The Adventure Continues
by Glenda Fulcher
Adventures? Yes, I’ve enjoyed a few.
I traveled to a foreign country at a time when only the privileged or politicians had the opportunity. As a missionary, I helped establish the first Free Will Baptist mission work in that country. A few years later we turned our attention to a new foreign country and culture where we eventually started a new church. And, recently, at age 73, I enjoyed the high adventure of returning to both countries and seeing that their adventure is only beginning.
The Adventure Begins
In 1962, the Paul Robinson family and my family—the Fulchers— arrived in Uruguay. In those days, the terms “career missionary” and “short- term missionary” were not used. When God called you to go, you went! We answered yes and made a lifelong commitment to missionary service. We had no internship, orientation, counseling, or missionary methods. We simply knew people needed to hear the gospel to be saved, and we wanted to do our part to see they heard.
After praying and planning, we decided to begin the work in an area without missionaries of any denomination. We moved to Rivera, a town on the border of Uruguay and Brazil, and began our first work in the rural area of Santa Teresa. We did everything we knew to do: visited the area, found a family willing to let us hold services on their property, and started services that consisted of singing, Bible class for children, and preaching. With no vehicle, we traveled by taxi or horse and cart.
As I consider the humble beginnings of our work in Rivera, I know it was the Lord who established a permanent work. God used our ignorance—our feeble attempt at doing it all in a foreign language—to plant the seed of His Word in hearts.
We began to see people accept the Lord as Savior. At times, the battle was strong. We faced the spiritual indifference of unbelievers, the pervasive influence of spiritism, and the constant battle against immorality in the lives of new believers.
Over the next few years, we planted a church in the city of Rivera, another in the neighborhood of Barrio Recreo, and one in the rural area of Aguas Buenas.
My heart was filled with emotion when I attended the 50th anniversary celebration services January 14 and 15. It had been 42 years since my husband Bill and I left Uruguay. It was a thrill to see that the churches we started were not only still there, but had grown. New buildings have been constructed. The children of those early years are now pastors and leaders, and other churches have been planted.
An enormous tent on the grounds of the Santa Teresa church filled for the anniversary services, and we truly had a great celebration, celebrating and rejoicing over what God has done in Uruguay in 50 years. In that time, several missionary families have come and gone, the churches have endured struggles, and some converts have fallen by the wayside. But praise God for those who have remained faithful.
Each church presented special music during the celebration, and individuals shared their testimonies. The celebration continued into the afternoon as we assembled at the camp property in Aguas Buenas, for a Uruguayan asado (traditional barbecue) and fellowship.
The testimony of Brother Casildo Trindade, pastor of the Santa Teresa Church, touched me deeply. He expressed his deep appreciation for the missionaries who visited his humble home and shared the gospel with him in the early 1960s. He thanked us for leaving our homes, families, and comfortable lifestyles for a place with no electricity, running water, or automobile in order to teach him the Word of God. My heart was filled with love and admiration for this servant of God. I am thankful to the Lord that Casildo has remained faithful all these years. His life has not been easy, and for some time, he was the sole pastor of three congregations.
I was blessed to see how God has blessed. From that simple beginning, God has raised up His Church and an association of Free Will Baptists in Uruguay. It was an emotional time as our Uruguayan family honored the founders, missionaries, and pastors, concluding the service with special prayer for each one of us.
A Second Stop
Before arriving in Uruguay, I also attended the 50th anniversary of Free Will Baptist missionary work in Panama, January 6-8. After working in Uruguay nearly eight years, we left the country to address the educational needs of our son. In 1971, we turned our attention to Panama. Tom Willey, Jr., had already established a work, and with the help of Cuban pastor Estenio Garcia, had arranged to preach in several locations.
When Estenio left Panama, Tom was left with all the work. We began working in Agua Buena (later named San Vicente) while Tom worked in the Panama City Church and several other locations. During our years in that area, the San Vicente Church and the First Church were established, and we began the Betania Church.
It has been 32 years since we left Panama, and a number of other missionary families have planted additional churches and established a Bible seminary. As people arrived on the seminary campus for the combined association meeting and celebration, I was amazed to see nearly 300 people attend. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back to the first organizational meeting of the Panama Association in 1972, with 60-70 persons present. Things have certainly changed.
The Panama Free Will Baptist Association planned a great celebration: a founders’ dinner on Friday evening, association meeting on Saturday, graduation service for four seminary graduates on Saturday night, a great celebration service Sunday morning, games and fellowship Sunday afternoon, and a talent program Sunday night. Once again, my heart filled with emotion to witness “children” and “young people” from 32 years earlier in places of leadership throughout Panama. What a thrill to see what God has done in that country.
The Adventure Continues
It was such an exciting adventure to begin and develop Free Will Baptist churches in these countries. If you have prayed and supported the work, you, too, have played a critical role in the adventure. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, and realize that many have planted, many have watered, and God has given the increase.
What an adventure still awaits! As I looked across the congregations at the faces of both Uruguayan and Panamanian children and young people, I couldn’t help but picture future preachers, pastors, teachers, and workers. The next generation will continue the adventure, reaching many more souls with the gospel and expanding the ministry of Free Will Baptists in these countries and beyond. Let’s start planning the celebration…the 100th anniversary will be here before we know it!’’
About the Writer: Glenda Fulcher and her husband Bill served as career missionaries from 1960-1979. Learn more at www.fwbgo.com.