his name—in the name of Jesus!

Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2010.

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