“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” Psalm 139:13-14

One of the gems associated with the Disciples of Christ in Paraguay and Argentina is the Primera Escuela Paraguaya de Sordos (First Paraguayan School of the Deaf).  The school began in 1962 as a series of classes at the Misión de Amistad, then under the direction of Rev. Ray and Betty Mills. Marcial Godoy, a young deaf Disciple, traveled to Buenos Aires and Montevideo to learn about the latest techniques in instruction for the deaf. Upon his return, he partnered with the Mills to secure a suitable facility and in 1964 the School was born.

Escuela_Sordos_Shirt

In the following decades, the school has flourished, moving to a larger campus and increasing in class size. In the 1980’s a carpentry business took shape in the manualidades (trades) section of the school, through which the school served neighborhood businesses and homes.

Lucy_Rivas_de_Godoy

Lucy Godoy address the assembly.

Today, under the capable leadership of Marcial’s widow, Lucy Rivas de Godoy, there are 150 students, a training program for special education specialists, athletic events, and various partnerships with the Department of Education. The school has even risen to such prominence that last week, the First Lady sponsored an official act in the national Congress to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary!

Palacio_Legislativo

Here, members of the Godoy family are arriving at the National Congress to participate in the event.

We join the Congress in congratulating the Godoy family and the entire school on this special occasion, and thank them for their dedicated ministry in the spirit of loving service. Here’s to 50 more years!

signing_a_song

The chorus of the school performed several well-known Paraguayan songs. Some of the signs they used were similar to the ones I studied in my two years of American Sign Language (ASL) classes. I learned that Spanish sign language is not only distinct from ASL, but that there are even different dialects among Spanish-speaking countries.

 


The three lenses of adapting, grafting, and transforming can help us understand the relationship between Christianity and culture. Yet, I would also suggest two additional possibilities: link and respond.

At the beginning, Christianity linked Jewish and Greek culture, and quickly expanded to include others as well. In the meeting of cultures through Christian praxis, we grow in unity and share in Christ.

Students cross over the water at a camp run by Mary Martínez, who served as a missionary in the Congo.

This intercultural intersection allows the church a vantage point a little removed from the host culture. From here, we may respond to the culture. When a church responds to culture, we listen to what the culture is saying, treating it as a serious dialogue partner- there might well be some truth in what the culture says. Having listened, we then respond with our Christian perspective.

Some examples: in Argentina, we are fond of singing the important South African hymn, “Siyahamba”, which is “We are walking in the light of God”, and in Spanish, “caminemos a la luz de Dios”. By singing this song of freedom from another country, we link cultures in a way that emphasizes solidarity and justice.

The cancionero of the church in Barranqueras.

In Paraguay, a very common expression is, “Así no más”, which means basically, “just leave it.” It’s a way of saying something isn’t worth doing or it’s not important or it doesn’t matter. To “Así no más”, the church in Paraguay is responding, “Sí se puede” – “yes we can”, or, “let’s do it!” In this way, we convey that we understand the factors that lead people to say “así no más” yet we as the church have something more to add.

Church members are imagining the layout of a new city during a leadership workshop in Ciudad del Este.

I would summarize these perspectives:

Adapt:    X  – > X   (The church takes what the culture offers)

Graft:       X – > HOLY (The church ignores, even shuns, what the culture offers)

Transform:   X – > t  (The church turns the cultural attribute into a sign of the Cross)

Link:     X – > cx    (Do you see the Jesus fish when we join the two cultures?)

Respond:         X – > in place of X, Y

What other possibilities are out there?


Dora Imfeld died this morning in Resistencia, after several months of treatment and operations related to her cancer. Funeral services were held this evening in Vedia, her home town, where she was the pastor of the Disciples of Christ congregation. The church was filled to capacity with family, friends, neighbors, well-wishers, and church members.

Dora inspired many of us with her energy, her sense of humor, her deep commitment to the Gospel, her care, and her patience. We have been especially moved by her leadership in the construction of a new church building, after the old one was leveled by a tornado. Thanks to her sacrifice and dedication, the building is now usable as a church and work continues to progress.

We request your thoughts and prayers for her family and for the church in Vedia.


My goodbye party in Resistencia in August. Dulce de leche cake makes sad farewells a little sweeter. (It was also James’ birthday.)

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I (Marian) am sitting in my brother’s apartment in Atlanta, watching the dessert plates pile up in the sink as my family and I wander between the couch and the refrigerator to scavenge leftovers. Though I am surrounded by family, I do feel a little adrift without my spouse; I returned to the US in August to begin an anthropology graduate program while James stayed behind to finish our year-long mission appointment. Thankfully, he wraps up his time in Argentina and Paraguay in just one month. Our phone conversations now alternate between the logistical details of his move back to the US—saying goodbye to friends, settling into a new house, looking for a job—and our reflections on what mission work has taught us.

