It’s the most secularized nation in South America and the sixth least religious country in the world. Uruguay is a tough place to grow the Gospel.
But a group of Maranatha volunteers gave everything they had to make sure the Gospel has a place to thrive.
From February 22 to March 5, participants on the Uruguay Open Team helped with construction on a large Education and Evangelism Center for the Barros Blancos Seventh-day Adventist Primary School. Volunteers worked hard laying block, tying rebar, sifting sand, and mixing concrete to build the walls of an eight-classroom building.
Currently, the 140 students of Barros Blancos are meeting in Sabbath school classrooms and temporary structures at a local Adventist church. The new building will provide a permanent school on a new piece of property.
A few years ago, Adventist officials had voted to close Barros Blancos, due to struggling enrollment and deteriorating facilities. It was a common fate among the Adventist schools in Uruguay; most of them were meeting in temporary spaces with little to no room for expansion. One by one, the schools were shutting their doors.
Yet these Christian schools have been a critical tool in spreading the Gospel in Uruguay.
“What always sets the pace here are the children, and children bring the family. In education, children always bring their family… if you win the child’s heart, you win the family,” says Elizabeth Urtazu, director of Barros Blancos School.
“That’s why we are determined to improve the work of education—the educational role here in Uruguay,” says Jose Sanchez, president of the Adventist Church in Uruguay. “Whenever you see an Adventist school or an Adventist university, the work of the church grows stronger.”
But with failing finances and low student numbers, Barros Blancos was in trouble. Yet the staff refused to surrender their school.
“When we felt we were going to lose the school, we became aware of how much we loved this place. The teachers looked at the children and said, ‘What’s going to happen to the children? We watched over this place so much—it has so many challenges. How is it going to improve? What is the future here?’” Remembers Urtazu.
Determined, the staff jumped into action, creating a plan to boost enrollment and trim costs. The teachers recruited new families to their school and cut their own salaries to make budget. The work paid off; the community began to respond and registrations increased. Soon the classrooms were full to overflowing.
In the meantime, the school and church leadership had been working with Maranatha to build a new school. It was a process that took years of discussion, planning, and prayer.
Now, years after the initial vote to close Barros Blancos, the staff are watching a dream come true. Since January 2017, team after team of volunteers have arrived to build up the walls of their school. Whenever possible, the teachers help lay block during the project.
The new building will not only have classrooms for 340 students, it will also have offices, bathrooms, and an auditorium. The school is in a busy neighborhood, in a suburb of Montevideo, surrounded by homes and just a block away from a main road and supermarket. There is a steady stream of foot traffic that passes the new campus daily, and it is an ideal site to draw more students to the school—and to Christ.
The mission trip alone was quite a marketing event. Parents and their children would visit the site and wave to the volunteers. The Vacation Bible School program, organized by volunteers, also drew many children, teaching current and prospective students the value of God’s love.
“I’ve been told that only 10 percent of the current student body is Adventist, which means that the other 90 percent represents families from different walks of faith or no faith at all,” says Hilary Macias, volunteer projects assistant at Maranatha and a volunteer on the project. “The Barros Blancos school is perfectly situated to be a place for parents to enroll their kids—their most valuable treasure—to be educated in knowledge as well as Christ’s love.”
This is Maranatha’s first time in Uruguay and the fourth volunteer team to work on the Barros Blancos campus this year. Forty-seven people, ranging in age from 19 to 89-years old, participated on the project. Volunteers came from Bermuda, Puerto Rico, United Kingdom, Honduras, and North America.
Earlier this year, Detroit Maranatha, Fox Valley Adventist Church, and the Oklahoma Conference teams worked on the education and evangelism center. Later this month, a fifth group, West Houston Adventist Church, will wrap up the volunteer work on the school.