In March 1825 the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of New York proposed the establishment of a mission in South America. This proposal was acted upon favorably by the 1832 General Conference. In 1835 the Rev. F. E. Pitts visited Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Montevideo and recommended to the 1936 General Conference that work be established in the first two of these cities. Consequently, Dr. John Dempster arrived in Buenos Aires in December of that year to begin work. The work flourished and resulted in the erection of a sanctuary. Because of financial problems, Dr. Dempster was recalled as was Dr. William H. Norris who had opened work in Montevideo. The local congregation, however, received permission to continue the work and underwrite the salary of Dr. Norris who came to Buenos Aires from Montevideo. On January 3, 1843, the first Methodist sanctuary in South America was dedicated.
In 1856 the Missionary Society sent Dr. William Goodfellow to reinitiate the missionary work in South America. Since it was forbidden by local regulations to preach the gospel in Spanish, the work was extended in foreign languages to colonies established in the provinces of Santa Fe and Entre Rios. With more liberal laws obtained in the country, Dr. John F. Thompson, a Scotsman brought up in Argentina, and graduated from Ohio Wesleyan (USA) on the 25th of May, 1867, preached the first public sermon in Spanish. From thence the work of the Methodist Church, followed in the course of time by other denominations, spread throughout the country. The missionary thrust went beyond the borders, and opened work in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. This work including the work, begun by Bishop Taylor in Chile, was organized into the South American Annual Conference.
The Methodist Church in Argentina continued growing in important cities like Rosario, Cordoba, Mendoza, Bahia Blanca, mar de Plata and in many other places. Many local churches organized primary schools, kindergartens and projects to serve poor people. On October 5, 1969, the church became autonomous as Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina (IEMA) and Rev. Carlos T. Gattinoni was elected as its first bishop.
The IEMA had seven regions since that date with seven superintendents. In 1973 the General Assembly approved a document about the strategy of a church. It affirmed: “The Methodist Church today defines its mission in our country as service to the total liberation as carried by Jesus Christ and to which He invites the people and societies of Latin America to participate…” “Liberation: this word involves two concepts which are inseparable, united and mutually dependent; personal salvation and the redemption of society.”
The Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina has more than 115 congregations, 89 ordained ministers, 180 lay preachers, 210 Christian education teachers, 7 primary schools, 5 secondary schools and one university.
There are many kindergartens, several projects that serve children and women. Its ecumenical contribution is very wide; we are a part of 33 ecumenical projects.
The church includes a community of approximately 20,000 baptized persons who hold membership in the church.
The Evangelical Methodist Church in Bolivia (IEMB) celebrated 100 years of work in Bolivia in 2006—an important event which served to bring together peoples from within and from outside Bolivia as a testimony to encourage us to continue our work. This work of evangelization started in the year 1906 with programs of education and health through the presence of missionaries from the Methodist Church in the USA. Later on the direction of the IEMB was assumed by national leadership.
At the present time, the IEMB works in an integrated manner in different areas of need with the population of Bolivia, principally with the poorest sectors in the cities and rural areas.
The IEMB is composed of 14 districts, 194 local churches and a membership of 9,190 which is served by a ministerial body of 37 ordained pastors and deacons. The mission, testimony and service of the IEMS is achieved through three distinct areas of responsibility: The National Office of Life and Mission is responsible for activities and programs of evangelization, theological education, Christian Education, Liturgy. Communications and programs with national organizations of women, youth and laypersons; The National Office of Services is responsible for Methodist Educational Service, Methodist Health Service and Rural Development; The National Office of Stewardship and Finances is responsible for the administration and finances of the IEMB.
One very important characteristic of the IEMB is its majority indigenous membership composed of Aymaras, Quechuas, Tupiguarinies, and other indigenous peoples of the Bolivian Amazon. The membership of the IEMB reflects Bolivian society which is made up of some 36 distinct ethnic groups.
