Uruguay, the second smallest, sovereign nation on the South American continent, with a population of approximately 3.5 million inhabitants, is a Latin country whose roots are almost exclusively European. About 90% of modern-day Uruguayans claim European ancestry, many identifying their lineage as Spanish or Italian. Less than 2% declare ancestral links with the indigenous Amerindian who occupied the land before the arrival of the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese explorers, beginning in the early 1500s.
Although not a factor in the demographic make-up of Uruguay, many traits and traditions of the Amerindians and the nomadic, pre-Columbian Guaraní people have mingled with the European influences to create a truly diverse and unique culture. The country's name is generally believed to have derived from a Guaraní word meaning "painted bird." Spanish is the official language, and English is spoken and understood in varying degrees in most of the larger urban areas. Portuñol or Brasilero, a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish, is commonly spoken along Uruguay's northern and north-eastern border with Brazil.
Distinguished by their larger than average upper middle class (when compared to most of South America), Uruguayans boast a very high literacy rate, encompassing 96% of the populace. A well educated work force and excellent work ethic have allowed Uruguay's economy to sustain annual growth for the past decade, even when many of its neighboring countries have been unable to do so. However, the country's successes have produced an extremely high level of secularism, which has given a great majority of the Uruguayan people a false sense of security in all matters spiritual.
According to a recent national survey, 47% of Uruguayans consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, but only about 1% attend mass regularly. An alarming 28% defined themselves as atheists or agnostics in their beliefs. An equally alarming 23% described themselves as "believing in God but without religion."
Uruguay's struggle for independence was long and difficult as the country's leaders tried to overcome a confounded web of national and economical interests of two European powers, Spain and Portugal, and two Latin powers, Brazil and Argentina. Uruguay declared independence in 1825, but was unable to establish true independence until 1828, adopting its first constitution in 1830. Montevideo, Uruguay's capital city was founded by the Spanish conquistadors in 1726. Strategically located on the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver), the city quickly became a military stronghold and an important commercial port. Today, the population of Montevideo and its surrounding metropolitan area stands at 1.7 million, which is almost two-thirds of the country's total population.
Shopping can be very different in Uruguay. Rather than going to a supermarket, most people still purchase goods at small, specialized stores, often family owned and operated. One might need to stop at three different stores, all located in one's neighborhood, just to get a few things to cook a meal at home. Perhaps the carnecería (butcher's shop) would be the first stop, and then one might stroll on over to the mercado de frutas y verduras (fruit and vegetable market), and finally leisurely duck into the panadería (bread store). Along the way one might take time to chat with the storekeepers and catch up on the news of the community. There are one or two large supermarkets in the country, but the Uruguayans still prefer the old way of doing things.
Speaking of food, you have to hear about the extraordinary Chivito, Uruguay's famous sandwich, that many say is the country's "national dish!" It is a monster, artery clogging culinary delight that some have described as a heart attack on a plate! Try saying this as fast as you can: lettuce, tomato, steak, ham, mushrooms, cheese, onion, garlic, and mayonnaise on a non-sesame seed bun! No, it is not a Big Mac; it is Uruguay's very own amazing Chivito!
Still speaking of food, Uruguayans have known for centuries the answer to the question, "Where's the beef?" In a country where cattle outnumber people three to one, it comes as little surprise that Uruguay leads the world in annual beef consumption. Every Uruguayan eats an average of 129 pounds of beef each year, compared to the per capita consumption of beef in the USA of about 94 pounds.
Currently, Chris and Erika Cisler are the only BIMI missionaries serving in Uruguay. At a time when many Uruguayans are disillusioned and searching for spiritual answers, far too few missionaries are heeding God's call to preach the Gospel in Uruguay. Sadly, many false cults and non-fundamental groups have rushed in to fill the spiritual vacuum created by a century of secular humanism. We believe that the time is ripe for a harvest of souls in Uruguay! Will you pray for Uruguay? Will you give so that souls will come to Christ in Uruguay? Will you go to Uruguay and be God's missionary to these needy people who are waiting in spiritual darkness?