By Pastor William “Chip” Fairchild
Wednesday, March 10, was a beautiful late summer day in the village of San Gregorio
in the Santa Fe Province of Argentina, about five hours northeast of Buenos Aries.
It was a perfect day for a celebration for two Lutheran congregations, the La
Anunciacion mission congregation in San Gregorio and Christ Lutheran Church in
My wife, Sandy, and I made the long but wonderful trip to San Gregorio to meet
the pastor and congregation of La Anunciacion and to participate in the service
of dedication for their new church building. Brian Adams, a young man from Christ
Lutheran and a freshman at Bloomsburg University, was also there to represent
Brian's presence was very important because Brian was a catalyst God used to
make this new church building a reality. Three years ago, he had traveled to
Argentina with a delegation from our synod led by Bishop Strobel to strengthen
our companion synod relationship with the Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Unida of
Argentina and Uruguay (IELU). While on that trip, Brian visited several Lutheran
congregations across Argentina and experienced the work of the Church in many
places. But it was his visit to San Gregorio that eventually led to a companion
relationship between our two congregations.
At the time, the congregation in San Gregorio was worshipping in a small garage
next to the home of the Becker family. Mr. and Mrs. Becker moved to San Gregorio
many years ago and, with the help of the IELU, began organizing a Lutheran mission
congregation there. The congregation originally met in their home but soon outgrew
that space, so Mr. Becker converted his garage into a sanctuary.
Brian learned that the congregation had long dreamed of building their own church
building on land given to them on a street near the center of the town of about
4,000 people. The estimated cost to build the first phase of their dream, a new
church sanctuary, was $11,000 (about 33,000 pesos at the present exchange rate).
Brian also learned that the congregation had saved $3,000 toward their dream — a
very difficult task given the poor economy in Argentina and the very limited
financial resources of the people of San Gregorio. But when the small hospital
in San Gregorio was in serious need of some medical equipment to care for the
people of the community, the members of La Anunciacion made the decision to give
the money they had saved toward providing that equipment. They believed that
it was what God was calling them to do and if God wanted them to have a new church,
somehow God would provide the funds.
Brian knew that our congregation in Conyngham had just voted to purchase a new
sound system for $18,000, and he realized that for much less than that we could
have built their new church. When he returned home, he shared his experiences
in Argentina with our congregation and told us about the need for a new church
building in San Gregorio.
As he told of the wonderful people of San Gregorio, of their faith and devotion
to the Gospel, Brian challenged us to use our blessings to be a blessing in San
Christ, Conyngham is a congregation committed to sharing its blessings. We held
a congregational meeting to take up Brian's challenge. There we made the decision
to give the money needed to build their new church sanctuary to our fellow Lutherans
in San Gregorio, using funds received from a small bequest and from our Growing
With Christ mission fund.
In June 2003, congregation members Tony and Mary Lou Deisroth joined Bishop Strobel
and others to go to San Gregorio for the groundbreaking ceremony. Brian was not
able to make this trip, which disappointed the congregation because they had
learned of his witness to their need and he had become quite a folk hero among
them. Nevertheless, it was a great day not only for the mission congregation,
but also for the whole town.
Finally, on March 10, 2004, the long-awaited day of grace came. Well before the
start of the dedication service, a large group of children and adults — almost
everyone in San Gregorio — had gathered in front of the new church. A bright
ribbon hung over the front doors. The procession included the pastor of the mission,
Bishop Furlan of the IELU, Pastor Garbe, others, and me. But the honor of cutting
the ribbon and leading the way into the new nave was given to Mr. and Mrs. Becker.
The two-hour service of Holy Communion was glorious and emotional and filled
with tears of joy. There were so many highlights, but two stand out. First, during
the service, Brian was ushered forward and given a certificate of honorary membership
in the congregation.
Second, Pastor Bob Von Frisch, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lehighton,
and Lois Bernstein, a lay member of that congregation, surprised the people by
presenting a check for $16,000 to build the second phase of their dream, a wing
of classrooms and offices. The nave erupted with applause and more tears were
All of us returned home from Argentina feeling blessed by the people of San Gregorio
and the whole Lutheran church in Argentina. Our participation in their ministry
is a gift to us. We are spiritually enriched by their love, their hospitality,
and their passion for the Gospel in South America. We look forward to praying
for each other, sharing with each other, and being together again with our friends
as they come to visit us and we them.