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Building the Church with newspaper
April 27, 2007
Playa Pascual, Uruguay — The fourth chapter of Exodus reports that an incredulous fugitive thought the voice from a flame-shooting bush was calling him to an assignment beyond his capacity. But, God’s question, “What is that in your hand?” inspired Moses – and his spiritual descendants – to undertake to audacious projects.
Add ingenuity to this kind of faith to believe that an emerging Mennonite church in Uruguay is building their church with newspaper, one coil at a time.
“We begin like this, under and over,” Yanela Martínez said, crouching on the floor as she weaves long, thin rolls of newspaper into a basket.
Martínez, who also teaches crafts in a local school, has helped the congregation learn the skills of basket-making that have added much-needed income toward the building fund.
Martínez and her husband, José Luis Gonzáles, opened their home in Playa Pascual for Christian fellowship about five years ago. This gathering quickly outgrew the confines of their living room and, with the help of other Uruguayan believers, the Jesús es mi Rey (Jesus is my King) congregation purchased a property – and on it, a building with a troubled history, including a suicide. One of the first people to attend the church was the next door neighbor, a woman familiar with its past who welcomed this new beginning. Now, that building overflows with worshippers and the young congregation has taken on the challenge of a $30,000 building program.
Gonzáles and Martínez, who serve as pastors at Playa Pascual, also receive instruction from the Centro de Estudios de las Iglesias Menonitas de Uruguay (Uruguayan Study Center of the Mennonite Churches) that offers training courses for church leaders at various congregation locations. So many of the Jesús es mi Rey members have an ardent desire to deepen their biblical knowledge that the Study Center has opened an extension of their program in Playa Pascual.
The church has reached out to their neighbors in a variety of ways, especially those on the margins of society; the young, the old, the abused and the rejected.
In her school classes, Martínez teaches the golden rule along with art. She also offers two hours of crafts and other activities accompanied by Bible classes at the church on Fridays and Saturdays. About 35 children attend these sessions.
“The church has generated a lot of trust in that some parents let their young children go unaccompanied to the church knowing that they will be well supervised and taken care of. What seems to be key for the life of the congregation is its ministry of love and service to the community,” said Tim Froese, Executive Director of International Ministry for Mennonite Church Canada after a visit to the congregation.
Translated, Playa Pascual means “Easter Beach.” Ironically, this beach is often used for spiritist offerings and ceremonies – an influence of Umbanda spiritism that has come from Brazil. “The [Jesús es mi Rey] workers noted that spiritual warfare is also an issue they contend with in a very real way in witnessing to Christ in their community,” said Froese, who has previously been a mission worker in Brazil. Still, the congregation attracts those who formerly participated in the occult.
Karen Schellenberg, pastor at Portage Mennonite Church in Portage la Prairie, Man., visited Jesús es mi Rey as part of a trip to re-connect with Uruguayan pastor Beatriz Barrios, whom she hosted in Manitoba during IMPaCT 2006 (International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together).
Schellenberg was struck by the fact that the basket makers were selling their products by donation only. “With a $30,000 goal, I thought ‘Wow, this is going to take a lot of baskets,’” said Schellenberg.
“I wondered if our churches in North America could be as persistent and patient. We want big donations, and we want them fast. The basket making project showed me persistence and patience. And complete trust in a God who is going to help to make their dream a reality,” said Schellenberg, noting that this fundraiser also functioned as an outreach project by opening doors in schools and nursing homes through the teaching of basket making.
“Something beautiful and strong comes from something as ordinary and flimsy as newspaper. I call it ‘A fundraising project with a purpose’, a purpose that is much, much greater than making money,” observed Schellenberg.
Jesús es mi Rey is the first project of Campomisión, a ministry in which German and Spanish-speaking Mennonites collaborate to reach those who don’t know Jesus in southwestern Uruguay along Route 1 between Montevideo and Colonia Delta. Mennonite Church Canada Witness contributes to Campomisión and the Uruguayan Study Center of the Mennonite Churches. The Mennonite Church in Uruguay is made up of 15 Spanish speaking and 4 German speaking congregations.