Not giving up on life in abundance
From stuck in pain to set free in ultra-secular Uruguay
Sofía had good reason not to choose forgiveness. But carrying her pain and anger was a heavy load. She needed someone to journey with her…
Sofía (not her real name) in Uruguay had previously been trapped in an abusive marriage. As she struggled to move forward in her life, one day she ended up in a workshop about forgiveness led by CMS local partner Mechi Tarragona. Yet the four sessions of this workshop weren’t going to be enough. Sofía needed someone to journey more closely with her as she worked towards setting herself free of this hurt. Mechi wasn’t fazed – she and other members of her church community committed to journey with Sofía for as long as it took.
Where to start?
Mechi Tarragona and her husband Daniel are originally from Argentina and long to reach people on the edges, like Sofía, with the abundant life Jesus offers. They moved to Uruguay, often described as the most secular country in Latin America, at the end of 2018 after Daniel was invited to become Anglican bishop of Uruguay. They arrived to find a community that was disillusioned with the concept of church, but still spiritually open. In Punta del Este, where they live, lots of people are either atheist or practise a folk religion called Umbanda. Instead of trying to change people’s perception of church or reinvigorate the church that was already there, Mechi and Daniel started by asking: What is God doing here? How can we respond to people’s needs?
They felt God led them to start the Soul Institute, which aims to help people live full lives by drawing on the Christian faith, local culture and psychology. Much of their practice incorporates traits from Celtic Christianity, including connecting with God through nature, and a new community is growing alongside the centre, called Anam Cara (Gaelic for “soul friend”). Anam Cara is a church with a strong emphasis on community. Their focus isn’t meeting at specific times, but on journeying together.
Mechi and Daniel are both professional psychologists and through the Soul Institute, they offer retreats, counselling, inner healing workshops and more to people from all over the world. Their workshops cover a variety of topics such as managing emotions, the power of words and the meaning of dreams. Meeting and spending time with people on these workshops often leads to a bigger conversation, and to people meeting Jesus.
Forgiveness: the way in
One workshop that is offered regularly in different places around the country, which strikes a chord with many people, is on forgiveness. In this highly secular context, many people simply don’t know how to forgive, because they haven’t experienced God’s forgiveness. A core tenet of Mechi and Daniel’s teaching is John 10:10b (ESV): I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
But life in abundance doesn’t include holding onto past hurts. Soul Institute forgiveness workshops are spread over four sessions. Mechi starts the workshop by painting a vivid picture of a person walking through life carrying a bucket that fills up with things they haven’t forgiven people for. This bucket gets heavier over time, weighing the person down wherever they go. Over the course of each workshop, people learn to forgive, emptying their buckets.
Sofía’s experience of an abusive marriage didn’t mean forgiveness was impossible, but it did mean she needed time and the support of someone alongside her. Mechi and other members of the Anam Cara community walked with Sofía as she sought to empty her very heavy bucket. With all their support, one year later, Sofía chose to forgive her ex-husband. In forgiving him, she didn’t excuse his actions or absolve him of responsibility, but she was finally free.
Mechi comes across many people like Sofía – people who are stuck in their pain and feel like they can’t forgive. But again and again, Mechi has seen God transform people as they choose to work with him to be set free. And as Mechi and Daniel do more workshops and work with people one-on-one, the community of Anam Cara is growing.
Choosing not to give up
God’s offer of abundant life is for everyone, but so often, people seem to choose not to live in that abundance. Seeing the effects of not choosing God’s best, or of choosing sin, can easily bring us down. Not every day brings a success story, and sometimes, even Mechi isn’t sure she wants to keep going. So what does she do? When she feels down, she prays. She makes lists of things she is thankful for, of where she’s seen God at work in her own and in others’ lives. This changes her outlook and gives her the strength to keep going.
Sometimes, behind designer clothes or an expensive car is a person crippled by life, unforgiveness, a lack of love and a lack of God. Mechi longs to see people healed, whole and living abundant, full lives. She wants the community of Anam Cara to be like a lighthouse to the world around them, helping people see God’s love. As people are changed by God one by one, the hope is for each person to become an agent of change in their family and community, helping others to be changed by God and for abundant life to multiply.