In the city of Cochabamba in December 2004, the XVIII General Assembly of the IEMB conferred the responsibility of leadership of the IEMB for the quadrennium 2005-2008 on Rev. Lic. Carlos Poma as Bishop, and for the biennium 2007-2008, on Rev. Filiberto Ramirez as National Secretary Life and Mission, Dr. Rolando Yanapa as National Secretary of Services, and Lic. Javier Rojas, as National Secretary of Stewardship and Finances. One fundamental task with which these leaders have been charged is to produce a process of renovation and projection for the IEMB for a new stage of mission in Bolivia that takes into account the new historic and social challenges.
Another challenge for the IEMB is adapting the gospel theologically, ecclesiastically and pastorally in the socio-cultural context of the Bolivian population and ecclesiastic community. This means putting the Biblical message in a new context, a new understanding of the presence of God among the indigenous people and the search for a new pastoral model that responds to the adapted ministry of the church.
From the perspective of our historic Wesleyan heritage and in the spirit of Methodist connectionalism and ecumenical Christianity, the IEMB expresses its desire to continue developing its ecclesiastic ministry and pastorate. The EMS reaffirms its evangelical vocation of proclamation and criticism and its commitment to social service to the poorest and the marginalized in society. At the same time the IEMS asks for the solidarity and the participation of our sister Methodist churches who are also on the same road of common ministry: the building of the Kingdom of God along with its justice.
In 1835, Rev. Fountain E. Pitts was sent by the Mission Board of the Methodist Church in the United States to visit some of the capital cities on the east coast of South America. Some of these visits resulted in the formation of small groups of Methodists. This was the beginning of Methodism in Latin America as well as in Brazil, as one of these groups was formed in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
In 1836, Rev. Pitts returned to the United States but his successor, Rev. Justin Spaulding, arrived in Rio de Janeiro in the same year. Rev. Spaulding’s ministry was characterized by his ample distribution of the Bible, an unheard of activity in this country, by his stand against slavery, and by the founding of a small school. These were forerunners of the two great emphases of Brazilian Methodists, education and preaching the gospel.
In answer to Rev. Spaulding’s calls for help, Rev. Daniel Parish Kidder was sent to Brazil in 1837. The two returned to the US in 1841, but left the way open for other missionaries who would come to Brazil after the Civil War in the US, a war that lasted from 1861 to 1865.
After the end of the Civil War in 1865, many families from the southern part of the United States immigrated to Santa Barbara do Oeste, in the state of Sao Paulo. Among these was Rev. Junias Eastham Newman who arrived in 1867. But it was only in 1876 that the Methodist Episcopal Church South (USA) sent the first official missionary to Brazil, Rev. John James Ranson. He established Methodist work in Rio de Janeiro. This was 35 years after the first attempt to organize a Methodist group in this city.
Bishop John Cowper Granbery, supervisor of the Brazilian Mission, came to Brazil in 1886 with the purpose of better organizing the work and creating an organization to legalize the properties of the mission. He authorized the transformation of the Brazilian Mission in an annual conference (expression similar to our ecclesiastical region). The work grew and in 1919 there were three annual conferences: the North, the South and the Central Conference.
The Brazilian Methodist Church became autonomous in 1930 and elected its first bishop, William Tarboux, an American. The first Brazilian Bishop, Cesar Dacorso Filho, was elected in 1934. A strong leader, his episcopacy left a profound mark on the church.
The 1938 General Conference approved the founding of a theological school in Sao Paulo. It was 1942 before this school came into being by uniting the theological courses already in existence at Granbery Institute in Juiz de Fora (MG) and at Porto Alegre Institute (RS).
The Methodist Church in Brazil developed the ecumenical spirit of Wesley and therefore became the first church in Latin America to become a member of the World Council of Churches. This organization was formed in 1938, but due to the Second World War, it only was officially recognized in 1948.
The Methodist Church, at the present time is divided into six ecclesiastical regions, one missionary region of the Northeast (REMNE) and one national mission field located in the North and Northwest (CMNN). Today, the church has 144,000 members and approximately 360,000 participants.
