"Behold, he goeth before you into Galilee" (Mt 28.7)
That was the message to the disciples after the resurrection, but it is an appropriate one for all who seek to serve the Lord. Service for Him is not that of great initiatives but of following the One who goes before us. We are not called to be executives in Gods work, but executors of His will. Initiatives are not suppressed completely but must be taken in dependence of the One who is leading.
We were first impressed about North-East Argentina by the visit of Willie and Pearl Jack to our assembly in Whitburn, West Lothian. In 1974 we left Scotland for Argentina with our three children making our first home in Posadas, where we remained for three years.
The work there, established by Willie and Pearl, was fairly new. How much we learned in those three years. Adaptation is not only learning a new language. One thing was clear. New Testament principles practised by assemblies, also function in other cultures. Willie used traditional methods, preached a plain gospel and saw God at work. One other aspect of the work was that the young assembly was being led to begin an outreach that in turn would be formed into another assembly. This is the pattern followed across Argentina. It gives ample scope for the practice of priesthood and the development of gifts. The enthusiasm for the work by the lay people, some of whom live in poverty, folks who have never ever been on holiday, some who work in the fields or the factories or are professional people, has led to the formation of about 1,000 assemblies since 1882 when John Henry Ewen arrived in Buenos Aires. F A Tatford says about him: "This was the man who became the pioneer of assembly work in Argentina not one of exceptional ability or attractive presence, but one who believed God and trusted implicitly in Him".
The extension of assembly work must be seen in the context of a country over eleven times the size of the UK. The North-East was one of those areas where assemblies were very scarce. The five provincial capital cities of the North-East, each with over 100,000 of a population, were lacking in assembly witness. Thankfully, assemblies were firmly rooted in the major cities before Pentecostalism became so widespread.
"He leadeth me, Oh blessed thought"
We have lived and served in the City of Paraná since 1978. It is representative of the whole country where Roman Catholicism still dominates and Pentecostalism of all shades and colours confuses. Only this week we heard of one of the strongest groups offering miniature bottles filled with a special grape juice to represent the blood of the Lamb. With it, supplied free of charge (!!), is a small cloth to apply the contents to the lintels and door posts of the home to protect against the invasion of evil forces. This is paganism.
The Lord clearly went before us in Paraná even in the issues of finding a house. The "For Rent" sign was scarcely dry and opposite the fifth or sixth estate agent we had visited. Getting children into school is not automatic as places are at a premium. We found school places on the first attempt.
One of the earliest converts was through our daughter Fionas witness in secondary school. We visited the home and the girls mother started to attend the meetings and was saved. Amelia went on steadily for years but is presently cold in heart while her mother goes on for the Lord.
As we look around the Paraná assembly, about 50 presently in fellowship, gathered in from 13 different Roman Catholic churches, and hear them sing in Spanish, "Abba Father we approach Thee, in our Saviours precious Name", we are assured that this is result of Him "going before us". It has not been the result of our extraordinary initiatives. On the contrary, we have often felt lonely, sometimes depressed, the task too great, the strongholds to be broken down too powerful. Presently, a further two outreaches are functioning among children and prayer would be valued for those.
On returning to Argentina after the Falklands War the reception was, to say the least, cold. Unable to find a house to rent, we found ourselves in the town of Crespo, 25 miles from Paraná, where believers in the new assembly did the impossible to make room for us in their home. It was a very trying time, due to the uncertainty, the loss of family privacy, and illness. Our stay was to be for two weeks but extended to six months. During that time we had a gospel campaign with Daniel Di Cesare. They were the most fruitful meetings in the salvation of souls in the preaching experience of Daniel and me. Not only that, perhaps they have the highest percentage of fruit that remains. Again the words "Behold he goeth before you" seemed appropriate.
In November of 1987, in the smallest meeting, on the last night of a series in three assemblies in the south, a small woman approached us to ask us to visit her son who lived in our province and who had been saved. It so happened that it was over 100 miles away on a deteriorated road. After 11 months we decided to make a special journey to fulfil our promise. Following a very formal reception we were invited out to the rear patio. We noticed a roof supported by poles being thatched. The straw was still uncut and reached almost to the ground. When we enquired what it was for he said it was to invite his familys teenage school friends and neighbours to a meeting. He confessed to be very anxious since he could not preach but they could sing some choruses and read the Scriptures. When asked when the first meeting would take place he wept. Then he replied, "Tonight will be the first and there is no doubt the Lord has sent you". I preached that night and promised to go again. It was the beginning of regular visits every two weeks.
Then we noticed an increase in attendance by some believers who had left a denomination because the gospel was no longer being preached. We began to teach, and preach too, subjects such as The Church, how it is composed, how is it entered, what about baptism, what is the Breaking of Bread etc. Incidentally this is all the basis of good preaching material for a catholic audience. After about two years we gave them Assembly Distinctives and The Church of the Book. Several approached us and asked if such a church existed. We assured them that it did. From there on they have been identified with assemblies and a vibrant testimony for the Lord continues in San Gustavo. An address given 1,200 miles away; a visit 11 months later; an assembly formed. Again the summary must be "Behold he goeth before you".
"Come over and help us"
The most recent assembly formed is in Entre Ríos Province, in a locality of 16,000 inhabitants. It is called Rosario del Tala. In the year 2000 a married couple, who had travelled 110 miles to Paraná, visited us. Some 20 years previously this couple had moved to Rosario del Tala for work. Since there was no assembly for 60 miles around they met in a denomination. They could never agree with the lack of assurance of eternal salvation taught, or with the pyramidal system of authority, one-man ministry, and a host of other things. Their longing was to see the gospel preached without the threat of losing salvation and to see a local church in their district that practised New Testament principles. Their fear was that they could not begin on their own. Could we help? At the time I was feeling very unwell so with our son-in-law Heber's help we visited first, then decided that the assembly should come into being as a result of preaching the gospel. The Lord blessed His Word and the first baptisms of seven believers were held in a portable swimming pool in the public park. It was a thrill to sit down with those believers and remember the Lord in the Breaking of Bread in June, 2000. They now number about 20. Don Elvio and his wife Elina have flourished in this new assembly. They have real shepherd hearts and work tirelessly. Don Elvio has a latent gift, suppressed for years, and which is now evident. He is an avid reader and this is a great help. Rosario del Tala, like so many places in Entre Ríos, is saturated with witchcraft and new believers have a hard time. We thank God for this light lit in Rosario del Tala and visit regularly. The initiative to begin, to preach and teach may have been ours but the choice was the Lords. The only suitable evaluation would be "Behold he goeth before you"
Pray for the work in Argentina. The majority of assemblies are "conservative" but the global winds of modernism and change are blowing and there is need to hold fast the faithful word (Titus 1.9).