The Student Mission at River Plate College, Argentina
THEOLOGY students at River Plate College, Argentina, dissatisfied with the traditional delay in getting field experience in evangelism and pastoral work until after graduation, decided in 1973 to try a new plan. Led by Aecio Cairus, then a student, they drew up a design for a "student mission," which was patterned after the conference organizational structure but was to be staffed by students. Their territory included nearby Adventist churches and towns lacking congregations. With the approval of the faculty and staff the students elected a president, a secretary, a treasurer, and some departmental secretaries to direct the different kinds of work. They called their organization La Mision Estudiantil del Plata ("River Plate Student Mission"), or La MEP for short. The college administration co operated by giving the students academic credit for their work, and thus made it possible for them to have some time free from their classes.
The inspiration for this project came partly from Ellen White's statement in Christian Service: "It is necessary to their complete education that students be given time to do missionary work—time to become acquainted with the spiritual needs of the families in the community around them. They should not be so loaded down with studies that they have no time to use the knowledge they have acquired. . . . Whenever possible, students should, during the school year, engage in city mission work. . . . They can form themselves into bands to do Christian help work." —Pages 64, 65.
Administrators of the Central Argentine Conference also cooperated with the students' plan, assigning them three churches and appropriating funds to support the project.
Once the plan was put into operation the students, in the role of "mission administrators," learned what it was like to deal with the needs of a territory and try to accomplish all the aims of church workers. At first they concentrated on pastoring the three churches and winning converts in the unchurched towns. Small groups of students took on various assignments and learned to work as "mission committees." Church members from the college community were enlisted to aid with their automobiles on weekends. During the first year of this project the students won 31 converts, in the second year 46, and in the third year almost 70. Meanwhile their "territory" expanded as the local conference added three more churches to their "mission," and some twenty new groups were incorporated, totaling many hundreds of people.
At first evangelism was carried on by small teams of students who would look for a hall where they could preach. Sometimes suitable places were hard to come by. When the school administration decided to capitalize on this student enthusiasm they called to their faculty one of the ablest evangelists in the Austral Union Conference, Daniel Belvedere, who developed a plan for an annual large-scale evangelistic campaign in a nearby big city. This was followed by smaller campaigns in neighboring towns, put on by students who had participated in the first one. The more mature of these students supervised teams of others, who assisted in the campaigns.
The evangelist for the city campaign was able to get radio coverage in advance of the opening date, and for a whole month he broadcast daily devotional talks. On the opening night of the meetings the standing crowd exceeded the seated group in size, and double services had to be held that night and every night thereafter. As a result of the series and the enthusiasm generated in the local church, 97 new members were added. Other converts brought in by subsequent work may raise the student-mission baptismal total for 1976 to more than 200.
The students' experiences have been thrilling as they have worked together in their own program of pastoral and evangelistic work. In one town about 50 miles from the college there was no Adventist work at all up to Easter week end, 1975. A group was formed by the "mission committee" to hold a series of meetings on Easter weekend in the town of Hernandez.
When I went to the next-to-the-last meeting of the series to see how things were going I found our youth holding meetings in a building separated into two rooms by a low divider, about 7 feet high. On one side, competing with our youth, was a billiard hall, with billiard tables, a bar, and the wild, hot music that goes with that kind of environment. But, on "our side" of the divider were some 50 persons straining to hear the gospel message above the din of loud voices and coarse laughter that came from the other side.
When asked why he had chosen such a spot for religious meetings, Rigoberto Yefilaf, group leader, responded, "There was nothing else, Pastor!" With the diligence of youth and the special intervention of Providence, we now have an attractive chapel in this small town, all paid for, with some 50 people in attendance, faithfully worshiping each Sabbath.
One of the side benefits of this pro gram is that the faculty and staff of the school have noticed a remarkable in crease in spiritual vitality on campus.
Evangelism Overview in South America
A FEW YEARS ago the South American Division issued a call for the evangelization of the 1,031 cities and villages where through 1974 we had no organized work. Let's take a panoramic view of what has been accomplished.
Our autumn evangelism, which begins with Holy Week or a little before, is the key to our efforts. Campaigns have been held in theaters, churches, schools, courtyards, markets, tents, homes, and even in buses! Reports from Peru indicate that in Lima alone 208 campaigns were conducted.
