Argentina - Evangelising through Education

by Benito Bongarra

 

It all started 83 years ago, in a neighbourhood far from the centre of Buenos Aires. My father José Bongarrá, then a 17-year-old boy, began to spread the word of God in the vicinity of Villa Real; he started preaching in a 2 m² seed depository, which had been lent to him. The following week he had to look for larger premises. The work started growing: initially he rented a room and then had to build a new meeting place. In 1940, an autonomous Brethren Assembly was established. In 1945, José dedicated himself to working on the monthly Christian magazine, Pregonero Christiano  (Christian Announcer) and then, in 1947, to a radio programme,Christian Meditations - all by His grace alone.

 

THE EXPANSION

At the beginning of the 1950s it became necessary to expand the meeting hall. A new one was built, which for a number of years was used for the annual conference of the Assemblies in the city of Buenos Aires and Greater Buenos Aires. The local work continued to grow through the foundation of nine new assemblies in the west of the city and through work in prisons. In 1955, the local church organised a large outreach campaign with an evangelistic Central American team. This had a great impact on the community. Seating had to be removed to allow room for the number of people who came - hundreds accepted Christ!

 

NEW VISION

During the 1960s, God gave José a vision for evangelism through education. Some supported the project, while others did not feel that education should be carried out by churches. Nevertheless the task of adapting the building began and by mid-March 1961, educational work commenced. The idea was to cater for the children of believers, but quickly the demand grew to include non-Christian families. This opened an opportunity to preach the gospel to the children and, through them, to their families.

 

The educational task covered the first three levels of official education: kindergarten, primary and secondary. The growth in the number of students led to consideration of a much larger building.

 

A large vacant piece of land lay 600 m from the building. The Lord opened the way to acquire this land from the authorities. The vice-president at that time, with his senators, introduced a law which enabled us to receive a 100 m² block of land, free of charge, in the city of Buenos Aires - by His grace alone!

 

THE FOUNDATION STONE

On 5th December 1965, the foundation stone was laid for a building with over 50 classrooms, an assembly room, a gym, kitchen and dining room. It was designed by a brother in Christ, architect Antonio Murillo Luque. Murillo asked, "José, do you have any money to do the work?" José replied, "About 2,000 dollars." Surprised, Murillo said, "And what will we do with that? We need far more!" Quietly, he replied, "Murillo, if the Lord provided this land, without cost, He will provide the necessary funds." The early days were hard but construction progressed as fresh funds came in.

 

THE NEW BUILDINGS

José heard that a German organisation, funded by the Federal Republic of Germany, donated money for educational and health projects. He decided to visit a German pastor, Pastor Altman, in Buenos Aires and ask him about the organisation. Curious, Pastor Altman asked, "Why did you come to me?" to which José replied, "Because you are German, and we know each other." Taken aback, Altman said, "I am the only contact with that organisation in Argentina!" By His grace alone.

 

The German organisation approved my father's project and donated 1 million Deutsche Marks. This funding enabled the completion of the Argentine Evangelical Christian School, which was officially opened in March 1968 - by His grace alone.

 

At the same time, the local church grew in numbers as a result of evangelism within the school.

 

A NEW CHALLENGE

While the school in Buenos Aires continued to grow, José and Murillo were dreaming up new projects. One day I was called to my father's office to be shown a mock-up of a small rural school. He said to me, "This is Centro Cristiano Rural Evangelico, CCRE (Evangelical Rural Community Centre)." To my question, "What does this mean?" they told me of their new vision: to reach poor areas of Argentina with the gospel through schools. They immediately entrusted me with the task of developing this project.

 

THE NEW PROJECT

After trips to different places around the country, we prepared a document which we called 'The Service Plan for the Rest of the Country'. Our initial idea of having small rural schools, led by two teachers, developed into having school hostels for 64 students with complete facilities. The students would be children from poor families, who could not attend government schools because of distance or a lack of finance.

 

We dedicated 1972 to the development of this project and to finding a location for the first CCRE.

 

THE NEW ADVENTURE

In 1973, we opened the CCRE in Andacollo and in 1975, a second was opened in  Agua Escondida, in the province of Mendoza. A further three establishments were opened in Brea Pozo, Santiago del Estero Province (1978), in Villa Pehuenia, Neuquén Province (1980) and in Comandante Andresito, Misiones Province (1982).

 

Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Evangelical Christian School continued to grow, and we worked to create a higher education institute called Juan Amós Comenio. We also took responsibility for the Christian Evangelical Argentine Institute, 3 km away from the school in the neighbourhood of Villa Real. We then created another evangelical school in Brandsen, a city 80 km from Buenos Aires.

 

CONTINUING THE TASK

In general, the CCRE's educational role and spiritual character was well accepted in every community and was expanded to take children from communities close to each school, as well as offering boarding facilities.

 

Nearly 5,000 children, young people and adults have been reached and had an education based on the Bible through schools that are attached to the assembly in Villa Real. Contact is made with their families and the surrounding community. There are hundreds of anecdotes and stories that, day by day, confirm the abundance of God's grace. Soli Deo Gloria! (Glory to God alone!)

 

Readers of this article should feel free to visit us. We want to share this vision with Christians everywhere. We also know that assemblies have similar tasks in other countries.

 

We continue to work as if everything depended on us, but we pray every day, because everything depends on God.

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