There are times in life when God plants a mission upon our hearts that seems greater than anything we ever thought we could accomplish. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Four years ago, a young man from the country of Uruguay by the name of Santiago Ezequiel Fernández Rizzo had one such mission planted upon his heart. A mission to take on a project much bigger than himself that could change the community he lived in for generations to come.
Rizzo’s passion for spreading the Word of God inspired him to take on the challenge of reopening a church that had been closed for seven years. “There have been discouraging circumstances with members of the community and economic hardships, but each situation has created an opportunity to grow as a church and community,” added Rizzo.
Growing up in Uruguay, Rizzo felt the calling to serve God at a very early age. “I can remember when I was only nine years old and I was told about the history of American missionary Jim Elliot,” said Rizzo. In the 1950’s, Jim Elliot devoted his life to an effort to reach the indigenous tribes of Latin America who had not come to know Jesus. Eventually giving his life in an effort to spread the Word of God, Elliot would go to great lengths to learn the language, customs, and move many times throughout Latin America in order to break down barriers for Christianity. “It inspired me and I felt the calling of the Holy Spirit to serve as a pastor,” continued Rizzo.
As Elliot’s story stirred his heart to take action in his own community he saw an opportunity to serve his community that was stifled by drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and poverty. But most importantly, Rizzo began to see hope in the promise of Jesus Christ. His thirst to serve the Lord continued to grow, as did his desire to have a greater impact on his community.
It was at the age of 19 that Rizzo, a budding young soccer star, set aside the cleats that could have led to a way out of poverty and personally invested in his community. Rizzo understood that in order to have the type of impact that he had dreamed of having on his downtrodden community he would need to be trained. He enrolled at Seminario Teológico Hebrón in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia and would see the impact of his training almost immediately.
“I have been trained in various areas and provided tools that have proven to be very useful,” said Rizzo. His concentration has been in the areas of leadership, biblical counseling, and planning, but where he has experienced the greatest spiritual growth and development has been in his ability to effectively deliver the God’s message to the people in his community. Rizzo continued, “When teaching and preaching, others have remarked on how differently my message comes out and has made an impression on them.”
Since beginning his journey as a member of the pastoral staff of his church, Rizzo has led services, worked as the youth and sports minister, served as soccer coach, and operated as the lead pastor for discipleship. This is increasingly important as his service provides hope through the promise of Jesus Christ to a community troubled by suffering, dysfunctional families, alcoholism, rampant violence, and children living in the streets.
Rizzo asks for your prayers and support as he leads his church into a new endeavor. They have opened their doors as a safe haven and shelter for women and children who have experienced abuse.