The Living Room
by Elain Vaden, JSM-Langham Scholars
The official name is Iglesia Evangelica Bautista de Constitucion (the Evangelical Baptist Church of Contitucion). Unofficially, it is known among the members as ‘The Living Room’. Founded in 1905, the church is the oldest of the Baptist Association in Argentina. Juan Jose Barrada-Toscano (JSM/Langham Scholar, PhD 2010) has been the pastor of this community for 16 years. He started attending the church 22 years ago when he moved to Buenos Aires from Peru to study at the Baptist Seminary. He says that he specifically wanted a church that would be a family to him.
JJ’s philosophy of the church has been shaped by what he learned from his professors. He learned from what he saw them model. Nestor Miquez, a professor of Bible and Systematics, is known among the homeless because he drinks mate (the national drink of Argentina) with them. Rene Kruger, renowned professor, lives incarnationally among his students, becoming their brother and friend. Juan Jose has pushed the church to change their identity from a church that welcomes the homeless to a church that is ‘among the homeless’. This is best seen in the ‘Living Room’, which is open every week from Wednesday to Sunday. It is the place to eat, to have recreation, to study the Bible, to encounter Jesus. The church has intentionally targeted homeless men over 55 years (according to JJ, this group has the least hope among the homeless). No one can serve in the church if they do not participate in the Living Room. This includes the professionals, working class and homeless. JJ notes that they seek to be ‘unprofessional’. Even the academics are encouraged to dress simply, to experience the street, to avoid ‘higher level’ speech. Bible studies are led by the homeless as well as others. JJ has often seen the homeless with their Bibles, preparing to lead the study.
Carlos is one of the men that has been changed through the community. He has a mild psychological disorder and has had periodic times of homelessness. He currently lives in the church with eleven others. JJ notes that Carlos now invites him to breakfast – he will prepare some mate and biscuits and call JJ to eat. He serves the church, assists others in locating assistance with problems. He studies the Word and leads studies. Carlos sometimes sells socks to earn a little money – and he will contribute socks to the offering as his tithes. (Juan Jose was obviously moved when he shared this vignette from Carlos’ life).
A birthday party is often like a worship service. You can tell if a person has integrated into the church by who they invite to their party. If one invites a certain social class, it is obvious the integration has not occurred (sounds like Jesus…). JJ does not want to focus on numbers but people. Every person is important, whether 100 or 1. The church should be a brotherhood of the redeemed.
Juan Jose hopes to start a lay-training institute that trains believers to care for the marginalized of society. The curriculum will include a focus on caring for victims of domestic violence as well as long term homeless and other marginalized groups.
|The Living Room|
For more about JJ’s philosophy of ministry, see this article on wordmadeflesh.org (opens in a new window)