Recently, Jenny Muscat talked to Tim Curtis about his work as a mission partner in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Tim works on resources to enable the Enxet people to access scripture in their own language, following on from his involvement in the translation of the whole Bible into Southern Enxet.
Reflection questions for groups
If you are listening with your small group, you may like to reflect on some of these questions together:
- What was the one thing that most struck you when you were listening?
- What phrase or thought found an echo in your own experience or spiritual journey?
- Were there any common threads that linked the mission work of the people you’ve listened to and the needs of your local area?
- Does what you’ve heard inspire you to do anything in particular in response?
- What one prayer need will you commit to carry with you over the coming month and regularly pray for?
Jenny: Hi, this is Jenny and I am interviewing Tim Curtis, over Zoom. Tim, it’s great to meet you virtually. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re normally doing?
Tim Curtis: It’s great to be with you today. Yes. I’m Tim, Tim Curtis. And I’m usually based in Paraguay. I’m usually working in the Paraguayan Chaco. And I work with the Enxet people, the, they are one of the indigenous nations in Paraguay. And they, that’s about 200 miles, if you look at a map 200 miles north west of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. It’s in this region called the Chaco, which actually means hunting ground. It’s very flat. Yes, I’m based at the Anglican Centre, a place called Rio Verde, which is like a bit of a Wild West town.
Jenny: Sounds very exciting. And I believe you began with erm Bible translation and you’re now working on discipleship resources for the church to use the Bible translation you worked on?
Tim Curtis: That’s right. I’ve worked for many years on Bible translation. For many years I worked on the New Testament and the Enxet language. This was published by the Paraguayan Bible Society in 1997. And then, beginning in 2003, on this complete Bible, began working on the Old Testament of the Enxet language and then a revision of this New Testament. So we had a completely new Bible which was launched in 2016. Because so many people were using this Bible, you know, it was so well used in the churches, that encouraged us to go on with the work on the complete Enxet Bible. And so now I’m working in this place Rio Verde on discipleship training materials. Providing. Working with colleagues, providing materials in the Enxet, Guarani and Spanish language for the indigenous people of the Chaco.
Tim Curtis: Historically they’ve been marginalised. So there’s a lot of work to do in the preparation of the materials. As I say, I’ve mentioned three languages. It’s quite complicated working with all these languages there. So we are we are working in in a situation where people haven’t had much in the way of access to education or health traditionally, so there are enormous challenges. But the place where I live, the so-called Anglican Centre. That’s sort of a bit of a grand title. But it is a kind of large-ish compound with a number of buildings, including a large office, dormitory building and a wonderful new classroom that was just built 18 months ago. And it is here that the indigenous leaders and pastors, church leaders, come for their pastoral retreats and for Bible teaching. And it really is, this place is, I would say it’s the heart of the Anglican Church of Paraguay’s commitment to Bible teaching and outreach to the indigenous people. To the Enxet people and related peoples of the Paraguayan Chaco.
Jenny: Great. And is the church in the Chaco mainly led by kind of local people or are there a lot of other missionaries, mission partners there?
Tim Curtis: There are not a lot of mission partners. We’re a very, very small team.
Tim Curtis: So the churches are the Enxet churches the the leadership are Enxet and it’s mainly Enxet speakers and some Guarani speakers as well. But they’re all indigenous. They’re all Chacenos, as we say in Spanish, folk from the Chaco. And there’s myself, I have a colleague called Chris Hawksbee who’s involved. And then we have some of, a number of, Spanish speakers who are from the city. That means that not they’re not considered indigenous people, but they come up. Also, I’m working very closely with Agustin Maidana. And he lives in Asuncion. And he’s just recently been made the vicar general of the Anglican Church, because Bishop Peter Bartlett, the bishop of the Anglican Church of Paraguay, retired last year. So Agustin is responsible for diocesan affairs, but he’s a very, very frequent visitor to Rio Verde, to the centre where we do the Bible teaching and pastoral retreats. And he has a very, very good relationship, he and his wife have very good relationship, with the indigenous people. His wife, Teresa, works quite a lot with the indigenous women as well. So, again, so there are just four or five of us. We are very small team. But all the churches, there are about 18 Anglican churches, some with congregations of 40 or 50. Some of the larger ones would have 300, perhaps, members. There you go. You know, some of the churches, you’d be there on a Sunday and there’d be several hundred people in church. That that that their leaders are all Enxet people and um and of course they would normally be working under the authority of an Anglican bishop. Peter was English, in the future perhaps we’ll have a national bishop. We don’t know. We’re still praying for a new bishop.
Jenny: Great. And for you what have been kind of the highlights over the last few years since you were last back in the UK for leave?
Tim Curtis: I think, looking back, definitely, obviously, the complete Bible that was launched in 2016. So I was back in 2017, so I was able to share all the excitement of that launch when I got back. But again, being so encouraged to see people using it and to see them using it on social media as well. And to see that it’s resulted in more people reading, people who you didn’t know could read and write. Suddenly you discover, especially amongst teenagers, sort of self-taught teenagers who perhaps only had a few years of primary school education. And the Bible has you know, they’re reading the Bible. And then in a church, you see them going up the front of church and reading a passage either from the New Testament or from the Bible. And they’re reading fluently, they’re fluent readers. So that was that has been so, so encouraging. And also, it’s been used – a lot of the Enxet Indian communities have FM radio stations, just very simple radio stations. Some of them it’s just a palm log building with the equipment inside and everything. But again, a lot of the church leaders, the pastors, reading the scriptures, doing Bible studies, meditations, using the Bibles in Enxet. So that has been very, very encouraging.
