A Mighty Mission in Montevideo
The greatest impacts often start small.
Nearly 75 years ago, 17 German and Slovenian immigrant families founded the San Pablo Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in the Prado neighborhood of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. This small group of people—gathering together in a small South American country—had a great plan.
They desired to “become an instrument for the propagation of the church” while still retaining their customs and German language, said Rev. Mauro Roll, headmaster at Colegio San Pablo.
One member of the group, a German teacher, started a small school in the communal hall of the chapel. It was “first for the children of the congregation members, but soon it opened to the whole neighborhood,” Roll said.
This seemingly minuscule act would someday snowball into a mission that would accomplish what those 17 families hoped to see: spreading the Gospel in Uruguay.
Of course, building something from the ground up was no easy task.
Humble beginnings, humbling challenges
At first, the school partnered with the Argentinian Lutheran Church. It even received a bit of financial help from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) through that avenue, so the school could expand. But when an economic and administrative crisis culminated in 1996, the school was forced to close its activities and turn to the Lutheran University of Brazil (ULBRA) for help.
“Due to the emergency of the situation, the ULBRA immediately assumed the management of the [school] but was unable to integrate it into its educational complex due to legal impediments,” said Roll. “The way to find stability was to project a continuous growth, sustained by business plans, financed by local banks.”
By the grace of God, the congregation and school advanced into a time of prosperity. They expanded the building from 2,200 to 24,000 square meters and increased the student body’s size from 159 students to an average of 1,200. They were back on sound footing and could once again strive toward the goal that their founders had in mind so many years before.
Growing into the mission
Eventually, the school—now called Colegio San Pablo—became connected with the Lutheran Church of Uruguay as a mission of the church body. As the school continued to grow, Roll established the Concordia Educational Foundation (CEF) in 2017 to help manage and direct the schools, consisting of eight properties, 264 school employees and nearly 2,000 students.
“Beyond the financial advantages, we share the same mission with LCEF partners in faith who we can fully trust will search for formulas and solutions that bring mutual benefit.”
Rev. Mauro Roll
Headmaster at Colegio San Pablo
With that kind of growth, they needed a partner in ministry that could help the mission steadily flourish.
“Since 2014, the Uruguay Forum began to bring to Montevideo, every six months, Lutheran institutions that work together to develop the mission of the church in Uruguay,” Roll said. One of those institutions, the LCMS, suggested the school work with Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF).
Rich Robertson, a member of the FEC board and former LCEF president and CEO knew this mission was incredible right from the start.
“LCEF was asked to assist [the school] in their growth. As a mission of the Lutheran Church of Uruguay, a partner church of the LCMS, they have access to LCEF and its resources,” Robertson said.
“We were believers in their vision and capabilities to continue the growth of the mission. Their plan and projections were solid and realistic. Above all, we recognized the passion of Pastor Mauro [Roll], and his brilliance in managing and directing the school. They needed ‘more fuel’ to support the mission, and LCEF was the perfect partner.”
Although the mission of Colegio San Pablo was “7,000 miles away from St. Louis,” Robertson added, “we understood where they were and what they were doing. We wanted to partner with them in their ministry because that is what LCEF does, and this was just the kind of mission we love to support.”
Not so small anymore
Roll said that after many long talks with LCEF, they reached an agreement in July 2019 for a loan to the Lutheran Church of Uruguay with the FEC as co-borrower. With these funds, the school would build out the existing campuses of Colegio San Pablo and purchase additional property for a high school.
Not only that, but they would work to transform a castle—yes, a real castle—into a new university.
The launch of the university is currently on hold due to the pandemic. However, the preschool, elementary and high schools are thriving. In fact, Colegio San Pablo redeveloped a former watch factory to house the high school. The next step is to add athletic fields to the property.
Although the school isn’t so small anymore, the vision is the same: to be an instrument for spreading the Gospel in Montevideo.
“The school, together with the congregation and its mission points, are the only expression of Lutheranism in Uruguay,” said Roll. “Almost all the members of the main congregation entered it through the school. The possibility of being in daily contact with thousands of people—students, officials, providers, neighbors, families—is undoubtedly an excellent mission opportunity for our church.”
Robertson added that the school is reaching “people in the community who have never been exposed to Christianity. We could see that if they just had more resources, the name of Jesus would be stronger in Montevideo.”
Roll agreed. “The negotiation with LCEF allowed us to increase the available capital five times due to a lower interest rate, a grace period during the investment and a longer time for repayment. Beyond the financial advantages, we share the same mission with the LCEF partners in faith who we can fully trust will search for formulas and solutions that bring mutual benefit.”
“Under the great leadership and development of Rev. Mauro Roll, [Colegio San Pablo] has grown to be tremendously successful. It’s a respected school while also presenting the Gospel,” said Rev. Dan McMiller, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission.
Having grown from a small school of just 10 students to one of the 10 largest private schools in Uruguay, the possibilities for future development are endless.
“LCEF has been blessed to be a partner with Rev. Roll as the Lord continues to expand opportunities in the future,” said Rev. Bart Day, LCEF president and CEO. “International lending is unique and has provided LCEF the opportunity to strengthen and expand how we better serve partners around the world. We will continue to seek other such opportunities to serve our international partners.”
Pray for Colegio San Pablo as it carries out its seasoned mission of sharing the Gospel in Montevideo and beyond.