Separated from my mission experience by a bit of distance and time, my impressions have had the chance to crystallize and sink a little deeper into my being. And I find that so many of these lessons gel in the presence of difference: contrast, it seems, enables clarity. For example, I think about my first week back in New York, when every aspect of life in the US sparkled with freshness before my South Americanized eyes. I marveled at the ease with which the taxi driver chatted with me on the ride from the airport, the racial diversity of my fellow subway riders, the chains of cyclists drafting through Central Park. After seven months away, each detail seemed new and yet so comfortably familiar. The contrasts to life in the Southern Cone helped me realize that I had at last come home.

Fall in Central Park

Three months later, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and home suddenly became foreign. The abrupt break with normal life elicited unexpected comparisons to life back in South America. Images of tide-tossed rail cars evoked memories of February’s Once train disaster in Buenos Aires, and TV footage of displaced Staten Island families reminded me of the despairing wives and children left behind after the June altercation between farmers and police left 17 people dead in eastern Paraguay.

Hurricane Sandy deposited a shipping container on railroad tracks in NJ. Photo source: CBS

A commuter train crashed in Buenos Aires’ Once station in February. Photo source: Daily Mail

The New York Times recently published a photo of a well-dressed woman picking her way through the blackened bones of the Breezy Point, NY, neighborhood. The strangeness of her stylish clothes amidst the smoldering devastation remind the viewer that disaster is not supposed to happen here – life in the US is supposed to be secure, comfortable, and follow an ever-upward trajectory. With Hurricane Sandy, we were suddenly connected to Argentine train riders, Paraguayan farmers, and billions of others around the world whose lives are marked by uncertainty and instability.

Homes destroyed by fire in Breezy Point, NY. Photo source: New York Times

The contrasts and comparisons of the past three months have brought home for me the sense that we are deeply and inextricably connected to one another. Our vulnerability links us to so many others who have felt the desperation of watching life spin out of control due to weather, economic circumstances, or political instability. May our humanity in the face of disaster also bind us together, giving us the strength rise from the tears and the ashes.


The Cátedra Carnahan is an annual lecture series hosted by ISEDET in Buenos Aires. This year, Dr. Luis Rivera Pagán spoke on the topic of, ¨Iglesia, colonialidad y liberación: reflexiones histórico/teológicas desde El Caribe¨ (The Church, the situation of being colonized, and liberation: historical-theological reflections from the Caribbean.)

Dr. Pagán (center) with respondents Dr. Mario Yutzis and Dr. Celina Lértora de Mendoza

One of the conference participants mentioned three possibilities that can happen when Christianity encounters a new culture: Christianity adapts to the culture, Christianity is grafted onto the culture, and/or Christianity seeks to transform the culture.

Culture is supremely important for Christianity. Language, music, food, and patterns of thinking are all incorporated into the life of the church. This was true of even original Christianity, when Paul drew on concepts of Greek medicine to make his points. So, as a missionary, I often think about culture and how the church relates to it. In what ways do we adapt, graft, or transform? Here are a few examples from my experience here.

“Marginado y golpeado” (Marginalized and beaten)

Christianity adapts to the culture when, for instance, a pastor in Paraguay spoke about Dr. Gaspar de Francia as a hero and a role model for young people. From everything I have read I believe Dr. Francia was a forceful and arbitrary dictator, yet without him, it’s less likely that Paraguay would have survived and thrived as a sovereign nation. Therefore he is enshrined in the Pantheon of Heroes for serving and protecting his country. When the church points to host culture heroes like Dr. Francia as positive examples, we are adapting to the culture around us.

Dr. Francia in the Pantheon of Heroes

For an example of religion grafted onto the culture, I´ll slip over to the Mormons. They are active here in Resistencia as well as in Paraguay, so much so that when I tell people I’m a missionary, immediately they ask if I’m a Mormon. I cannot weigh in on how Christianity is practiced among the Mormons of South America, but the architecture of this church at least suggests the grafting model. The tall steeple and belfry indicate a style of architecture developed in the context of North American Christianity, which is brought down by the missionaries more or less intact.

The Mormon Church in Villa Don Rafael, Resistencia

And, I’ll close with an example of Christianity transforming the culture. In both Paraguay and Argentina, people go all out to celebrate birthdays. The church is taking this cultural pattern and transforming it, by hosting special worship services of thanksgiving and dedication; for instance, we celebrated the 15th birthday of Flor Mareco, daughter of Pastor Mareco, with a moving worship followed by a dinner. By celebrating birthdays in church, we give new religious meaning to a cultural practice – neither just accommodating ourselves to it, nor passing right over it.

Ana Pacce receives a hug at her 70th birthday

Stay tuned for more on this topic! (And, please share if you have examples of your own!)


