Meet Jo Anthony, regional personnel officer for Latin America, who was recently interviewed by Janet Quarry, executive assistant to the executive leader.
Jo Anthony could work anywhere. She is articulate in both English and Spanish, highly competent and has an MSc in globalisation and Latin American development. Why then has she settled in East Oxford to work in what might seem like a pretty small office? She says she feels called to “facilitate others to go in mission to Latin America” – but what brought her to this place?
Jo’s parents lived in Spain when she was a child so it seemed obvious to study Spanish at school. When the opportunity came to travel during her university year abroad in 2000 she fancied something further afield and agreed to lead an Oasis team of three young people to work with local churches and in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru. The dynamic faith of her co-explorers and the commitment of the Christians with whom they worked caused Jo to look again at her own walk with God. For the first time in her life she had to rely totally on God and not on her own gifts and skills – and he didn’t let her down.
One lady called Noemi who lived in a shanty town made a particular impression. When the team went to visit her they found a house constructed from sticks and plastic, with the usual tin roof. Water was stored in plastic buckets and flies covered every surface.
However, Noemi’s faith was exemplary. She earned a pittance selling chicken feet kebabs at the end of her road but spent a portion of her income making sure she and her three children got to church every week.
Encounters like these made Jo want to work with a mission agency, supporting those who want to make a difference in Latin America. Before doing her masters degree, Jo became a youth trustee of SAMS (South American Mission Society) and during a summer break, she offered to “do some filing” in the local SAMS office. Eventually she started working at SAMS, helping young people get ready to travel to Latin America. When SAMS integrated with Church Mission Society in 2010, Jo applied for the job of Latin America personnel officer.
She says her job satisfaction is really high: “People are doing extraordinary things! CMS has mission partners working in difficult or even dangerous places. In Northern Argentina many indigenous people have no rights and no voice.
It’s often the case that local people can’t get medical care because they don’t understand the system, so local partner Cristina Vargas takes people to the hospital because otherwise they wouldn’t have access to the treatment they need. Some mission partners are incredibly creative. They see a need and just branch out to do something about it, such as making sure disabled people get therapy. How could I not want to help such people?”
Doesn’t working in an office get a bit boring though? “Not yet,” says Jo. “It can be challenging, yes, but boring? Nope!”
So why doesn’t she go back to work in Latin America herself? “I wondered if God was calling me to do that,” she admits. “So at one point earlier in my life I went for a year and a half to Argentina and then Nicaragua with Latin Link. I asked God to show me if this was where he wanted me. I came to realise during this time that God was saying no.” Jo says God was calling her to help others go overseas rather than be there herself. She’s determined to help others to be the best they can be and to do their roles as well as they possibly can.
As a key part of the CMS international mission team, “I make sure mission partners for Latin America are ready to go, that they have the training they require, the facilities they need to live overseas and the resources to ensure their re-entry to the UK is as smooth as possible.” Jo’s role often requires her to visit Latin America to encourage people in mission.
Even though she is mostly based in the Oxford office, part of Jo’s heart will always be in Latin America itself.
After returning to the UK from her initial trip to Peru in 2000, Jo continued to occasionally write to Noemi and a few years later was able to visit her once more. Noemi showed her a tin of precious keepsakes. In it were some pictures of her family, a necklace belonging to her mother and three Christmas cards Jo had sent to her. These women, though they came from rather different backgrounds, had a great impact on one another. A reminder that the smallest things we do can have a huge impact in the kingdom of God – even selling chicken feet kebabs.