Landis church welcomes pastor and family from Argentina
LANDIS — A mission trip from Landis to Morteros, Argentina, in 2010 began a lasting relationship that had another highlight this week. Pastor Christian Andres Beletti of Iglesia Christiana Evangelica in Morteros came to visit with his friends at First Reformed Church of Landis.
Beletti, better known as “Pepi” back home, will preach both services Sunday at First Reformed Church. He brought his wife, Patricia, and son, Joel. They were accompanied by Constanza Herrero, or Conti, who is fluent in both Spanish and English.
The Beletti family speaks only Spanish, so Conti does much of the talking in the beginning. However, very quickly the enthusiasm of the Beletti family breaks the ice and various forms of non-verbal communication take over.
On Tuesday, the Belettis saw snow fall for the first time. They went sledding and made snow angels, then tried to make snowballs. Monteros, currently in the middle of summer, has a desert climate and the temperature was 100 degrees when their flight departed. The travelers arrived to eye-opening temperatures in the 20s, and it has been cold since.
“It never gets below 0 Celsius, or 32 degrees, at home,” Beletti said.
First Reformed Pastor David Franks, his wife, Dawn, and daughter, Leslie, have welcomed the Beletti family into their home this week and have also made sure that their visitors get a good taste of the surrounding area.
“We’ve done lots of eating, and we have seen so much beauty,” said Biletti. The Beletti family arrived Jan. 22 and will leave Monday.
Three more Beletti children remain at home. They are 14-year-old Jonas, 12-year-old Celeste, and 8-year-old Samuel.
Some of the highlights of their trip so far include being honored guests at a South Rowan High School basketball where they got T-shirts and their first taste of Cheerwine.
”Cheerwine is very good, and I’m going to take some home if customs will allow it,” Beletti said.
The group, often accompanied by other First Reformed Church members, has been to the Billy Graham Library, the Biltmore House and a Habitat for Humanity home. They have been bowling and to Kohl’s. They have helped the First Reformed Youth Group hand out bags in the neighborhood asking for food donations for Rowan Helping Ministries.
The Beletti family has enjoyed shopping and planned another excursion.
“Our first trip to Kohl’s lasted three hours,” Dawn Franks said. “We have also been to Hanes Mall and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Everyone was so excited about the clothing and the reasonable prices. The Kohl’s store manager gave them an extra discount of 30 percent after learning about their trip from Argentina.”
Conti Herrero they have a Walmart in Argentina, “but prices are seven times higher there, sometimes even more.” The group plans to visit a local Walmart before leaving.
Shopping was also a favorite pastime for the Landis group when they visited Argentina last April. Some of the most popular items were blankets, jewelry and hand-blown glass — and a caramel-type jelly, called dulce de leche.
“Mission workers David and Gay Roberts loved the stuff and brought back four quarts through customs,” Pastor Franks said. “I won’t say if they had to sneak it back into the U.S.”
Herrero, after serving as one of the interpreters in 2013 and a more recent First Reformed mission trip to Monteros, was asked by Pastor Franks to come to Landis this time as interpreter. She will complete her studies at the Universidad Nacional De Cordoba by July, and hopes to then return to the United States to live and work as an interpreter.
“While everyone else talks and eats, Conti is always relaying questions and answers,” Pastor Franks said. “She picks up her fork and then quietly puts it back down as she translates for someone. Pepi will gain weight and she will lose it on this trip!”
Speaking of gaining weight, both the Argentina and Landis groups have their own ideas about barbecue. After visiting Gary’s BBQ in China Grove, there was a lively discussion about which style was best. Pastor Franks described the Argentine BBQ as more Texas style.
“They put half a cow on the grill and then serve it with the bones and very juicy,” he said. “They brought me a rib and it was falling off both sides of a large plate.”
Beletti planned to participate in the Wednesday evening service at First Reformed before inclement weather and road conditions canceled that event. Various Sunday School classes and Bible study groups have already met with his family. He hopes that this First Reformed experience will provide momentum for some of the church’s projects back in Monteros. Beletti also credits First Reformed for a willingness to work with his church.
“They love and care for us. It reflects Jesus’ life,” he said. “I hope to take much love back to Argentina.”
Inglesia Christiana Evangelica, the only Evangelical church in a city of 4 million residents, continues to be on schedule to provide housing to area residents in need. The first two houses will be completed in the next few months. A ministry to assist youth with drug addiction is on track also, with most of the credit for this program going to church members Fredrico and Vafacundo, both former drug addicts. They plan to develop 10 acres on a beautiful lake for this purpose, while financing the project by building cabins on another 40 acres for meetings, conferences and retreats for other churches.
The culture in Argentina is much different for a pastor’s family. While the Inglesia Christiana Evangelica ministry takes a tremendous amount of time, the pastor is not paid a salary, nor are his expenses reimbursed. Patricia and Joel are both active participants in the church work as well. Pepi Beletti is widely known in Argentina as a former professional soccer player.
“It is not in our culture for the pastor to be paid. Only in some of the bigger churches does this happen,” he said.
“That is one of the biggest challenges,” Pastor Franks said. “Pepi must work another job and he is expected to use his own money for the church expenses.”
While not deterred by the Argentine culture, Beletti said, “We really depend on God’s power to make the church grow.”
Franks agreed, but added, “The birth of his church came about through sports. Pepi has a way of reaching young people. He points them to Christ instead of to him. Pepi can also reach coaches, not easily done in Argentina.”
When asked if she would someday like to live in Landis, Patricia Beletti said, “I think about my children. They would have a better education and certainly a better future. But we have much more evangelical work to do. I can see God’s hands providing and people working for God back home. People think they haven’t received enough from God, but they need to open their eyes. They should value everything and look at how much they really have.”
Joel Belleti, now 18 and a recent high school graduate, has a part in this ministry also, according to his father.
“This trip puts him in the forefront of our church. If he wants more young guys and girls, then he has to work for it,” Pepi Belleti said. “They will see that Joel stayed in his faith. His parents are praying for him to make the most of his challenge from God.”
As the connection between the two churches and the two congregations grows stronger, both pastors share a vision of getting more people involved in their ministries. Pastor Franks has thoughts of reaching more Hispanics and another possible mission trip back to Monteros. Pastor Beletti wants to continue to grow his church while facing significant challenges, and looks forward to more interaction and a long friendship with First Reformed.
Patricia Beletti reminded everyone of the words of Luke chapter 12, verse 48: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required: and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”