The legislative organization is the General Conference. There is an Administrative Board (COGEAM), authorized by the General Conference, to administrate the Church according to the guidelines and orientation contained in the documents of the church. In COGEAM there are bishops, clergy and lay people. Each ecclesiastical region and missionary fields have one bishop. For the first time, there was a woman elected as
bishop. The eight bishops compose the College of Bishops, responsible for pastoral and doctrinal guidance of the church. There are four executive national coordinations: Administrative, Missionary, Educational and Social. The last General Conference was in 2001. For the first time, there was a woman elected as bishop.
These basic documents are Canones (the church Disciplines), the Social Creed, the Plan for Life and Mission of the Church and the National Guidelines for Program. In addition to these, the College of Bishops produces Pastoral Letters to orientate the church on pastoral and doctrinal unity and action.
Methodism arrived in Chile through the efforts of William Taylor in 1877-78. His self-supporting missions on the west coast of South America saw the arrival of missionaries from the United States, the establishment of schools and eventually the evangelization work in the Spanish language.
The mission came under the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1893, when the South American Conference was organized with Chile as one of its districts. In 1960 the Methodist Church of Chile became autonomous electing a bishop and adopting its own statutes and regulations.
At present the Methodist Church of Chile extends throughout the whole country. There are 126 congregations and preaching points with a membership of 17,600. There are 73 active ministers, one bishop and seven district superintendents. The educational, social and health ministries of the church coordinate the extensive work of institutions and programs in the seven districts.
The motto for this period is “opening spaces and places for the mission.”
Various attempts at establishing the Methodist Church in Colombia were not able to succeed in demonstrating the spirit of unity that characterizes a Christian mission and is part of the Methodist family. Bishop Isaias Gutierrez V., first to set foot on Colombia in 1982, had been previously informed of the work done by Bishop Armando Rodriguez of Cuba and Bishop Joel Mora of Mexico. The work begun by Pastor Gustavo Tibazosa Quiroga had run into serious obstacles, which finally led to its breaking into two independent groups.
Finally, in 1989, the “Methodist Christian Community in Colombia” was created. Headed by Pastor Luis Castiblanco, his marked Wesleyan accent became known throughout the popular neighborhood, Chapeinero, within the city of Bogota. They established two churches; however, there were too many obstacles in their path to further spread their work. Nevertheless, this expansionist yearning finally became possible with the arrival of the Rev. Manuel Grajales and his wife to the City of Armenia in the year 1996. Welcomed with jubilation by the United Methodist Church in the USA, Pastor Grajales managed to initiate work in Calarca with new strength. He was also able to Email evangelic leaders of great evangelic zeal and who were appreciated by the Methodist Church, its doctrine, identity, strong educational and social emphasis, its ecumenical opening, among other distinct expressions.
In February of 1997, Bishop Isaias Gutierrez V., President of CIEMAL, visited them for the first time. He has since realized consecutive visits to all of the works thus established in Colombia and has presided over assemblies and district gatherings, especially since the return of the Grajaleses to the United States for health reasons in 1998.
Presently there are two defined regions: the Capitol District and the Western District. The Capitol District’s work in the Chapinero neighborhood has great possibilities for extension, for which we are looking for resources. This work embraces health and social service programs as well as numerous ecumenical Emails that bring prestige to their work. The Western District includes churches and missions that have established in the Eje Cafetero: Calarca, Armenia, Pereira; in the Cali Valley: El Lido, Floralia, Agua Blanca, Los Laureles, more than one mission in the Northern Neighborhood of Cali; in Palmira; and the Church in Neiva by brotherly relationship. Their educational work comprehends an elementary and secondary school for 300 children along with the “John Wesley” Academy for long distance degrees. They are also hoping to establish an arts and business school. The social work consists of an open center for 200 very poor children, two day care centers, a welcome house, and a rehabilitation center for young drug addicts.