In the South Brazil Union, 30 of the 84 districts in the Sao Paulo Conference reported that 244 campaigns were started just before Holy Week. A "Hundred Club" was organized, made up of 100 lay evangelists who are wholly supported by the field, which is investing an amount equal to 176 salaries to be used in preparatory courses, materials, and equipment, and in the campaigns themselves. Unfortunately, the club now has only 99 members since one of their number was mysteriously murdered after one of his evangelistic meetings. He was found the following morning, his Bible and slide projector still by his side.
From Chile we received a letter that told of the work of groups of young people who are enthusiastically leading out in Holy Week campaigns.
In Argentina the owner of a bus, who could not find a place in which to hold meetings, organized a campaign in his vehicle and so was able to preach to a group that met regularly.
The trend that began in the 1940's, when tents broke out like mushrooms in South America, is being repeated. The difference is that now we are using air tents. One of them lasted 16 years and was, until a few hours before it was destroyed by a storm, completely filled for a series of meetings held by the writer in Rio de Janeiro in 1974. The most recent acquisition is an air tent with a capacity of 500 seats, owned by the River Plate student mission.
A veteran evangelist, Geraldo de Oliveira, has exclusive use of a huge tent owned by the Sao Paulo Conference. He annually leads out in two series of meetings of approximately four months each in places where our message has not been preached before.
Many other tents of various kinds are being used. They belong to churches, conferences, and even to individual workers! The Uruguay Mission owns a tent with a capacity of 160, which is used in four districts each year on a rotating plan. In 1975 this tent experienced a three-act drama. Since the canvas was badly worn from constant use, Pastor Ruben Arn purchased a new canvas, and the church members did the necessary sewing. The tent was then set up in a suburb of the city of Montevideo. After a few days it was burned by enemy hands. Faced with the smoldering ruins of the tent, the iron framework of which was intact, the evangelist decided to use the old canvas that had been discarded. After looking it over he put it back on the framework. Only one meeting was lost, and the campaign continued.
Seeking to "lengthen the cords," evangelists are being urged to work in unentered areas. In 1975, work was started in Jujuy, Argentina, where today we have a church of more than 300 members. The local pastor recently wrote: "Last night I finished ten consecutive nights of preaching in the church while the lay workers were doing the same in eight places in surrounding areas. It was marvelous to have the church filled every night. Last Friday we had a record-breaking attendance of 421. On Sabbath 370 people took part in the Lord's Supper. In response to a call I made Sunday night, the entire church pledged fidelity to the Lord in carrying the gospel to the entire province. Fifty-two responded to the call for baptism." Thirteen months ago only a small group of believers met here in a room 16 by 19 feet in size.
The last unentered provincial capital, Rio Gallegos, in the extreme south of Argentina, was entered last September. Field Evangelist Juan C. Sicalo, with a group of workers, defied the southern cold, and many victories were won.
San Miguel, a prosperous city in the Province of Buenos Aires, received a union air tent for an evangelistic campaign through which 300 persons came to know the Advent message.
Itabuna, Bahia, Brazil, received the help of the union evangelist, Rolf Belz, who conducted two campaigns simultaneously. A new church of 215 members was organized as the result of one of the campaigns, and the Central church in the same city received 110 new members as a result of the other campaign.
In the East Conference of the East Brazil Union, Evangelist Jose Cavalieri set out to win Pinheiros, a difficult place, where after severe struggles he baptized 95 people and built a church.
Itabuna and Pinheiros in Brazil, Copiapo in Chile, and many other cities, villages, and suburbs have been taken off the list of 1,031 unentered places.
Pastor Jose Bessa, South Brazil Union evangelist, reports that through the end of June, 1976, more than 100 cities and suburbs had been entered for the first time.
The plan of moving missionary families to areas not yet evangelized is also yielding extraordinary results. The operation will be intensified because of the urgency to enter new areas.
South America views the immediate future with optimism. There are battles to fight, needs to fill, and victories to be won. We believe in the presence and help of Jesus, and for this reason we say: NOW IS THE TIME.