Life Along The Rio Paraná
28 Jan 2008
70 years ago Argentina was the 5th wealthiest nation in the world. It had one of the largest middle classes in South America and boasted of its European heritage. Today it is a land in which more than 50% of the people live in poverty. More than 20% are unemployed. Argentina's economy continues in the fifth straight year of decline. Armies of people survive by coming into the cities to sort through the trash seeking food and other items of value.
These people can be seen from the parking lot of an international superstore. On the hill above this spot is Parque Urquiza in Paraná, the capital of Entre Rios Province. Here one can relax on the steps and enjoy mate with a friend or stroll by statues of great leaders of the past. Nearby are high-rise apartment buildings, … office complexes, government buildings, … and luxury hotels. ….... Ornate cathedrals display the rich Catholic heritage of the provinces along the banks of the Rio Paraná … Entre Rios on the east and Santa Fe on the west.
Along the eastern edge of the river is a beach that is empty now, but on Sunday people come to get away from Paraná, the crowded city of 250,000 people. The only activity is oarsmen taking advantage of this peaceful day to improve their skills.
While only 15 miles from each other, several rivers, lagoons and lakes separate the capital cities of Entre Rios and Santa Fe Provinces. They are so close that you can actually see Paraná from Santa Fe. The city of Santa Fe with a population of 500,000 has two professional soccer stadiums. The founding of this city dates back to the late 1500’s.
The focal point of the city is Plaza Veinticinco de Mayo surrounded by buildings dating from the colonial times to modern additions. The provincial legislature proudly displays the Argentine national flag that appears to preside over the shiny vehicles in the parking lot. Nearby, street vendors display their handcrafted baskets. Business or friendly conversation can be conducted at one of the many outdoor restaurants within view of government office buildings.
Reflecting the city’s Catholic heritage, the Catedral Metropolitana with its domed bell towers stands on the north side of the plaza. On the east side is the oldest church in the province built in the late 1600’s.
For many, the shopping centers, high-rise luxury apartment buildings, dinner at a restaurant or enjoying family and friends at an asado is only a dream.
Those with wealth fiercely hang on to what they have. Once considered among the safest countries in the world, many now live inside their homes as if locked in a prison cell. Guards are ever present, bars are on windows, broken glass tops the edges of walls and roofs to keep would be thieves out, and police with guard dogs are used to provide extra security for some areas.
On the outskirts of the cities there is a dramatic change in the style of the homes. Some live in small brick buildings while others live in improvised shacks. Security and safety is also a problem in these poor areas known as villas. Neighborhood watches carefully scrutinize strangers entering the area. Survival for it´s occupants depends on odd jobs, going through trash, and begging for food and money. Discouragement and disillusionment must be ever present in the minds of those who can see wealth but are unable to grasp it.
The highways lead to even more discouragement. Santa Fe and Entre Rios are renowned for having abundant wildlife and rivers well known for their game fish. The richest farmland in the world is here. It has been called the grain store of the world. Fields that are not planted in crops are filled with beef and dairy cattle.
Argentina has become the 4th largest exporter of food in the world…. At the same time, this is a country that is watching its children die of malnutrition. ... With a population of about 36 million people, it produces food to feed 200 million – yet 20% of her children are malnourished and 70% of her children live in poverty.
The farm workers in this strawberry field are paid an equivalent of 55 cents a day for the hard, back breaking seasonal jobs. Children learn early to help with the daily work of gathering firewood to fuel the improvised stove. The older siblings seem to take care of the younger children while the adults are working in the fields. Little time is left to attend the public schools. Teachers in the poorly equipped and crowded schools are not paid regularly. Frequently, teachers strike in an attempt to collect their salaries.
