Richard Exley Ministries

Buenos Aires by Night
Posted on May 01, 2008

 The night was electric as we made our way to the downtown location of Centro Cristiano Nueva Vida where Guillerom Prein serves as senior pastor of a church with a weekly attendance numbering nearly 29,000.[i] The downtown location is one of four venues where forty services are held each week in order to accommodate this thriving congregation. Although my brother Don set a brisk pace as we headed toward the theater where the service was to be held I found myself lagging behind, fascinated by the throngs of people crowding the streets at 9 pm on a Thursday evening. Street vendors were laying out their wares and a short distance away a street musician was singing a love song, his guitar case open beside him. I paused to listen while a solitary couple slow-danced on the sidewalk, oblivious to the crowds rushing by. Belatedly I realized that Don was nearly out of sight and I hurried to catch up, almost colliding with a harried waiter who was trying to deliver a sizzling steak to a nearby table in a bustling sidewalk café. 


Catching up with Don I couldn’t help thinking that I was a long way from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Geographically Buenos Aires, Argentina, may be only 5,000 miles from Tulsa but culturally they are a million miles apart. Spiritually they are worlds apart as well. While the American church has been discussing postmodernism, the emergent church, seeker sensitive services and the latest technology for enhancing worship, the Argentine church has been in the midst of one of the greatest moves of God in history. When my brother and his wife arrived in Argentina in 1976 there wasn’t a single Pentecostal church larger than 100 people. Now in Buenos Aires alone there are several Pentecostal congregations with weekly attendance numbering more than 25,000. Signs and wonders abound, evangelism is a passion and the worship is vibrantly alive!


Entering the street level entrance for Centro Cristiano Nueva Vida, we were met by one of the associate pastors who explained that the church was in the  process of converting this abandoned theater, and a block of shops surrounding it, into a fully functional facility. He apologized for the sultry heat as he led us down the stairs, explaining that the air conditioning wasn’t working as we carefully stepped around and through throngs of people. They were sitting on the stairs or standing in small groups along the walls, or occasionally sitting in a circle of chairs in a hallway, their voices creating a constant drone. All of them were studying the scriptures or praying together; seemingly oblivious to both the heat and the noise, not to mention their obvious discomfort. When I glanced a question at our host he explained that these were discipleship groups that met each week immediately following the cooperate service.  


Descending two more flights of stairs we entered a remodeled theater four stories underground. Seating 400 it served as the sanctuary and it was where I would be preaching as soon as the current congregation vacated the premises to make room for the next one. Given the level of excitement I had sensed as we made our way through the crowd I couldn’t wait for the service to begin.


When I stepped onto the platform at 10 pm the place was popping. A standing room only crowd worshipped with a passion you would have to experience to fully appreciate. Soon I found myself worshipping with my hands stretched toward the heavens, tears streaking my cheeks. Since the congregation was singing in Spanish I couldn’t understand the lyrics, nor did I recognize the melody but it made no difference. Their love for Jesus was so contagious, their joy so obvious, that it simply swept me along.  


I preached for over an hour with Don interpreting for me and was interrupted a number of times by spontaneous applause as the worshippers praised the Lord for His grace and goodness. During the altar service Don and I ministered with a prophetic anointing and there was a powerful move of God.    When the service was finally over and we were leaving I was surprised to discover another hundred worshippers sitting in an overflow room and scattered about on the stairs. They couldn’t see the service but they could hear it and apparently that was all that mattered to them.  


Driving back toward Don’s house I grew pensive. Why, I wondered, do the Argentine churches produce such passionate believers while many of their American counterparts have to embrace the latest spiritual fad to attract a crowd? Part of it may be cultural. The Argentines may simply be more expressive, a more passionate people, not to mention they are far less time conscious than Americans, especially when it comes to church. Many of their services are three and four hours long. Another factor may be the ratio of new converts in the congregation. With their emphasis on evangelism people are continually being saved and that produces its own joyous enthusiasm. Another thing to consider is how many times a week the Argentine believer is in church. Most are involved in four or five services a week, sometimes more. They are continually being recharged by worship and the Word.


Having been privileged to preach in three of Buenos Aires’ greatest Pentecostal churches I can attest to the fact that they each have their own distinct personality and vision. Yet for all of their individualism these great churches have several things in common as do almost all Pentecostal churches in Argentina. They pray without ceasing, they worship passionately, they preach the Word, they are involved in a signs and wonders ministry, they practice deliberate evangelism and discipleship, and they are involved in their communities in both rehabilitation ministries and charitable services. That sounds a lot like the early New Testament church described in Acts 2:42-47 doesn’t it.


My first week-end in Buenos Aires, I preached a marriage seminar for Christian Family Center (the church where Don and Melba serve as senior pastors). There were 140 couples in attendance and there was a powerful move of the Holy Spirit. At the conclusion of the final session I invited couples to come to the front of the sanctuary for prayer. Don and I ministered with a prophetic anointing, speaking words of life to a number of couples. After more than forty minutes scores of couples were still holding each other and praying together with tears of joy streaming down their cheeks. It was one of the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed.


Currently Christian Family Center is involved in a huge building program with construction underway on a 2000 seat sanctuary. Since banks do not loan money to churches in Argentina they are paying cash as they go. Already much of the concrete work is done and the walls are going up. When it is completed it will be one of the largest and most modern church facilities in Buenos Aires. Needless to say, it is a staggering undertaking and without divine provision it couldn’t be done.


On my final Sunday in Argentina Don asked me to preach “The Miracle of Missions – the Christian Chapel Story” in all three services. There was great anointing and the congregation’s level of faith was high. Following the message Don challenged the people to give and when the offerings were counted they totaled more than three times what the church receives on a normal Sunday. Of course the total offering was hardly more than a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the building project but we are thanking God for it and believing it is an indication of things to come. As Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will not lack for God’s supply!”


Overall the ministry in Argentina was incredible with scores of people (maybe even hundreds of people) receiving salvation, healing and deliverance. I preached fourteen times in ten days and in Argentina each sermon is followed by an intense altar service lasting one to two hours, sometimes longer. Of course during the altar service Don and I would personally pray for scores of people. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. As I was preparing to leave a couple of days ago, I told Don that if I could speak Spanish I would be tempted to move to Argentina and minister there fulltime!


In closing let me remind you of the story of the turtle sitting on top of the fence post – you can be sure he didn’t get there by himself! That’s my story. My fence post may not be very tall but I would never have gotten here if it hadn’t been for people like you. Thank you for being my friends and for investing so generously of yourselves and your resources to enable me pursue the call God has placed on my life.


This is Richard Exley straight from the heart.


[i] Centro Cristiano Nueva Vida has four different locations but their largest building seats only 1200 people so they have to have forty services a week just to minister to everyone. In addition they have 1150 cell groups. Since 1992 they have given $10,000,000 to world missions. Pastor Prein told me he was inspired to make world missions a top priority after hearing me preach “The Miracle of Missions – the Christian Chapel Story” when I preached the Argentine General Council in 1989. When he led the congregation in making their commitment to missions the church only had 1200 people and now their weekly attendance is more than 29,000.

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Category: Ministry