The IELU is characterized today by its focus on social ministry. The 29 congregations traditionally served the middle class of Argentinean Society. Now the 7000 members are reaching out to poor and marginalized communities, mostly around the city of Buenos Aires, by operating day cares and other social programs.
The Patagonia region of Argentina is a long way south from Buenos Aires where most of IELU's 29 pastors live. In the past, it was difficult to recruit pastors for the Patagonia. ELCIC missionaries were sent to serve there, first the Niebergall family for 9 years and then the Kiel family for three years. They established this congregation in Esquel and a mission in Cushamen and led services in Comodoro Rivadavia.
This church building in Esquel was constructed in the 1990's with directed gifts from the ELCIC. After the Kiel family returned to Canada in 2002, Rev Angel Furlan, then President of IELU, decided that it was time for Argentinean pastors to continue the work that Canadian missionaries had started. Mission in the World agreed to sponsor two IELU pastors to serve in the Patagonia and established "Patagonia Mission Sponsorship".
Rev Sergio Utz was installed as the pastor of Hope of the South in Esquel and the mission in Cushamen.
The participants in the mission in Cushamen are primarily the indigenous Mapuche people.
The mission community in Cushamen has operated a "Cup of Milk" program for several years. It consists of supplementing the nutrition of about 60 to 80 boys and girls, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, during the school breaks in the winter, and during the summer vacations; the times when they are not receiving food at school.
At a project in Cushamen sponsored by the LWF, women spin wool and weave it into beautiful items, most of which are sold at the Benetton stores for tourists. This returns some significant income to the Mapuche community.
Rev Gustavo Gomez was installed as the pastor of the St John the Baptist congregation in Comodoro Rivadavia. As part of the Patagonia Mission Sponsorship program, the two mission pastors, Gustavo and Sergio, write newsletters for the ELCIC sponsoring congregations and visit them. In 2004, Gustavo became the first IELU Pastor under this program to come to Canada.
Rev Paul Johnson, ELCIC Assistant to the Bishop, (top right photo, kneeling in front) visited our partner church in Argentina in 2003 and experienced the mission and ministries of IELU.
The journey included something familiar; a pot luck after the worship service in Comodoro Rivadavia. In Argentina, wine is served with pot luck suppers, as is the case with most meals there.