SANTIAGO, Chile (BP)--Lyle and Claren Dease saw their ministry come full circle when 11 young athletes from the church they started in Uruguay went on a mission trip to Chile. The Deases have served in Uruguay for 16 years with the International Mission Board.
The team of young men spent a week in Chile conducting soccer and basketball games to build relationships with Chilean children and university students. At every halftime, one of the Uruguayan volunteers stood and shared his testimony. And after each event, they made themselves available to talk about spiritual matters with those in attendance.
"It's exciting to see young men get excited for missions," Claren Dease said, "to see them ministering and sharing their faith like that."
The volunteers ranged in age from 17 to 24 and included high school and college students, a teacher and a police officer. All of them are part of Iglesia Evangelica Bautista Nuevo Pacto (New Covenant Baptist Church), which the Deases helped start in the rural city of San Jose, Uruguay. Nuevo Pacto is a young congregation of mostly teenagers and young adults. The pastor, German Isnaldi, who also went on the trip, is only 29.
"This was the first time that our church had ever sponsored anything totally 'us,'" Claren Dease said. " paid all of their flight over."
On a night halfway through their time in Chile, the Uruguayans were scheduled to play basketball with neighborhood children in a park, but only six boys showed up, each around 12 years old who had played with the volunteers earlier that week.
Undeterred by the small turnout, the Baptist team Uruguayans played the basketball game as planned, stopping at halftime to share a testimony. After the game, three of the Uruguayans felt led to ask three of the boys if they had any questions about the halftime message. The boys said they did, and the Uruguayans shared the plan of salvation with them.
"We couldn't quite keep up with it" as the situation unfolded, Dease said. "One of would come back and say, 'The kid that I was with made a profession of faith.' And the next one said, 'The kid made a profession of faith.' We weren't sure if we were hearing repeated stories of the same person, but it turned out all three of them made professions of faith."
The team gave contact information for the boys to a Chilean Baptist for follow-up. Cliff Case, an IMB missionary in Chile who hosted the volunteers, learned that one of the boys has been attending his church in Santiago, Chile's capital city.
"I felt honored to have been used by God in this way," said volunteer Sebastian Lema, a 23-year-old math education student who led one of the boys to Christ. "Now I realize that sharing my testimony isn't as hard as I always thought it would be. I plan to be bolder about sharing my faith in the future."
In addition to the athletic events in their venture to Chile this spring, the Uruguayan volunteers visited two churches, repaired a play area for a special-needs school and did one-on-one evangelism among Chilean university students in cooperation with Campus Crusade for Christ.
"They're young so they have a lot of energy," Case said of the Uruguayans. "They were willing to be flexible and do a lot of things that they hadn't done before."
Putting the trip in context, the Deases said the idea that national believers can become international missionaries is still a novel one in much of Latin America, where many nationals are more accustomed to receiving missionaries than sending them. But the Deases see evidence that more national churches are starting to catch the vision for global missions.
Nuevo Pacto is one of those churches.
Last year the Deases took seven young men from Nuevo Pacto to Forney, Texas, where they worked with First Baptist Church there in sports outreach. Earlier First Baptist had sent volunteers to Uruguay to do basketball ministry through the IMB.
"One day Scott Lyle, missions minister, said, 'You guys need to come to Forney and do with soccer what we've been coming and doing in Uruguay with basketball,'" Claren Dease recalled. "When he said it, a light bulb went on, and everybody realized it really was something that God was going to make happen for us."
In Texas, First Baptist introduced the Uruguayans to the church's sports ministries. The Uruguayan volunteers learned to build relationships through athletic activities and to use those events as opportunities to share the Gospel.
When the Uruguayans returned home, Case, who served in Uruguay before moving to Chile, was interested to hear about their trip to Texas.
"Cliff said, 'Sounds like y'all had a great trip to the States. Y'all need to come do that here in Chile,'" Dease recounted. "And again, it was a situation where light bulbs started going on, and now we realize that was the Lord's leading."
As they prepared for the Chile trip, the Deases were careful to be selective about who would go -- the young volunteers would have to have a visible faith, be willing to go out of their comfort zone and be unashamed to share their testimony. Half of those who went to Chile also served on the team that traveled to Texas.
"This trip , in comparison to what they did in the States, ... was more intense," Dease said. "They did more in a shorter amount of time. And I think they accomplished a lot more."
Though Nuevo Pacto members aren't currently planning more group mission trips, two of the volunteers are involved in short-term mission projects in Alabama and Maryland this summer. Uruguayan brothers Nicolas and Cristian Almada are serving as counselors for Royal Ambassador camps sponsored by the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions. They also will participate, along with IMB missionary Lyle Dease, in a July RA mission trip to Maryland, where they will be leading Vacation Bible School.
Clearly, the Nuevo Pacto young congregation now has a vision for serving Christ in other parts of the world, IMB missionaries said.
"I just think this was the doorway that will lead to others," Case said. "And seeing that they can work in other countries in Latin America will just feed the fire for them to go to other places also."
Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the Americas.
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