In Argentina, Homeless Addict Thankful for Gospel Power
In a neighborhood known for brothels and beggars in an otherwise historic section of eastern Buenos Aires, a homeless Argentinian from a well-to-do family arrived penniless at a church site established to feed the poor.
Giovanni recognized some people there who were living, as he was, on the streets of the city’s San Cristobal section, where centuries-old charm came with pockets of prostitutes, crumbling sidewalks and mildew-stained apartments. The red-light areas of San Cristobal also had their share of drug addicts who would maim or kill to get the money to support their habit.
Giovanni had refrained from telling those on the street that he was the only one in his family who had not attained a profession, much less excelled in one, as his well-off relatives had.
But something in the church volunteer who served him dinner gave him a sense of trust, and Giovanni opened up to him. The more he had faltered in school, work and relationships, the more estranged from his family he had become, he told the volunteer, an indigenous ministry co-leader named Juan Ovando.
Juan warmly greeted him, and it occurred to Giovanni that Juan was already like a brother to him – except that this brother loved him unconditionally.
“It wasn’t long before they cut all contact with me,” Giovanni said.
Failure had led to more drinking, and drinking to more failure. His alcohol addiction came to light.
“I don’t mind living on the street,” he said. “If I’m going to be intoxicated all the time, I might as well be on the street.”
Both men fearlessly forthright, their directness tempered by a deep underlying current of kindness, Giovanni and Juan hit it off instantly. Both were native Argentinians of Italian ancestry, like many of the residents of the San Cristobal area. Italian immigrants, along with the Spanish and French, were responsible for much of San Cristobal’s 19th century European architecture that Giovanni passed through on his way to Juan’s ministry office later that week.
Juan warmly greeted him, and it occurred to Giovanni that Juan was already like a brother to him – except that this brother loved him unconditionally. Juan told him how the love of God sent His Son to die and rise again for the forgiveness of sins, and he asked Giovanni if he wanted to trust in Jesus for eternal life.
Giovanni accepted Christ the first time he met with Juan, said Pastor Jorge Ovando, Juan’s twin brother and head of the indigenous ministry, Buenos Aires Outreach (BAO).
“In Argentina, we ask people to accept Jesus immediately – it happens all the time,” Pastor Jorge said.
Giovanni’s discipleship came about naturally, as he couldn’t resist stopping by Juan’s office every afternoon to talk, study the Bible and drink mate (“MAH-teh), Argentina’s national beverage made from dried yerba mate leaves steeped in hot water and sipped through a metal straw from a shared, hollow gourd.
Discipleship at BAO’s churches involves teaching new believers every aspect of the ministry, with much of it learning by doing, and Giovanni was eager to begin. Serving Jesus by serving others begins immediately at BAO churches, and new believers’ special gifts are soon revealed. It quickly became apparent that Giovanni had the gift of serving others, Pastor Jorge said.
“He obeyed everything and was looking for my brother every day to drink mate,” he said. “He began to get involved in the church, got married to the woman who leads worship, and now they are in charge of those that go every week to give food to homeless people in San Cristobal.”
Giovanni, now the father of a 1-year-old baby, also helps lead worship, and he is developing his leadership abilities as one of 35 students invited to study at the ministry’s Bible institute.
“He has a new life,” Juan’s wife said. “Now he’s praying about helping his siblings to come to Jesus. Because now he’s preaching about the change in his life.”
The ministry that doesn’t shy away from asking for rapid commitments to Christ stages equally aggressive evangelistic campaigns.
Team members from the ministry’s seven churches will “invade” a neighborhood for no more than two hours, with individuals responsible for approaching people or knocking on doors in an area of two or three blocks. They invite people to an outdoor evangelistic event at, say, 5 p.m., when the music of drums and guitars will set the atmosphere for Pastor Jorge’s message.
“At the end we’ll preach the gospel, invite people to receive Jesus and pray for all the needs in that area,” Pastor Jorge said. “Then we’ll give and get phone numbers for follow-up. Some people spit on me, and we need to be ready for that. Our Lord suffered on the cross, and we need to be ready to commit to serving Him.”
In the same vein, a few skilled dancers from the churches might play some recorded music at a park and begin choreographed worship, with others gradually joining in. A flash-mob of 40 Christians is dancing for Christ before the music stops and a crowd has gathered for the ensuing gospel message.
“We preach the gospel and praise God with a flash-mob,” Pastor Jorge said. “We try to use every kind of model. The ministry’s main motive is to reach people for Christ.”
The wide-ranging ministry’s mother church in Luján, about 45 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, meets at a store-front site virtually in the shadow of the historic Basilica of the Virgin of Luján. The BAO church must hold four services to accommodate the 1,000 people seeking to worship, and talks are underway to purchase an adjacent site that would give room for 2,000 people to meet at one time.
More importantly, the larger property would allow the ministry’s kindergarten and school to expand to meet growing demand, Pastor Jorge said.
“We could have many more students, but we can’t because the space is very small. The new property is next door and just recently came up for sale,” he said. “We just have to have faith that we can buy it even though this is a very expensive area. What God most dislikes is when we don’t believe, when we’re scared and we have many doubts.”
Pastor Jorge said acquiring the larger property is the ministry’s biggest challenge. Please consider helping BAO’s indigenous missionaries to expand their reach with a gift through Christian Aid Mission.