Jenny: Great. Are there any particular challenges or things you’d like to kind of see develop in the next few months or years?
Tim Curtis: Yes, I mentioned that we’re quite a small team in Rio Verde. And we’re all ageing. So, yes, for moving into the future, for future Bible teachers. And people to continue this. It’s a long process of Bible teaching and helping the indigenous churches to mature and so, not just to come, not to be more people available for that, but also for the actual development of the site where we are. I mentioned the translation office and the new classroom that we had, we’ve got several buildings, one is a dormitory building. But at the moment, we can’t really have for example, I mean, I’m really quite ashamed to say it, but we can’t have women because we haven’t got sufficient, we haven’t got suitable accommodation. The bathrooms are all very primitive and just a very few. And so we’re hoping to improve the infrastructure at the site, so we can actually have a much more balanced group of people. Sometimes I show pictures of the pastors that have come for a retreat and there are no women. And it’s just that we haven’t got the facilities. But at the same time, you know, there’s been so much that’s happened in improvement to the facilities for the last two or three years that I am actually looking forward quite confidently that this is somewhere where the church, where the church leaders will come and get to dig into the scriptures far more than they have – in an environment, in a non-threatening environment. Because they – I mean, historically, they’ve been marginalised. Now things are changing an awful lot for the better. But they still are quite timid and they need a lot of patience and encouragement, especially with the languages. Spanish is the national language of Paraguay, as is Guarani. But a lot of the older pastors can’t understand very much Spanish, so there are tremendous challenges as well.
And also with young people. Thinking, again, some of the materials that I do are for young people’s services, and often we use a PowerPoint projector, data projector, to reach – help local pastors with – I can think of one church where they have a Saturday night service for the young people. But there have been a lot of problems in more recent years amongst some of the youth and young people. Sadly, quite a lot of suicides, perhaps people thinking they don’t really fit into society, you know, they don’t fit in any more because of course the indigenous peoples are a very small minority people. They are only about two per cent of the population of Paraguay. And in this Chaco region, they are about half the population. But now, as I say historically, they’ve kind of tended to be marginalised. And that is changing, thankfully. But there are a lot of kind of young people who are really hung up about their identity, who they are. The world is changing so fast. I mean, they’re all using social media. A lot of them have got smartphones. So they kind of, they’re kind of constantly evaluating now their situation, comparing themselves to how other people live around the world. So it’s opened up a whole new world as well. So then, negative things as well as positive things, you know in social media.
Jenny: And obviously the reason that we’re meeting over Zoom rather than in person is because of the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. What’s the situation in Paraguay and particularly in the Chaco at the moment?
Tim Curtis: At the moment, there’ve only been two cases of the coronavirus in the Chaco, only two people infected. And in the whole of Paraguay, which is under a rigorous lockdown, only 10 deaths so far. The papers – we’re recording this in May – and there are about 700, between seven and eight hundred people in Paraguay infected with the virus. But as I say, that figure of 10 deaths has been the same for about three weeks now. But there is worry because neighbouring Brazil – Paraguay shares 400 kilometres of border with Brazil – there are thousands and thousands of deaths and cases, and it’s rapidly going up the league of countries with the most cases. So that’s something to pray about.
And whilst the country is in strict lockdown, there are one or two exceptions to this strict lockdown. There’s been a massive kind of house building programme in the indigenous communities with new, very nice brick houses being built, two-roomed houses, quite small, but very kind of sturdy houses. But it’s meant that some of the communities have up to a hundred bricklayers and people that have come from all corners of Paraguay into the community. And that hasn’t stopped. So there is concern that people would be bringing the virus into communities where people are vulnerable. And the BBC World Service was, I mean on the BBC News, on their web page, they had a feature on the indigenous people not of Paraguay, but of Brazil, and how they are very vulnerable to this Covid-19. But there’ve been a lot of prayer chains formed around the country, a lot of prayer gone in. Even the president asked people to pray because, of course, they don’t have a very developed health system. And so, you know, maybe that’s one of the reasons that there have only been trapped deaths in the country. And although Paraguay is surrounded by countries where there’s a much higher rate of infection and death. So far, people have been spared that. And they’re praying against the virus, shall we say. Many communities and churches. Especially the Spanish speaking churches in the city have been forming prayer chains and again, using social media for that. Everybody having a slot as to when to pray. And also back in, just last month, in April, there was a national day of prayer and repentance as well, called for by the leaders of all the different denominations, all the Christian churches that got together. So there’s – again, you know, aware of this tremendous threat, danger that’s posed by this terrible virus.
Jenny: That leads quite nicely into, if people have been watching this interview or listening to this interview and want to be praying for you and for the Chaco. How could they be praying?
Tim Curtis: Well, I as I say, I’m here in the UK at the moment. And I’m spending time with my father. We lost – my stepmother died a few months ago, so, it’s great to be here with him at this time. So, I value your prayers just for this time, to be in the UK with him, and also to be at peace – I don’t know when I’m going to be going back. But it’s also a time for waiting on the Lord as well. I’m doing lots of reading and reflection and prayer as well. And for relating to many link churches and friends using Zoom as well. So, in many ways, there are many positive things as well. But in general for, and again for my colleagues in Paraguay, especially the Enxet people of the Chaco, that they would continue to support and pray for one another as they are doing, you know, using social media and their smartphones and those that have radio stations, a lot of radio stations – they are using those as well to encourage and support one another. So, again, there’s this sense of prayer as well. So: for them at this time as well, I’d value your prayers.
Jenny: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat this afternoon. That’s really helpful.