Indigenous Mission Congress for Latin America

Indigenous Mission Congress for Latin America

6 to 10 October sees a unique gathering of Christian leaders from Paraguay, Argentina and Chile

Photo: A senior Wichí leader greets young people after their confirmation service. Catherine Le Tissier/Church Mission Society

Bringing together indigenous Jesus-followers from Paraguay, Argentina and Chile in a unique event

Paul Tester, CMS manager in Latin America, introduces the congress and how you can pray for it.

Indigenous communities in South America stand at a crossroads in terms of leadership, culture, relations to wider society and the land they live on. Addressing these concerns is a unique event, the Indigenous Mission Congress, supported by CMS, which will take place from 6 to 10 October at La Caldera in Salta province, northern Argentina.

Gathering at the crossroads

The event is the culmination of two years of consultations with grassroots communities of Mapuche people in Chile, Southern Enxet and Angaité in Paraguay, and Chorote, Toba and Wichí peoples in Argentina.

All these people groups will send representatives to discern together the way forward, inspired by the Bible verse from Jeremiah 6:16:

Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16 (NRSV)

The pre-congress consultations have developed five big themes which will be debated by 80 or so delegates, along with a handful of friends from companion organisations like CMS and Memoria Indigena, which works to capture and articulate the stories, testimony and theology of indigenous churches.

Big issues to face

The overarching theme is about forming indigenous missional leadership among the emerging generations of Indigenous peoples, explains Paul Tester, CMS manager in Latin America, who is helping to facilitate the congress:

“To be able to have significant impact beyond their own community, they have to not only navigate their own culture, they have to navigate the culture ‘outside’, the Latino culture, if you like. And so there’s that element of the meeting of two worlds.”

The second theme is about gospel and culture. Where some of the cultural elements have been squeezed out, are there good things that have been lost that are actually of God?

Thirdly, there will be discussions about the pressing issue of creation care and what indigenous people want to say around things like the use of land and deforestation.

Fourthly the congress will address the relationship between indigenous peoples and the state. What are the issues, what are the challenges, what does the church have to speak into those areas, often around justice issues like land rights.

The fifth theme is unity. What does it mean to be united as indigenous people from very different contexts? What does it mean to be united between indigenous peoples and the wider church? How do we work together?

Declaration of intent

The Congress will issue a declaration to mark the Day of the Meeting of Two Worlds (formerly known as Columbus Day) on 12 October.

“The actual declaration will be shaped and presented by those who are from indigenous communities,” says Paul Tester.

“Separately, those of us who are outsiders will be having a conversation about how can we commit to working alongside Indigenous communities going forward.

“We would love to say, okay, this is what you want to work on, we’ll walk alongside you in that. So that means the way that we place our people in mission, the way that we make grants, the way that we support that work will be shaped by this congress.”

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