Shining a Light in the Darkness
Lutherans in Uruguay are sharing God’s Word with others.
“It is difficult to know where the Holy Spirit takes us, what will happen in the future,” noted the Rev. André Luiz Müller, president of the Lutheran Church of Uruguay (LCU). The LCU is growing, yet it is only present in a few areas of Uruguay. “We are not currently in each department [state] … because Uruguay is a difficult country to work in.” But Müller’s hope is to “take the Gospel to every corner of this country!” Recently, that plan began to take shape in new ways.
This past August, two new locations for preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ were dedicated in the northwest region of this small country in South America. Uruguay is a largely rural land full of cattle, sheep and canola. German settlers brought Lutheranism to the country long ago, and now the LCU is renewing this work, continuing to spread the Gospel and working to plant churches.
LCMS missionaries in Uruguay work with pastors of the LCU and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil to spread the Gospel and serve God’s people. The Rev. James Sharp, regional facilitator for the LCMS Office of International Mission, has worked in the country with his wife, Angela Sharp, since 2015. Recently, the Rev. Philip Jaseph and his wife, Deaconess Rachel Jaseph, were called to join the work in Uruguay.
Solidity in Salto
On Aug. 27, a new location in Salto, Uruguay’s second largest city, hosted its first Lutheran Divine Service. Many drove hours to attend the dedication. “We had … so many supporters. … To look at the congregation and see the participation of the church of Montevideo, Chapicuy and visitors … was an incredible blessing from God, which shows that it is not our human work, it is God’s work, through His Holy Spirit, that His Word is here. … The Lutheran church is not a competition between congregations. We are a single church that seeks to live and carry the Word of God, to preach the Word of God,” noted the Rev. Maicon Schieferdecker, an alliance missionary from Brazil who works alongside LCU pastors and LCMS missionaries in Uruguay. Schieferdecker will primarily serve the congregations in Salto and Chapicuy.
That evening, people greeted each other as the clergy vested for the opening service. When the time came for worship, Schieferdecker immediately led the congregation in confession, and they rejoiced in receiving the 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 Müller. “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. Sharp preached on Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain,” noting that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation and the strength of the church and for every Christian. After the service, those in attendance stayed for snacks and a light supper, rejoicing in the fellowship of shared faith and in this new opportunity for ministry in Salto.
“When I arrived here in Salto, I told people that I am the pastor of the Lutheran church,” said Schieferdecker. But when people asked where his church was, there was no building. With the opening of the new space, Schieferdecker can now point people to a physical location, which lends a sense of permanence and solidity to the church in people’s perception.
“This is a good thing that shows people that it is a serious church,” said Schieferdecker, as he noted that Uruguayans perceive churches as organizations that want to get money from the people. By opening a space, the church has credibility and shows that the Lutheran church is not this type of church, but one established on the truth of God’s Word and one that cares for the people in Salto. “There was nothing [in Salto],” reflected Schieferdecker, so the people of the LCU worked to start something. Now, by God’s grace, that work is bearing fruit.
A ‘Place to Be’
The next morning, Aug. 28, Müller, Schieferdecker and the Sharps drove 40 minutes south of Salto to dedicate a new church building in the small town of Chapicuy. “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.”
Traudy Müller and Helga Schefer have been Lutherans their whole lives and have both 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 Traudy Müller.
Schefer recounted that when she was young, pastors would come from nearby Argentina and conduct services in the fields. When Argentinian pastors did not come to Chapicuy, 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.
Even though the building in Chapicuy is new, the congregation has strong roots, explained LCU President Müller, “because there are already cradle Lutherans there, several generations in Chapicuy that will be helping to orient it.” Müller noted that the mission of Chapicuy already existed, with services held in a rented facility. The pastors of the LCU and Rev. Sharp traveled the five hours from Montevideo to serve those in Chapicuy before Schieferdecker arrived. The addition of a permanent structure and a regular pastor will solidify that work. The congregation “is so close to Salto, it was like a ripe fruit that we just needed to go and harvest,” said Müller.
“God is not far from us. God is Emmanuel, who is with us to weep, to suffer, to forgive, to change lives, to love and also to do the work of conversion in people. It is God who does the work, who made and uses our testimony, our mouth, not only mine but of my family and that of the brothers here in Chapicuy,” said Schieferdecker. “May God be praised for everything, for all the help we receive from everyone, … the help both financial and prayer, … God be praised for the Lutheran Church of Uruguay here in Salto, in Chapicuy … [that] more people come to know this God who is … a God who loves us in Christ. This is the most wonderful thing that there is.”
Müller said that the dedication of the two locations in Salto and Chapicuy represents a renewal of the entire ministry of the Lutheran church in Uruguay. For many years, the mission was focused exclusively on the Prado neighborhood of Montevideo, especially the Lutheran school there and relatives or families linked to the school. Recently, Müller has been working with others on “a vision more on the high seas. … There is a different crowd, an audience that we do not know very well yet.”
In addition to serving as LCU president, Müller is 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.” She 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 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 LCU are overjoyed that the Lord has seen fit to call another LCMS missionary family — 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. … It’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 … 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 shine the light of Christ on those people who really are in darkness.”
“We are a Christocentric, biblical church, which speaks the Word of God, which has its foundations, which is a historical church,” said Schieferdecker. “The Word of God changes lives here too, because there is no country or person that God cannot change.”
Right now, “[we have] a good group of solid pastors who have training in different countries but with the very unanimous doctrine of the Gospel of the cross — a group that is working together,” said Müller. Looking ahead at what he prays the LCU can accomplish, he notes, “We lack workers, we lack resources. The harvest is great. Of the 17 departments [states] in Uruguay, we are currently only in four: Salto, Paysandú (Chapicuy), Montevideo and Canelones. We have another 13 to get to.”
Müller, Sharp, Jaseph, Schieferdecker and all in the LCU continue to plan and work, knowing that God is the one who effects the work of the ministry in Uruguay. As Müller observes, “The work is happening, because the Word does not return empty.”
- About the Synod’s Latin America and Caribbean region
- About LCMS missionaries Rev. James and Angela Sharp
- About LCMS missionaries Rev. Philip and Deaconess Rachel Jaseph
Pray with Us
Lord of light and life, You enlighten all men with Your grace and truth. So shine Your light on the people of Uruguay, that all may know You and be saved. Bless the work of the Lutheran Church of Uruguay, that they may continue to proclaim the Good News so that many would hear and believe. Strengthen and encourage all missionaries who serve far from home. Let Your Word and Sacraments enliven and enlighten them and Your whole church, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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Dr. Kevin Armbrust
Director of Editorial for LCMS Communications.