A wake-up call

A wake-up call

Read how one woman in northern Argentina went from losing everything to finding the light of Jesus.

Sandra was living what she calls “a dark life”. Then one night she had a dream that was impossible to ignore.

Sandra is a thoughtful, quiet woman from the Toba people group and lives in Vaca Perdida, a small town in the Chaco region of northern Argentina. The Chaco is home to the indigenous Wichí, Toba and Chorote communities among others, who have long been marginalised by the majority society who are of European descent (criollos).

Life in this vast rural area is tough. The indigenous people are traditionally hunter gatherers, but with the forest depleted through deforestation livelihood is more dependent on the nearby towns, reached on roads that are often impassable due to flooding or tremendous heat.

And life seemed to have dealt Sandra a particularly difficult hand.

Broken romance, violent revenge

As a young woman, she fell in love with a man from a rival family. Despite strong opposition from her own family, Sandra and the man persisted in the relationship and she became pregnant – but then the man denied the child was his. Left alone to raise a child, and to try to rebuild the relationship with her parents, Sandra moved on.

Sandra (left) with other Toba women leaders

But when she was engaged to a man from the majority criollo community, the father of her child decided he wanted to be with her. After some soul searching she left her fiancé and got back together with the man who would become her husband. Sandra’s jilted fiancé was furious. He bought petrol and burned down Sandra’s father’s house where she and the family lived. They lost everything: the house, all their possessions, all their documents.

Starting afresh, Sandra and her husband had four more children, but more pain was still to come. The eldest of these children died aged four after an accident at school and the third died at the same age when she was given the wrong injection by a trainee nurse. Both are buried at Sandra’s home.

In the midst of this suffering, God seemed distant and irrelevant.

Since the turn of the 20th century there has been an Anglican presence in this region, first through the work of SAMS missionaries walking with the marginalised peoples of the Chaco in northern Argentina and neighbouring Paraguay.

Sandra is now a respected leader in the local church and community…
…supported on her faith journey by CMS partners including Catherine Le Tissier (left).

Generations of people in mission have campaigned alongside indigenous people to keep their land, translated Scripture into native languages and shared the love of Jesus, resulting in many church congregations across the region.

But this meant little to Sandra – while she participated in the local church, she didn’t really feel a part of it. Sandra kept away from people, feeling very ashamed as she had lived a “dark” life.

Finding forgiveness

One night in 2016, Sandra had a dream in which she saw two possible options, to follow others like a now deceased pastor, whom she recognised, who were calling her to the light. The other option led down to hell. This prompted her to look for God at church, but she didn’t get much from the service.

Soon afterwards she went to a meeting of AMARE, an Anglican women’s network affiliated with Mothers’ Union. AMARE gathers women together and helps them understand God’s love for them so that they can love and serve others.

The indigenous synod team, including Sandra (in the red skirt), are planning future mission among indigenous groups in different parts of Latin America.

This network began in northern Argentina with support from former CMS mission partners Shelley Stokes and Catherine Le Tissier, alongside a team of local women from different ethnic backgrounds and Bishop Nick Drayson (Catherine’s husband) who firmly believed in the potential of women.

At this meeting, organised by Catherine and the AMARE team, women from the community explored the subject of forgiveness. Sandra heard about the importance of learning to forgive, and the release that could bring. The night after the session, 14 August 2016, Sandra and her husband both woke unexpectedly at 3am. They both felt that it was the Holy Spirit waking them, and they were prompted to spend that time talking about all that they had gone through, their pain and struggles. That night Sandra and her husband were finally able to forgive each other for the ways they had each caused pain.

They wept as the Holy Spirit brought the power of God’s forgiveness into their lives in a way they had never felt before. Sandra remembers that John 14:6, where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life”, was so important to them. They decided to put Jesus at the centre of their lives going forward.

No longer left behind

Since that day, thanks to God’s work and the involvement of AMARE, Sandra’s life has been transformed as she follows Jesus. She has found a new peace in Christ, and a new strength for each day. Catherine, along with others including CMS local partner Mirna Paulo and the AMARE team in the Diocese of Northern Argentina, listened to Sandra and helped her to move forward, putting her faith into action.

Sandra’s involvement in AMARE has grown over the years, and she is now a strong, consistent and respected leader. Sandra is the coordinator of AMARE in Vaca Perdida, helping other women in her Toba community to discover how Jesus can transform their lives too. And beyond Vaca Perdida, Sandra helps to lead AMARE across the Diocese of Northern Argentina – part of a team of local women who now steer the group after Catherine returned to the UK in 2023.

Sandra in Cochambamba, Bolivia, for a meeting with other indigenous leaders

Sandra’s whole life is now different. Her family are united in a way they never were before, with Sandra and her husband encouraging the whole family to play music and sing to worship God. Her husband is wonderfully supportive and collaborative. He often does the cooking, and acts as a chauffeur on his motorbike to ensure that Sandra gets to where she needs to be, in a culture where women are often left behind.

Sandra’s faith has awakened and strengthened her desire to help other people in her community in different aspects of their lives. Alongside her involvement in AMARE, Sandra leads the work of a non-governmental organisation that helps over 160 women to sell their traditional weaving handicrafts, providing them with an important source of income. Sandra manages four workshops producing items to sell. That role even took her thousands of miles away to Italy to share and learn with others from around the world.

Learning and leading

Though many women her age in her community are resistant to new things, Sandra is keen to learn, including mastering technology that can help communities connect and thrive. She cares about her people, and seeks to learn in order to find the best for herself and for them. Sandra is very keen to help young people take part and lead, and supports young and old to make this possible, as youth participation is still new. She asks for space for the young people to take part and includes them whenever she can in church and community life.

Sandra’s commitment to the church continues – and her role as a trusted leader was recently emphasised as she was chosen to be part of the commission seeking a new bishop to follow on from Nick Drayson when he retired in 2023.

After a century of mission presence in the Chaco, more and more efforts are being led by indigenous people like Sandra, with CMS continuing to walk alongside these communities. Sandra now represents the Toba people on a newly developed indigenous synod that helps map a new future.

What a difference – a woman who lost everything, in a remote community not noticed by the wider world, bringing the hope and light of Jesus to change lives around her! Jesus never gave up on Sandra – and he doesn’t give up on all those like her who are pushed to the margins.

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