“The future will depend on them”

“The future will depend on them”

The elders of the church in South America are seeking new faces who can navigate cultural and social changes and challenges

Photo: A senior Wichí leader greets young people after their confirmation service. Catherine Le Tissier/Church Mission Society

For many years people in mission have walked with indigenous groups in the Chaco regions of Paraguay and northern Argentina. Now communities stand at a crossroads, as older leaders pass the baton to new leaders who will face new challenges.

Amerindian indigenous lands, culture and the people’s very existence is at risk. These communities have been some of the most sidelined in countries where the majority European-descent communities set the agenda. Deforestation for agriculture destroys communities and ecosystems, and drought and flooding events along the Pilcomayo river have disproportionately affected these communities.

Standing together

Over many years people in mission have translated the Scriptures into local languages (Wichí, Toba, Chorote and Enxet, among others) and walked with communities in Argentina as they fought a decades long legal battle to have their rights to the land recognised – culminating in a ruling in the Inter American Human Rights Court.

Chris Wallis, long-term mission associate

But more than this, people in mission have simply valued these communities as those created in the image of God and precious to him.

CMS mission associate Chris Wallis comments, “The missionaries who went before are remembered with great affection, for living with people, eating with them, sharing their lives. Sticking by them in a society that was often hostile.”

Nurturing leaders

Worshipping communities took root and grew in the Chaco – and Western leaders have been accompanied and then replaced by leaders from within indigenous groups. In the Diocese of Northern Argentina, assistant bishops Mateo Alto and Crisanto Rojas are from the Toba and Wichí communities respectively.

Yet over the last few years a number of pastors and other leaders within Christian communities in the Chaco have died – and there is an urgent need to raise up younger leaders to pick up the baton in their generation.

Connections are increasing between the indigenous communities and communities of European descent, particularly as younger generations leave their villages for education or work and online platforms make connection from indigenous areas more viable.

Smiling Latino man in clerical shirt
Building bridges: Marcos Humacata

The next generation of leaders will need to be able to navigate the cross-cultural challenges and opportunities of being part of two cultures, and to be able to build bridges between them.

Church planter Marcos Humacata is a great example of this. An Argentinian of European descent, he was nervous when asked to help deliver some training for Wichí church leaders, as he was only just beginning to learn the language.

“I rely on my identity in Jesus, not my abilities,” Marcos says. “Through this training I have become more motivated and enriched with a wider vision and faith. I’ve been helped to have a bigger picture – and I can take that back to my church plant in Salta.”

Mission partner Nick Drayson sincerely hopes he will be the last English bishop of Northern Argentina

Mission partner Nick Drayson, Primate of the Anglican Province of South America and Bishop of Northern Argentina, says: “There are some excellent young leaders (lay and ordained) who are fully conversant in both cultures, and the future will depend on them.”

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