Earlier this month a group of CMS mission partners and local partners travelled to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. They were there to commemorate “God’s sentinel” Waite Stirling and to walk in his footsteps 150 years after he first arrived there. Bishop Nick Drayson shares his reflections on their journey:
Tierra del Fuego may seem a strange place to go on a pilgrimage, but it was a desire to follow in the footsteps of Waite Stirling, Allen Gardiner and others that led a group of CMS people in mission (including four bishops, four clergy and five lay people) to board a small boat in Ushuaia and cross the Beagle Channel in very bad weather!
All this year the Anglican church in South America has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of two events: the establishment of the first Amerindian mission on Argentine soil, and the consecration of South America’s first bishop. But these statistics hardly do justice to the reality of what happened on these cold, remote shores.
The group of us that were being buffeted about on the tiny yacht felt some of what it meant to reach the “uttermost parts of the earth”.
Of course, the early missionaries would be more used to seafaring. The seas were their motorways (in much the same way as the Irish monks who evangelised Britain in places like Lindisfarne and Iona).
But we felt some of the vulnerability, and also the pain, that accompanied their vision to reach the Fuegian tribes.
The contrast between the majestic peaks and huge seas and the miserable state of the canoe dwellers was not lost on early explorers, including Charles Darwin.
The passion to share the love and hope of Christ led to very brave action by men like Stirling and Gardiner. The reports of this early period are gathered in the SAMS magazines, aptly called Voice of Pity. It seems the motivation for action which led to these heroic initiatives was the compassion of Christ.
The sad reality, which is felt strongly in the area today, is that the arrival of white settlers led to the extermination of the very peoples that the mission sought to protect. It was highly poignant for our two indigenous bishops, Wichi and Toba, to reflect on why their early brothers had not survived, and their people had.
This extreme vulnerability of the Amerindians, the pain surrounding their struggle for survival, and the initiative of the early missionaries, which ultimately led to the establishment and growth of the Anglican church throughout the different people of the continent, weighed heavily on our hearts/spirits as we crossed the channel and stood in those places where Stirling and others had prayed and lived.
It was heartening to pray with local believers, in some ways the direct descendants of those early missionary efforts. And it was inspiring to sense the same missionary call today, as the Latin American church looks outwards to the other “uttermost parts of the earth”.