Missionary Diary: Opening the Bible in Uruguay

Joy Oliveira Woolmer and her husband Pedro are new missionaries with Church Missionary Society (CMS). They moved to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay in South America, 20 months ago with their two children. Here they serve alongside the local staff and students of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) movement in Uruguay.  

Mondays are my crazy day. I’m always thankful as my head hits the pillow, that it’s the longest possible time before another Monday comes around! After breakfast, Zoe (our 21-month old) and I head quickly to the supermarket for our big weekly shop. Zoe loves taking our wheelie bag, which is normally fine. But today, the streets aren’t so lovely. With the on-and-off rain all weekend, there’s mushy garbage, suspicious mounds of sticky brown stuff, and puddles of not-just-rainwater everywhere. It’s all part of living right in the middle of the city!

We arrive at our local supermarket and the security lady who greets us so warmly every Monday sprays our hands with sanitiser. Zoe gives her a COVID-safe fist pump and we exchange some small talk. I notice that today, she’s wearing a rainbow armband over the top of her uniform. I want to ask her about it, but my brain just can’t find the words – maybe next time. Rainbow flags have been flying proudly all over the city for the last few weeks. “Dear God, please give me a next time,” I pray, as we get on with the shopping. We pay for our things, take our shopping and carefully wheel it home. I get my son Mark ready for school and pack him extra food. Because of soccer training, he won’t be home until after 7pm tonight.

Mark and Zoe

Mark and Zoe on the streets in Montevideo, Uruguay

School is a brisk 20-minute walk from home. We play “20 questions” and say hello to our (homeless) street friends on the way. After drop-off, Zoe and I race home. There’s no time for the playground today, I tell her, we need to be home when Nikola arrives to read the Bible with me. Zoe loves Nikola (“Kla”, as Zoe affectionately calls her), and it’s been wonderful to see her in person rather than just on a screen. Nikola arrives and I put on some 90s Playschool for Zoe. She climbs onto Nikola’s lap with her (second or third?) morning tea and watches TV quietly as we open up our Spanish Bibles. Thankfully, I’m getting used to having two languages going on at once.

Today’s passage about Jesus at Simeon the Pharisee’s house brings out some interesting questions: what does it mean to love Jesus more or less? Are some people less sinful than others? How can we become more aware of how much we’ve been forgiven? I try to listen closely to what Nikola is saying, without letting my mind get distracted by how I might respond. We share some personal prayer points and pray for one another. Praying in Spanish is still really hard for me. I’m glad the Spirit intercedes for us!

Today, Nikola stays for lunch. It’s nice to spend extra time with her but my brain is starting to fade. My Spanish always seems to be at its worst in unstructured, social situations! Thankfully Zoe has found Nikola a book to read to her as I prepare our toasties.

Nikola reads to Zoe

Joy’s friend Nikola reads a book to Zoe

After Nikola heads off, Zoe has a nap and I take a moment to regroup. Once she wakes up, it’s full steam ahead: an early dinner and quick bath time, and off we head again to pick up Mark. Pedro has Bible study tonight (on Zoom), so I pray for extra grace and patience for the family to work as a team.

We get to school right on 6:30pm and lots of parents are waiting outside the school doors. The soccer kids are always let out late, which I don’t mind so much. This is the only time of the week I actually get to mingle a bit with other school parents. We see Jessica and Jak, Angelo’s parents, waiting too. They’re one of the few families we’ve been able to connect with outside of school since we joined the community in March last year. Our boys get on really well, so we’ve been to each other’s homes, shared food from our homelands (they’re from Venezuela) and celebrated birthdays together. They identify as Roman Catholics and asked for our prayers when their whole family contracted Covid earlier this year (and feared that they’d passed it to us!). But so far, conversations about faith have been slow.

The next half an hour is a blur: we head home on the bus, and get the kids fed (or re-fed!) and ready for bed. Pedro’s Zoom Bible study is still going, so I remind myself not to shout at Mark when he’s enjoying his hot shower a little too long. When at last both kids are in their pyjamas, they knock on our bedroom door to say goodnight to Pedro and the rest of his Zoom Bible study. As chaotic as bedtime is on Monday, I’m thankful Pedro gets to study God’s word with this group of students.

I’m a bit gobsmacked by her commitment and hunger for God’s word …

The clock is ticking and in 20 minutes, I’ve got a video call with Karina. As I turn off the kids’ light and close their door, I pray that Zoe will settle to sleep quickly tonight. Then I pray for myself: “Please God, I need a second wind.”

I call Karina and brace myself for her incredibly fast Spanish. She brings so much energy to our time together, but I often struggle to keep up. We’ve been reading Luke, looking at the different women that encountered Jesus. Tonight, we read about the woman crippled by an evil spirit in Luke 13. We talk about how love looks different to law-keeping, and ask ourselves which of the two motivates our own actions. We pray and as we wrap up (it’s around 9:30pm), Karina tells me abruptly she should probably go – she and her husband have guests tonight, but she didn’t want to miss out on our weekly Bible time together! I’m a bit gobsmacked by her commitment and hunger for God’s word, and more than a little ashamed that I was tempted to cancel on her just because I was tired. Thank you God for that second wind!

Well, that’s another Monday done! Pedro and I crash on the couch and watch an episode of The Crown together to unwind. I’m completely spent, completely Spanished-out, but also very thankful for the work God gave and enabled us to do today.

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