Unforgettable days in Chile and Uruguay

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April 2, 2015

A typical Latin American welcome or parting kiss. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

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Young pastors are responding to the call to ministry. Boris and his wife are in a poor mining town in Chile. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

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In each country I was treated to fellowship meals featuring local foods. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

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Church planters hold hands in support of each other after a workshop in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

<p>A typical Latin American welcome or parting kiss. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)</p>

A lot has happened since I last wrote. The ten days in Chile were especially unforgettable!

Chile, with seven climate sub-types, is 4,300 km (2,670 miles) long and 350 km (220 miles) wide.  I was almost down to Antarctica! Chile leads Latin American nations in rankings of human development, income per capita, globalization, transparency, and state of peace. The country has a female president.

If you look at the map of South America, it looks like a huge triple-dip ice cream cone. It has been a treat to minister and to be ministered to in the six countries of the Southern Cone, including Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Each country and its set of churches has unique gifts to offer. 

We have much to learn from our South American brothers and sisters. For example, Latino people warmly welcome each other with a gentle embrace and a kiss on the cheek. In these nine weeks I have received and offered hundreds of kisses! In some smaller churches it is practice for everyone to greet and kiss everyone else in attendance both upon arriving and departing.

I have learned anew how important is the role of greeter in the church! A warm welcome makes a huge difference especially to a stranger, which I have been—but in numerous circles no longer am.

I have long been distressed that we give such little attention to the celebration of Pentecost. In Concepcion, Chile, they have a practice that I believe would be meaningful. At 9:00 p.m. on the night before Pentecost, the congregation gathers for a meal, after which they light three torches on each side of the sanctuary and one in the front. After a meditation on what is needed for the Holy Spirit to enter their lives, the members, earnestly pray and wait for the Holy Spirit. On Sunday morning, with a large birthday cake, they celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.

Worship and sports are both practiced with Pentecostal fervor in Latin America! Worshipers seek (and sometimes force?) the presence, power and experience of God. Soccer and tennis players engage in emotion-filled competition. While I was in Santiago, the two top national teams played a championship game. Businesses and busses halted. Family and friendship parties were everywhere. Celebration of victory and pain of defeat were evident throughout the city. God has more to work with when there is enthusiasm and proper emotion!

A few notes about the ten days of ministry in Chile:

  • Felipe Elgueta served capably as my translator and right-hand assistant to churches and beautiful sites. 
  • An afternoon workshop grew into a four-day event and a beautiful communion service. 
  • I was hosted in a mountain home overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where a 4.6 magnitude earthquake reminded us of the big one (8.8) that hit in February 2010.
  • A hike on a rocky road landed me in an emergency ward with a fractured knee cap. With the help of a crutch and pain killers, I was able to participate in workshops as scheduled. Amazing care and hospitality!
     

​In Uruguay: 

  • I have been hosted at the former Mennonite seminary that—partially due to guerrilla activity in the 70's—was moved to Asuncion, Paraguay. It is now the site of the Floresta congregation and the study centre for the Uruguayan churches.
  • Four pastors and several students in my eight-session workshop are engaged in church planting.
  • Milka Rindzinski, who translated my PowerPoint presentations into Spanish, continues to help with making materials available.
     

I leave for home tomorrow evening. I am tired and limping to the finish line, but with a thankful heart. Thank you for your prayers during these nine rather intense weeks. In the many workshop sessions and messages, I have encountered capable, dedicated pastors and leaders. Strong interest has been shown in the Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective.  The resources What is an Anabaptist Christian? and Begin Anew have been warmly received and studied. Many friendships have been established

Gracious hosts, capable translators and dedicated trip-planners have offered exceptional help. God has been good! As we come to the finish line, I am confident that we are all stronger and better equipped for the work that God has given all of us to do. May the coming of spring bring new energy for the challenges that still lie ahead for all of us—such as Mennonite World Conference Assembly, where we hope to meet many of our global brothers and sisters.

As a resource worker with Mennonite Church Canada, Palmer spent nine weeks speaking and teaching in Mennonite settings in South America. As he visited Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile, his presentations focused on Anabaptist perspectives for Christian theology. Palmer sent this post in March 2015. 

Images: 

A typical Latin American welcome or parting kiss. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

Young pastors are responding to the call to ministry. Boris and his wife are in a poor mining town in Chile. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

In each country I was treated to fellowship meals featuring local foods. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

Church planters hold hands in support of each other after a workshop in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo courtesy of Palmer Becker)

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