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Discipling Latin America

Americas, Global, S America, Uruguay

Esteban Larrosa is the first Latin American native to serve as TWR vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo by Morgane Erisman / TWR

Esteban Larrosa sees a disconnect between Latin American religion and Latin American behavior.

“Corruption is the number-one problem in Latin America,” said Larrosa, 51, recently named TWR’s vice president for the region.

“So if Latin America has been Christianized and churches are growing, as is happening, memberships are growing in the evangelical area, why is society still dealing with corruption as the number-one problem? What do we have to do as a church to transform that reality?”

Larrosa, a second-generation TWR family member, said in an interview that he sees discipleship as the priority for the organization in the region.

“I would like to work to create a process in which we engage with churches and audiences to build disciples more than (just) believers or Bible-knowledge people,” he said. 

A native and resident of Montevideo, Uruguay, Larrosa became vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean on Feb. 1, as Steve Shantz stepped away to focus on his other role as vice president for digital ministry. It made Larrosa the first Latin American native to hold the position.

From his home in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, Shantz said there are advantages to someone from the region heading up leadership in that region.

“Having a ministry leader who is from the culture and whose heart beats from that culture is very important in ministry,” Shantz said, while adding that non-natives have served well in various regions. “I think it’s a tremendous advantage. He’s not the gringo with the backing of the United States and Canada.”

Tim Klingbeil, TWR’s chief development officer, developed a connection with Larrosa when Klingbeil was Latin America director and Larrosa led RTM Uruguay, a TWR partner.

“I’m thrilled that there’s a Latin American now leading the ministry in Latin America,” Klingbeil said. “That was something we’ve been moving toward for a number of years.”

Larrosa’s connection to TWR starts with his father, Lemuel, who was recommended to the organization by the evangelist Luis Palau. Lemuel, a Southern Baptist pastor, had coordinated the radio link for a Palau crusade in Montevideo in 1978. He went on to pioneer TWR’s work in the southern portion of South America, and he became well-known in the region as the Spanish voice of Thru the Bible.

The first TWR broadcast was aired in Uruguay on Oct. 1, 1981. In 1986, Radio Transmundial Uruguay obtained legal status. Lemuel still serves with TWR, editing a devotional book for and by Latin Americans that he founded 20 years ago.

Esteban Larrosa didn’t necessarily plan to follow in his father’s footsteps. He obtained his master’s degree at Wheaton College in Illinois on a scholarship from the Billy Graham Center with support from TWR. But in March 2000, he was invited to return as ministry director for RTM Uruguay. He went on to a regional leadership role with TWR in 2018 before being promoted this year.

Shantz was Larrosa’s supervisor for about two years, but has known him for about 10, Shantz said. He has come to appreciate Larrosa both as a deep thinker and a people person.

“He handles the Word of God very, very well, so he has that capability,” Shantz said. “But he also understands people, and he understands the components of doing ministry.” 

Larrosa has been both a program producer and a leader with administrative responsibilities, Klingbeil said.

“He’s got a very good grasp of the ministry in Latin America and the challenges they have and the understanding of how they can improve things,” he said of Larrosa. “And he’s got a good grasp of people.”

Larrosa’s educational background was in sociology. His seminary and school of communications were his father, he said. Although certainly influenced by his dad, he offers different skills and ideas, he makes clear.

“If you expect me to be Lemuel, I’m not going to be him,” he explained. “I of course have him as a mentor. He taught me the Bible, the Christian life, he has been modeling it for me. … But I’m not the same person.”

His black hair showing a touch of gray at the temples, his face highlighted by black-frame glasses, Larrosa looks like the deep thinker that he is. He also has a ready laugh and eagerly engages in conversation.

He enjoys sports, particularly football (known in the U.S. as soccer) and swimming. He also likes to read and make music.

He has been married almost 24 years to Andrea. They have two sons, 19 and 11, and a 10-year-old daughter. They enjoy outdoor activities as a family whenever possible, Larrosa said.

He sees a need to develop more specific programming for youth, for women and for men, Esteban said. But it all boils down to discipleship.

“Our main, key goal has to be to build up true disciples for Christ in Latin America,” he said.

That can only be done in partnership with churches, Larrosa added. It’s something that he has long been doing in Uruguay, which he calls one of the least “Christianized” countries in Latin America.

He asks prayer that God would give him the vision, the wisdom, the grace and the capacity to develop clear goals and align all of the Latin American ministry in a unified direction.

It’s vital to introduce people to Christ, Larrosa said, but then to take the next steps. 

“Now we need to see a transformed life and a transformed culture,” he said. “Because I know that when Jesus comes he transforms your life. You are a new creature.

“But now if you are a new creature, the new creatures have to build a new society, which transforms values, behaviors and the way we live.”

Image: (middle, right) Annabel Torrealba and Esteban Larrosa share the microphones in a 2019 broadcast from Bonaire. Photo by Brad Swanson / TWR

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