We have an integrated ministerial staff, composed of 15 pastors and seminaries, numerous lay leaders and a community of 1,300 participants.
We give thanks to God for being part of the Methodist Church in Colombia, called on to be an expression of a new rising amidst our convulsed society.
The United Evangelical Church of Ecuador grew out of the work of the United Andean Indian Mission (northern and southern Presbyterian, UCC and UM) and the Church of the Brethren. These two missions began work in 1946 and 1947 with indigenous communities.
In 1960 the UAIM began steps toward organizing congregations, and the Brethren were forming a small denomination, with a total membership in both groups of about 500, in 10 congregations. A Latin American Mission Board, representing Methodists and Waldensians, was considering work in Ecuador.
A study commission of these three groups recommended to the United Andean Indian Mission and the Brethren in November 1962 that they form a United Church, and to the Latin Americans that they work with this group. All groups accepted the proposal. In 1965 the dream of a national church was realized, and Latin American Methodists sent their first missionaries. In 1966 a Center of Theological Studies was formed to train local leaders of the United Church and other churches.
Twelve years later there were 16 congregations with a membership of about 1,000. The road has been difficult, but there have been positive steps. The old categories of missionary, pastor and layman have given way to co-worker. The evangelical “ghetto” has been broken, with Christians discovering anew the world, and a gospel for the total person. We have accepted the cost of discipleship and are learning how to confront the challenges of a modern world.
The church went through a crisis growing out of loss of confidence in leadership, poor administration, and abuse of authority. In 1976 the church named new leadership and began to move forward.
The first Methodist worship gathering in Paraguay was held April 9, 1988. Two years earlier, Brazilian lay preacher Dr. Norival Trinidade and his wife Ruth had initiated missionary trips to Paraguay, pursuing a vision they had personally received from the Lord. The vision was shared by the Rev. and Mrs. Virgil Maybray from Wilmore, Kentucky (USA) and with a group of Brazilian clergy and laity.
The Rev. Pablo Mora Bogado and his wife Claudete, who pastored a church in Brazil at the time accepted the challenge and became the first resident missionaries to Paraguay. They arrived in the country in march of 1988. Together with the Trinidades, the Mora Bogados began the work. The second missionary couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Inglis, from Atlanta, Georgia (USA) arrived in Paraguay in July of 1988.
In an unusual form, the Methodist Evangelical Community of Paraguay was born national and autonomous with strong support from individuals, local churches and missionary sending agencies in the United States, Brazil and South Korea.
The first Methodist congregation was established in Asuncion, the capital. At the same time the first Korean congregation was planted, under the Korean Church appointed missionary Rev. Chul Ki Kim.
In 1996 there were 16 congregations in the capital and in ten other towns and villages. There were 1,300 baptized church members and 2,800 participants. A small 40-bed hospital and mobile clinic operate in the capital and small villages in the interior of the country. The church maintains an elementary school in a local Indian reservation and a Bible Institute for training local pastors and national leaders. Workers leading the churches include missionaries from Brazil, the United States, Korea and Paraguayan pastors and local preachers.
Paraguay is a unique country in South America, as its entire population maintained its native language. There are two official languages, Spanish, which was brought by Spanish settlers and Guarani, which is known as the ‘heart language’ of the people. There are also small groups of indigenous people with their own cultures and languages. The Methodist Church is looking for a way to reach out and to evangelize some of these, using native Christian evangelists for the task. One of the strongest congregations is located in one of the reservations of the Tobas. The church also maintains an elementary school and a small cooperative, having built a number of houses with them, connected the village with electricity, treated water and availability of permanent medical assistance.
The first attempts to begin Methodist work in Peru were made by Rev. William Taylor (1877-1878), who tried to establish an autonomous mission church and schools, in the south of Peru where many immigrant workers from England and North America were contracted by the railway company.
The first attempt failed and was closed because of the Pacific war (Peru, Chile and Bolivia) and because many of the missionaries caught yellow fever and tuberculosis and some of them died.
