The Apostle of Central American Churches

The following is an excerpt from The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions.

Francisco Penzotti (1851-1925) emigrated from Italy to Uruguay as a thirteen-year-old boy.  After reading the New Testament, he became an evangelical Christian. He developed his ministry under the tutelage of Dr. Thomas Wood from the Methodist church in Montevideo.  From 1883 to 1906 Penzotti traveled by ship, mule, foot, and whatever other means from Chile all the way to Mexico, opening offices for the American Bible Society and starting churches.  On January 10, 1889, in El Callao, a harbor near Lima, Peru, Penzotti founded the first evangelical church officially established in the country, the Iglesia Metodista Episcopal del Callao.  However, evangelical ministry in those days had many perils.  Penzotti spent eight months in a Peruvian prison, accused of preaching a different faith than the official one.

Penzotti in Jail
Penzotti (the man with the beard) in Jail

Immediately after his imprisonment, the country was torn by civil strife between allies and enemies of Penzotti.  The uproar was so intense that it reached the highest officials.  This episode was instrumental in changing the laws of the country to allow freedom of religion and the opening of the country to the gospel.  During his time in Central America, Penzotti preached constantly and opened offices for the American Bible Society in every country.  He became known as the Apostle of the Central American churches.  In a time of fierce persecution and religious intolerance, under Penzotti’s leadership more than a quarter of a million Bibles were given away and over two million excerpts of Scripture were distributed.  When he died in 1925, his name was directly associated with the evangelical history of at least twelve countries in Latin America.  The scholarship on Penzotti is exceptional because he left extensive records and diaries of his ministry.

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