BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (BP) — Life is colorful in La Boca, a riverside Buenos Aires neighborhood where tourists flock to buy souvenirs on cobblestone streets flooded with the yellows and oranges, blues and greens of the shops.
As dusk falls, tourists abandon the port for the city’s center, and even the curbside vendors quickly pack up and leave. Within moments, streets that bulged with throngs of people are empty.
Behind the facades of the tourist attractions, the people of La Boca struggle to make ends meet. They live in an atmosphere steeped in uncertainty and loneliness. They struggle with drugs and promiscuity.
On a side street, a young single mother named Guadalupe lives in her parents’ townhouse apartment. Inside her doorway, a narrow marble staircase curves up to a sitting room. The grandeur of a bygone era is evident in art glass windows and crystal chandeliers.
Now 27, Guadalupe has lived in La Boca since she was 6. She works for neighborhood vendors selling miniature works of art, which she displays with great care each day. At night, she goes home to her parents and her son Franco, age 5.
Except on Bible study night.
A year or so ago, Guadalupe dressed provocatively. She argued and fought with Franco’s father. She sought peace in herself or with Buddha. She felt pushed around by others. She didn’t know Jesus.
But life was about to change for the young mother. Her co-worker Virginia had met IMB missionary Kevin Baggett at a Bible study in another part of the city. One day, while Baggett led visitors through the famous neighborhood, Virginia spied him in the crowds and asked him to begin a Bible study there.
Such a group was not in Baggett’s plans for sharing the Gospel with Buenos Aires’ 14 million people. As IMB megacity strategists, he and his wife Laura focus mainly on building a strong network among Argentine Baptist pastors and other believers.
But the Baggetts sensed an opportunity to share God’s love, and they seized it.
Baggett told Virginia, “If you can gather a group and you can find us a place to meet, even if it’s on the sidewalk … we’ll do a Bible study.”
The missionary never expected the eclectic group who now make up their Bible study: Willie and Carmen, a young couple from Peru who own and run souvenir stands; Pipi, whose family owns the pizzeria where the study meets; Virginia, the ringleader of the group who sells tours in her brother’s travel agency; Roberto, an earnest mâitre d’ struggling with total surrender to God; and, among others, Guadalupe who has such a hunger for God’s Word that she bought new glasses and has read the Bible through since finding Jesus.
At the study, “I met God, who is the first priority — He is the top priority in my life — and I really became interested in the Bible,” Guadalupe said.
Each Wednesday, Baggett encourages the group to go home and read a passage of Scripture before the next week’s lesson. But Guadalupe had a problem with the first week of Bible study homework. She returned and told Baggett, “I need to tell you I’m sorry.”
“What’s wrong? Didn’t you do your homework?” he asked.
“Well, I read those first three chapters of Mark,” Guadalupe said. “It was so good, I went ahead and finished Mark. I didn’t know what to do then, so I opened up the beginning of the Book, and I’m about halfway through Genesis. I hope that’s OK.”
In the year since the La Boca Bible study began, the Baggetts have seen God change Guadalupe’s life and the lives of others in the group. A local church “adopted” the group as a mission and allowed Baggett to baptize Guadalupe in their building. She dresses more modestly. She smiles a lot. And she passes what she learns on to her son.
“Every night, Guadalupe and Franco read their Bible together, and they kneel beside their bed and pray,” Baggett said. “Recently, she was at a friend’s house and she was looking for Franco. She opened the door and saw him kneeling down, and he was praying to God.
“The only way that stuff like that happens is if God does it.”
Guadalupe still hopes to reconcile with Franco’s father. In the meantime, she practices lessons from the Book of James to guard her speech. She’s building a stronger relationship with her parents. And she’s sharing her newfound faith with others.
“I share my testimony,” she said. “I show it through my life. That’s what I do: I totally let it show.”