We are treated here to an interesting account of the beginning of the work of the Lord in Argentina. Further articles will appear as our brother is able to research and document this history.
Argentina, the second largest country in South America, is about one third the size of the 48 contiguous states of the US. Located in the southern cone of the continent, Argentina’s 23 provinces and federal district stretch nearly 2300 miles north and south, and 800 miles from east to west. The word, “Argentina” is derived from the Latin word argentum meaning silver. The Spanish explorers of the 1500’s searched for silver, but the rich black soil of the Pampa (or grassy plain) has signified agricultural wealth in grain and livestock production. A large number of Europeans, chiefly from Spain and Italy, came to this area in the last century. They were mainly Roman Catholic, but many were seeking something better to satisfy a desire for spiritual riches.
Early in the last century, the country was visited by Bible colporteurs, who braved inhospitable conditions and religious opposition to take portions of the Word of God to the spiritually hungry. James Thompson in the 1820’s was followed by other colporteurs and by a few evangelical missions. Our interest however lies in the beginning and growth of New Testament assemblies.
In general, Latin America has been spiritually blessed by the coming of brethren from the British Isles, North America, Australia and New Zealand. They have labored under unfavorable climatic, economic, social and political conditions in their zeal to preach the gospel.
In Argentina, the assembly labors essentially began with the arrival of John Henry L. Ewen in 1882. Commended by assemblies in England, and sickly throughout his life of 69 years, he recognized the spiritual potential in Argentina and enthusiastically appealed to the homeland for more laborers. This resulted in exercise of heart among a number of young men, some of whom supported themselves in various occupations while preaching. A few others arrived as commended laborers to the work of the Lord. Besides John Ewen, two other pioneers were outstanding in their labors at the turn of the century: William Charles K. Torre, from Birmingham, and William S. Payne, from Dublin. Without exception, all who arrived in Buenos Aires had laid upon their hearts a “necessity” to preach the gospel. Argentina was ripe for the gospel after decades of domination by Rome. It is important to point out not only the diligence of the foreign born brethren, but also the fervency of the nationals, especially those of Italian descent, in receiving the Word, zealously supporting the gospel efforts and meeting in simplicity as they had been taught. The people, gregarious and warm by nature, responded wonderfully, drinking in the message and “gossiping” the gospel to their neighbors. The Latin warmth, unencumbered by the formality of many of English descent, still prevails among the believers, and is outstanding in Buenos Aires among those of Italian descent. They practice literally and doubly 1 Thess 5:26, “Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss”. Quite a number have greeted me with two “holy” kisses, one on each cheek.
In the economic realm, the abundant natural resources, geographically favored position and medley of European nationalities should have all contributed to a thriving economy. At the beginning of the century, Argentina had a flourishing economy The economic prosperity continued for at least half a century and provided an extremely generous welfare program while Juan D Peron was in office. Political and economic mismanagement over the years, however, has left the present government with a legacy of economic instability and massive unemployment. In a similar way, after a bright and promising beginning, there has been a decline in the spiritual realm. On the positive side, assembly work is in the hands of national brethren but certain men have assumed positions of leadership and control, promoting assembly organizations on a national level. Yet a foundation of spiritual principles and practices was laid years ago that makes us confident that the Lord will preserve testimony to His Name. In the midst of economic and employment difficulties, there are indications that the Lord is working in the hearts of His people.
There are reputed to be around 1000 so called “open brethren assemblies” throughout the country. To our knowledge all of them have the breaking of bread each Lord’s day, and each company recognizes a plurality of elders, with a variety of ministry. However, it appears that in a number of assemblies the elder brethren, lacking convictions, have permitted the younger generation to introduce innovations which we consider contrary to NT principles. In our limited experience with conservative assemblies, we have been delighted to find many simple believers, rejoicing in their salvation, seeking to spread the gospel, and willing to be taught.
We have been unable to fulfill the many requests for visits to different isolated assemblies where brethren manifest a desire for the right ways of the Lord. Over the years a number of brethren, with whom we have enjoyed fellowship, have willingly stood fast, despite the reproach and suffering involved on account of their allegiance to the truth. We feel fully identified with these brethren and have likewise suffered reproach and slander. In this distressing process, however, we have gained a greater appreciation of such texts as “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov 23:23) and Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.”
Although living near the border with Argentina, we had not crossed it for a number of years due to uncertainty regarding the condition of assemblies. We did welcome visits from brother Pablo Boichenko who related to us his efforts to stem the tide of new movements in the assemblies. This he attributed to an interdenominational evangelical campaign by an internationally known evangelist in which a number of assemblies participated. Then in 1981, I received copies of a simple magazine calledCongregados en Mi Nombre (Gathered Together in My Name), published by a young brother in northern Argentina. This awakened a realization that there evidently were brethren who had a background in NT church teaching and were anxious to maintain scriptural practices. The following year we received invitations from Dr. Norman Hamilton of Neuquen to visit them. In 1984, I ventured across the mountains by bus for the 16 hour journey. The reception by the local believers was overwhelming and encouraged us of the spiritual potential of the Argentine believers. Since then we have visited the country frequently while retaining Osorno, Chile as our home base.
After definite prayer regarding the Lord’s plan and purpose for our lives, we felt encouraged to expand our horizons, finding assurance in passages such as 1 Chronicles 4:10. Besides preaching the gospel in “the regions beyond” we recognize a special need for ministry to “strengthen the things which remain” (Rev. 3:2), and thus encourage assemblies and individuals who seek to obey the Word of God. The main thrust of our activities in gospel, ministry meetings and conferences has been in the far northern provinces of Argentina as well as a few assemblies in southern Bolivia. In general, the believers meet simply in the Lord’s Name in Gospel Halls (Local Evangelico) without innovations. Many of them are not well taught but are anxious to learn. At the same time, they are diligently seeking to resist new trends as well as the central control which emanates from the capital. The fervent prayers of our brethren and sisters in North America and elsewhere will be greatly valued in these critical times.