After the war, mission work resumed, especially in the capital city of Lima and the most important seaport city of Callao. Rev. Francisco Penzotti, a colporteur of the American Bible Society, a Methodist minister of Argentinian-Italian background began to preach and to distribute Spanish-language Bibles to his neighbors in Callao. Because of this he was persecuted, imprisoned, and was in jail in Real Felipe from July 1890 to March 1891.
It was in this way the first Methodist Church of Callao was founded on July 10, 1889. It was the first evangelical Spanish-speaking church in Peru. The first Peruvian families who were a part of the “fellowship” were migrants from the rural areas of the country who were plumbers, backers, single mothers, widows—people who had left their roots and were alone. Marginalized by society, they found a warm welcome in the Methodist Church.
Rev. Thomas B. Wood arrived in 1891, and helped to consolidate the work of the church, founded two schools and helped in the struggle for civil rights (liberty of religion, right to civil marriage and against all forms of restriction of personal rights).
The first Peruvian ministers to be ordained were the Rev. Adolfo Vasquez, Jose Illescas and Ruperto Algorta.
The Methodist Church of Peru became autonomous on January 19, 1970. The church is composed of six districts with a over 5,500 members.
Large Methodist schools include: Colegio America del Callao, Colegio Maria Alvarado, Colegio Andino, Colegio America de la Victoria, Colegio Daniel Alcides Carrion, and an ecumenical center, Comunidad Biblico Teologica “Wenceslao Bahamonde,” trains church leaders and future ministers. In addition there are small local schools and kindergartens spread across the country.
Social work includes communal kitchens and feeding programs. Methodists in Peru try to find meaningful solutions to the needs and challenges that the circumstances of the country offer, acknowledging the Wesleyan theme that the “world is our parish.”
Methodist work in Uruguay began in 1836 with explorations and visits among the English speaking population. In 1868, the Rev. Juan F. Thompson who had begun Spanish preaching in Buenos Aires, Argentina, moved to Montevideo and started a very promising movement, especially among the liberal intellectuals and the independent middle class. In 1878 the Rev. Thomas B. Wood organized the Episcopal Methodist church in the capital city and other cities of the country, and founded the first Latin American Methodist publication, “El Evangelista.” In 1893 Uruguay became a district of the River Plate Conference (Argentina and Uruguay), and a Provisional Annual Conference in 1954. Since 1969 the church became autonomous, under a General Assembly every two years, with an Executive Committee of six lay members and three ordained members. The President can be a minister or a layperson.
Educational work began in 1879, with several independent schools under national leadership, that later on converged into the “Instituto Crandon,” one of the most prestigious and influential educational institutions in the country to this day. In 1957 a branch was started in the city of Salto. Good Will Industries was founded in the depression years to help the unemployed, the first of its kind to be founded outside of the USA. The “Good Will Institute” is totally dedicated to specialized education of handicapped young people. Day care centers are offered in some of the most needy areas of Montevideo, in cooperation with government institutions.
In spite of its small number of churches and members, the Uruguayan Methodist Church has been present and active in the intellectual and social life of the country, providing the leadership for Temperance and Defense of Women movements, the formation of the YMCA, the creation of the “Hospital Evangelico,” the National Federation of Youth, and the Federation of Protestant Churches.
Ecumenical relationships and projects are an inseparable part of the church, nationally and internatinally, providing leadership to the world church (i.e., Emilio Castro, former secretary of the WCC). A radio program “La Voz Evangelical,” has been reaching a national audience for 52 years. The church suffered the impact of eleven years of military dictatorship (1973-83), with the subsequent polarization and dispersion of membership. At the moment the total membership is 1,193 and the community served is 5,000. It has 11 ordained ministers, 4 lay ministers, and 478 people working in its institutions and programs. At present a missionary couple from the USA, one pastor from Argentina and one from Brazil are sharing in this ministry. “The Academy of Methodism” has been created to train the lay leadership.