Why Uruguay needs the hope of Jesus

Historically, Uruguay has been considered the most atheistic country in South America with nearly half the population identifying as ‘non-religious.’

The country has always prided itself as the most advanced and secular nation in Latin America, but the past few years have shown where this secular mindset leads and what can happen when you remove God from a culture. Uruguay is among the 20 countries with the highest suicide rates and the numbers only continue to rise.

Hannah Hawksbee

In 2023, SIM UK’s Hannah Hawksbee moved to serve at the Biblical Seminary of Uruguay in the capital Montevideo, where more than 40% of the population live, and where there are entire neighbourhoods with virtually no church presence.

Training Uruguayans to reach their own people has long been SIM’s goal and our work with the seminary has steadily grown over the years, leading to partnerships with several local churches seeking to train and equip the next generation of Uruguayan disciple-makers.

In her theological education ministry, Hannah teaches students and organises the Student Life department, helping to equip local Christians so they can reach communities that have yet to receive Jesus Christ and his message of hope.

Hannah with her colleague Fatima

“My prayer is that the Lord will help me to use the gifts and skills he’s given me well in his service, while also loving people well,” she says.

“I’d love my ministry to contribute to students growing in their love for the Bible, and especially in them reading the Old Testament deeply and thoughtfully, and that their faithful reading of the Bible grows their knowledge and love of Jesus,” she adds.

“My initial commitment is for two years, but my hope is to stay long term as I feel that you’re only just starting to get to know a place after two years. Building deep, meaningful relationships always takes time and intentionality – especially when you’re still learning the culture.”

Hannah’s association with South America began with her grandparents, who travelled to Paraguay by boat back in the 1950s, to serve among the Chaco communities.

“My dad was born in Paraguay and spent a lot of his childhood there,” adds Hannah. “As soon as he finished his studies, he went back to South America to work in Argentina and my mum headed there when they got married. I spent my childhood between Argentina and Paraguay. I’ve been a Christian since I was quite young and those places that were home to me, have shaped me and my faith in profound ways.

“Being a ‘Third Culture Kid’ means that you’re always working cross-culturally in some way or another because your culture is a combination of your parents’ and the places where you grew up. You get used to not fully ‘fitting’ in anywhere, but this can also be a blessing.

Hannah in Argentina with her brother Samuel

“If you understand a bit about multiple cultures, you can be a bridge between them, and my upbringing gave me an interest in other cultures and a diverse friendship group. While I love this, I’m learning that I still need to grow in my capacity to pay attention to the richness of what other cultures have to offer,” she admits.

After two years of studying theology in Canada, Hannah says she wanted to settle down and make somewhere home.

“I was ready to return to South America and come back to asado, dulce de leche and mate! Uruguay is a beautiful place where everyone’s been really welcoming. I’ve enjoyed exploring my neighbourhood and the local beach with my dog Bawny and my colleague’s been teaching me Uruguayan Spanish lingo!

Dulce de leche (left) and mate

“Doing theology in Spanish in a different cultural context is challenging, but it’s also humbling as I realise that I have to keep asking questions and admitting when I don’t know.”

Studying theology also played a key role in Hannah’s own faith formation and has grown her understanding of the importance of equipping Christians to think through the questions that might arise as they try to reach others with the gospel.

Hannah with her dog Bawny

“Wrestling and working through questions has been hard at times, but it’s also deepened and enriched my faith. The world throws a lot of questions at us, but God is big enough for our questions and the world view offered in the Bible can help us address these questions in life-giving and truthful ways,” she insists.

“I learned about Uruguay’s reputation as the most secular country in South America before coming and I’ve been struck by the amount of ‘spirituality’ around. I’ve seen offerings being left on the beaches and adverts for tarot readings at bus stops, so my desire is to train and support local Christians to press forward to proclaim Christ and see lives transformed.”

By Kerry Allan


  • Pray for the seminary as it faithfully seeks to strengthen the Uruguayan church.
  • Pray for Hannah, the professors, and staff, to be salt and light with the students they encounter.
  • Pray the region will be transformed by the gospel and Uruguayans will have a future that’s filled with peace, hope, and the truth of God.

This was posted on 6 June 2024 in Ministry stories.
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