Donning her cooking attire of a ruffled apron and a head scarf splashed with images of red chili peppers, IMB missionary Berta Sosa squeezes green icing onto a cookie shaped like a Christmas tree.
It’s a Monday night at Villa Crespo Baptist Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Sosa is demonstrating how to decorate Christmas cut-out cookies during her weekly baking class. But the Argentine women gathered around the table are learning much more than just how to make sweet treats for family and friends. They’re learning about the love of Christ.
The class is part of Casa de Amistad (Friendship House), begun by Villa Crespo church to try to reach residents of the declining neighborhood around the church. The program also includes art instruction, electrical repair, music and tutoring for kids.
These sugar “sprinkles” are among the decorations Argentine women learned to use during a baking class taught by IMB missionary Berta Sosa at Villa Crespo Baptist Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The class was part of Casa de Amistad(Friendship House), a program the church began as an outreach to residents of the neighborhood surrounding the church.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
Only one of the women attending Sosa’s class is an evangelical Christian, so the missionary uses baking as a bridge for building relationships for sharing Christ.
“I didn’t start out talking about Christianity and the Bible because I felt I needed to gain their trust before I could do that,” says Sosa, an IMB missionary in South America for 28 years. “I’ve learned through the years that you need to gain people’s confidence first, let them know who you are and then they will want to know what you have to offer.”
After Sosa built that trust with the women in her baking class, she asked them if they wanted to spend part of the class time sharing tea and cookies and sitting in a circle talking together about their lives. The women said “yes.”
The first time they did that during class, “I told them I wanted to share something from the Bible with them. I read Psalm 23,” Sosa recalls. “One woman said, ‘I’ve never heard that before.’”
“Do you want to hear more from the Bible?” Sosa asked her.
“Yes,” the woman said. “I need this in my life.”
The other class members felt the same way.
Gradually, Sosa began to shift the class schedule to devote one session per month to Bible study. The other class meetings focused solely on learning baking techniques.
Through the class, Argentine María Güemes began attending Sunday worship services at Villa Crespo. Sosa prays the other unchurched class members will do the same.
“I pray that all of them will one day accept Christ as their Savior,” Sosa says.
BAKER AT WORK
IMB missionary Berta Sosa kneads cookie dough during an outreach baking class she taught at Villa Crespo Baptist Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sosa learned to cook while growing up as the daughter of migrant farm workers.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
That’s a decision Sosa herself made as a 10-year-old girl in Muleshoe, Texas, where her Mexican parents then were migrant workers in nearby cotton fields. Some Christians from a Hispanic Baptist church in the area invited Sosa to the church’s Vacation Bible School, and Sosa and her mother accepted Jesus Christ through their outreach.
“The [VBS] teacher kept talking about Jesus being a gift,” Sosa recalls.
Now, more than 50 years later, “I still see Jesus as a gift in my life. He completes my life,” Sosa says. “Because if it weren’t for Him, I wouldn’t be here [serving on the mission field]. When you trust Him and accept Him as your Savior, your life will change. When I tell people that, they want to know more.”
Sosa doesn’t always tell her whole life story when she shares the Gospel with lost people. But those who hear it are amazed by what God has done.
As an infant, Sosa spent her days sleeping in a banana crate while her parents picked cotton in the fields of West Texas. From then until she was 13 years old, her family moved every two months. They traveled from state to state to farming areas, living in crowded migrant camps.
Her parents took the children out of school to help in the fields from April to November. The second eldest of nine children, Sosa started working in the fields when she was just 10 years old.
After she accepted Christ that same year, “God just took over my life,” she says. At age 16, Sosa felt God’s call to missions while attending a youth conference in Texas.
“The preacher talked about serving God in special ways, and he mentioned being a missionary,” recalls Sosa. “‘What’s a missionary?’ I thought. But even though I really didn’t know what a missionary was then, somehow in my heart, I knew in that moment I wanted to be one.”
With only a sixth-grade education and no funds, Sosa trusted God to help her prepare for His service. By the time she was 19, she had saved enough money to begin school at what then was the Mexican Baptist Bible Institute in San Antonio.
While working as a volunteer youth minister in Alto Frio, Texas, she met her future husband, Manuel. Eight years after the couple married, Manuel, then a high school band director, answered God’s call to global missions, too.
In 1978 the Sosas headed to Kansas City, Mo., to attend Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare for missionary service. During part of their time there, they ministered to Hispanic migrants working in the apple orchards around Lexington, Waverly and Dover, Mo.
“I now realize why I was a migrant,” Sosa said at the time. “God changed my life so He could send me to minister to people who have some of the same needs.”
PREPARING THE DOUGH
IMB missionary Berta Sosa, left, shows Argentine women how to roll and cut cookie dough during an outreach baking class at Villa Crespo Baptist Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before their recent retirement, Sosa and her husband, Manuel, helped Argentine Baptists revitalize this church, which earlier had closed because of low attendance and the decline of the neighborhood.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
But God has used Sosa to minister to people from all walks of life during her IMB missionary service in Ecuador, Chile and Argentina.
The Sosas recently retired from their last field of service in Argentina, where they ministered not only to Argentines but also to immigrants from several countries living in Buenos Aires.
In the city’s Villa Crespo area, they helped Argentine Baptists re-open Villa Crespo Baptist Church, a church that had closed because of low attendance and the decline of the surrounding neighborhood. While guiding and encouraging the church’s young Argentine leaders, the Sosas also used their talents in Villa Crespo’s Friendship House outreach program. Berta reached out to neighborhood women through baking classes while Manuel gave saxophone lessons to young people.
At the same time the Sosas guided a thriving church plant focused on Brazilian medical students, Manuel ministered to Argentine politicians, and Berta led Bible studies for Paraguayan immigrants working in the jewelry industry.
Along the way, the migrant-turned-missionary touched many lives. One of them is Gloria Benitez, a Paraguayan immigrant whose husband owns a small jewelry-making company in Buenos Aires.
“Berta has been a spiritual guide and like a mother me. She’s taught us so much about prayer and God’s Word,” says Gloria. “Most of all, Berta is a servant of the Lord. You can see God’s face in her.”
But Sosa is quick to give God the glory for the ways He has used her as a missionary.
“Coming from a family that worked in the fields, being raised as a migrant, I think that’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” Sosa says. “My story isn’t about me. My story is about God in my life.”