Giving Legs to Faith in Uruguay

July 10, 2013

Most of us don´t think about the importance of crutches, a wheelchair, or other mobility devices–until we need them. Joaquin Lopez certainly didn´t think about such things. He was a typical energetic boy who enjoyed sports and outside activities.

The 11-year-old was swimming in a lake near Canelones, Uruguay, when he stepped on a sharp object and cut his foot. The wound wasn´t serious, and he wrapped it and hobbled along.

The pain worsened, however, after Joaquin returned home. The following day he developed a high fever and went into convulsions. Greatly alarmed, his family brought him to a hospital in the capital city of Montevideo.

Infection had set in and Joaquin needed emergency surgery on his foot. “I was in a lot of pain and was crying,” he said. “I remembered my Sunday school teacher saying to ask God for whatever you need. So I asked God to help me, even though I didn´t know how to pray.”

Joaquin did get better, but when he was released from the hospital, he had another need for prayer–his family could not afford crutches for him.

That´s when a Christian Aid-assisted ministry called Bible Army of Uruguay stepped in to help. Based in Montevideo, the evangelistic organization provides medical equipment to needy families and shares the good news of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

Bible Army of Uruguay provided crutches for Joaquin for free. The staff also prayed with family members and presented them with a Bible.

Touched by their kindness, Joaquin´s mother began going to church to learn more about God. She brought Joaquin´s brother along too. When he was stronger, Joaquin joined them. He hadn´t attended Sunday school since his grandmother took him a few months before the accident.

“All of us have accepted Jesus as our Savior,” he said. “I thank God for being alive and that I can tell other people my story.”

Since its start in 1949, Bible Army of Uruguay (BAU) has helped countless individuals of all ages regain some measure of mobility through an assortment of medical devices–wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes, and prosthetics. In addition, they offer hearing aids, eyeglasses, and orthopedic beds. All of the items are loaned to people with special needs for free.

The ministry seeks to demonstrate that everyone, regardless of their handicap, is a valued child of God who can be used for His glory.

Ismael Gimenez understands very well what it means to struggle with personal limitations and feelings of low self-esteem. The founder of Bible Army of Uruguay was stricken with polio when he was nine months old, leaving his legs horribly twisted.

Doctors thought he would die, and many times Gimenez almost wished they had been right. The disease spelled misery for his childhood. His family lacked the resources to buy a wheelchair, so the only way he could move about was to drag himself with his hands or be carried.

When he was 9 years old, Gimenez stood on his feet for the first time thanks to a set of homemade wood crutches designed by his father. Still, Gimenez fretted that he could not be a “normal kid.”

But God had big plans for the youngster. At age 14, lonely and embittered by his affliction, Gimenez showed up at a tent church meeting solely for the purpose of ridiculing the evangelist and worshipers. Instead, he was moved by the message and received Christ as his Savior.

That was the beginning. After surrendering his life to the Lord, he had unusual dreams. In one dream or vision he was preaching the gospel to a large group of people from every corner of Uruguay. Given his physical limitations, the thought of being a preacher seemed ludicrous to him.

The Christians who led the tent church meeting stayed in touch with Gimenez and sought medical assistance for him. During the next several years, he endured four painful operations that involved breaking the bones in his legs and resetting them.

At the age of 21, he was finally able to stand unassisted. The crowning achievement–once thought impossible–followed shortly thereafter when he learned to walk.

Gimenez´ ministry took off when God provided a van so he could travel across the country to preach. Other men and women joined him, and in 1949, Bible Army of Uruguay was born. The vision had come to pass.

Today the ministry has a multi-faceted outreach. In addition to distributing medical aids and clothing for the needy, they offer free temporary housing to families who need a place to stay in the city while visiting a relative in the hospital. Due to the lack of adequate medical care in rural areas, many Uruguayans travel to the capital city for treatment. Some of these families cannot afford to stay in a hotel.

Last year the facility hosted over 40 families. Many who seek temporary housing are non-believers, so ministry workers have the opportunity to share the gospel with them. Ten people received Jesus as Savior.

For the past 30 years, Christian Aid donors have provided support to the gospel workers and helped BAU supply the Word of God to individuals and churches. In the ministry´s temporary housing facility, Bibles are placed in every room and copies are available for guests to take home free of charge. When people pick up medical equipment at their center, they are handed a Bible too.

An elderly woman named Nora visited the center recently in hopes of obtaining an orthopedic bed for her ailing brother. After back surgery, he had been unable to sleep and his health was deteriorating.

Nora admitted she was hesitant to ask for help from what she called “some of those religious people”— until she saw the workers demonstrate genuine concern about her brother´s suffering.

“They are full of love for God and for their neighbor,” said Nora. “They provided the special bed and other items my brother needed that have improved his quality of life.

“The admirable part is they do this work in a very quiet way. They really live up to their slogan ‘In the Name of Christ and for Christ,’ ” she said. “This has opened my heart to God.”