A sense of hopelessness has invaded the country. In name, Argentina is a Christian nation. Roman Catholicism is the official religion with enormous Catholic churches and yet only 15% of her people attend any type of church. Those that are involved have a very strong devotion to Mary and other saints and folk heroes. Every town and neighborhood has its own statue or shrine of its favorite saint. Many public events take place around the shrine. The government erects signs beseeching the Virgin of Lujan to guard travelers. In addition to this patron saint, the red flags and ribbons easily identify Gauchito Gil shrines. La Difunta Correa shrines are also common in the area and identified by the two liter water bottles stacked around the small statue of the saint. Argentina is a land filled with idolatry, unusual folk religions and superstitions.
In the mind of the average Argentine, missionary groups such as the Mormons and Jehovah´s Witnesses are viewed the same as Baptists and other evangelicals… simply non-Catholic. There is very little understanding of the Bible and of God’s plan of salvation. Since the average Argentine works 6 days per week, Sunday is considered a free day when few people go to church. Instead, many Argentines spend Sunday cheering for their favorite soccer team with devotion that some have likened to their own personal religion.
For over 150 years, Argentina has had an evangelical presence, but only 5% of the population could be considered born-again Christians and less than ˝ of one percent are Baptist. In the capital city of Santa Fe, it is estimated that only 2% of the population truly has a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
In the middle of the economic and spiritual crisis, "There is Life in Jesus" … "Hay Vida en Jesús"… is proclaimed along the Rio Paraná. In partnership with local churches, missionaries in the provinces of Santa Fe and Entre Rios are involved in starting new churches. Working with the national pastors and local church members, they are mobilizing and training them to reach their fellow Argentines with the Gospel.
Efforts are underway to meet the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the people. The family business of making and delivering bricks provides a meager income for the large family living here. The mother and her ten children are now coming to the church in Coronda. She was embarrassed to bring her children to the church earlier because she felt they did not have suitable clothes to wear. She was given clothes and she and her children were in church the next Sunday. The father of this family still worships Gauchito Gil believing that he answers his prayers. He has built an altar inside the home as well as a shrine outside to honor this popular folk hero.
Finding sources of income is difficult in this area. Relief programs help feed the most needy during times of crisis, but self-help programs can provide long term income sources. A local landowner donated this garden plot. The residents living near here will be able to grow vegetables and sell them at roadside markets.
Working closely with the pastors of the Baptist churches in Coronda and Gálvez, a project is being planned to educate and help those in need. The goal will be to meet the pressing physical needs of the people while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.
Located next to an abandoned railroad track, this church is within walking distance of many. Courses are being taught in church planting, leadership training, discipleship, and evangelism to aid the rapid multiplication of these smaller churches. As a result, attendance, commitment, and spiritual growth are evident in the rural areas as people reach out to their family, friends, and neighbors.
Back across the river in a suburb of Paraná, cell groups are meeting in homes on a regular basis. Here people find not only fellowship but have an opportunity to learn more about God’s Word and reach out in their neighborhood to people who have no church home.
Active preaching and teaching schedules of the missionaries requires significant travel throughout the provinces of Entre Rios and Santa Fe. In the church fellowship at San Benito, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated for the first time. The church building is still under construction in this farm community of 20,000 outside of Paraná. It has little in the way of modern conveniences. The roads quickly turn to mud when it rains.
(change narrator voice and to first person)
(clips of various worship activities)
(The audio for this part is about ˝ as long as the video. This is the way it should be.)
God is at work here in Santa Fe and Entre Rios, Argentina. The men, women, and children who have found new life along the Rio Paraná want to share their joy with you and solicit your prayers and encouragement.
Pray for such places as San Benito and San Martin, two small towns that now have new Baptist works.
Pray that God would raise up leaders for all these new churches.
Pray for Guadalupe and other areas like it where there is still no evangelical church.
Pray for our Argentine brothers and sisters as we work together to bring New Life in Jesus along the Rio Paraná.
Will you COME as a volunteer?
BE A PART OF THE NEW LIFE ALONG THE Rio ParanÁ
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