“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” Isaiah 6:8

 When he was a young man, Epifanio Aquino took a career diagnostic that found he was especially suited to be either a soldier or a pastor. Aquino’s family had a proud tradition of military service and they urged him to continue in that path. Paraguay honors its armed forces at every occasion, and in the Pantheon of Heroes at the city center, the Virgin Mary guards the remains of Paraguay’s great generals and military dictators.

The Pantheon of Heroes, where repose the bodies of Dr. Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, Don Carlos Antonio López, Mariscal Francisco Solana López, and Mariscal Estigarribia.

But Epifanio decided to be a minister. And so, he dedicated himself to building up the church, leading a life no less adventuresome than the life of a soldier. He’s accompanied groups of believers threatened by Catholic mobs throwing rocks. He’s visited church members wrongfully jailed and secured their release. He’s started several programs to attend to the physical and social needs of the community, including food distribution and family planning. And, he’s faithfully preached the gospel of love and redemption every step of the way.

Here we are under the mango tree in the yard of the church at Lambaré, which has helped feed quite a few families over the years.

Today, Rev. Aquino remains active, preaching occasionally at his church in Lambaré where his son Darío Aquino is pastor. Rev. Epifanio Aquino is especially happy that one of his sons has followed him into the ministry, and now he is beside himself that a grandson, José Aquino, has finished his theological studies and is entering the pastorate as well.

José Aquino delivers a Good Friday sermon in the Lambaré sanctuary.

 I give thanks to God for the courage of Rev. Aquino in choosing a new path, and for everyone who in some manner has gone before, opening doors and creating possibilities that we now take for granted. May God continue to bless Rev. Aquino, his family, and his ministry! Amen.


A card with a prayer and a tea-kettle magnet on the altar of the church at Barranqueras.

October 21st is mother’s day in Argentina! People find many ways to show their affection and appreciation for their moms on this special day. Children in Sunday school were especially busy making cards and other craft projects to say “I love you!”

“Happy Mother’s Day! I love you! I hope you have a great day!”

During worship in Resistencia, every mother received a handcrafted decorative vase:

Ana Pacce receives her jar and a greeting from Erica.

Roswitha has two kids in the church, so, two jars!

Mother’s day in Argentina is also an occasion to honor the women who step in and serve as mothers in many ways, including grandmothers and other role models in our families, and our spiritual mothers in the church.

Longtime member Antonia receives her jar from Inés.

Susana with grandkids Brian and Natalia.

A few times in the course of the day people asked me if I had called my mother. Each time I would think, “oh, I need to do that,” until I realized that it’s not Mother’s Day in the U.S. Instead, our mother’s day is in May – another time of the year, but also right in the middle of Spring, as it is here in Argentina.

But a different October U.S. holiday is making its way south and slowly gaining in popularity – only 10 days after Mother’s Day is Halloween!

¡BOO!


October 13 is the Day of the Psychologist here in Argentina. The day is commemorated with speeches, gatherings, and swearing-in ceremonies for new psychologists. The day was initially proposed in 1974 at a conference of students of psychology. Subsequently, during the dictatorship, the government targeted psychologists and psychology students for kidnappings, torture, and death. The Day of the Psychologist therefore serves in part to remember what happened.

Today, psychologists in Argentina remain committed to the five traditional areas of clinics, forensics, work-place, education, and health. Yet psychologists endeavor to be present in every sector of society, wherever decisions are made that affect health and well-being. And so, the field of Psychology is rapidly growing to encompass new areas – psychology of transit, for instance.

In faculties throughout the county, psychologists continue to be trained and minted. Please welcome one of Resistencia’s newest, Eliana Macchi!

Here is Eliana with mother Simona and father Luís, Pastor of the church in Resistencia and President of the Argentina Disciples, just after Saturday’s swearing-in.


Here are some pictures from the two-church spiritual retreat held at Campamento Jack Norment, in Paraguay. 400 Disciples from Argentina and Paraguay came together for a day of worship, song, Bible study, fellowship, and fun!

Everyone was invited to bring their instrument or sing along to well-known songs. Here you can see Pastor Félix Ortiz from Global Ministries with his flute!

During Bible study time, the children constructed churches of their own using whatever materials they could find – and judging by how creative they were and how well their models turned out, I am confident the church of tomorrow is in good hands!

The adults, meanwhile, addressed John 15:1-17 and Ez. 37:15-19 in their Bible studies, texts which relate to unity and oneness in Christ. (In the upper left is a wooden tribute to “chiperas”, women who sell yucca-flour/cheese fritters on buses and in plazas all over Paraguay.)

The youth had their Bible study as well, with Pastor Néstor Aveiro.

After lunch, we got to work planting trees in a field that camp staff is hoping to reforest.

The day concluded with a Closing Circle, where every family received a Yucca cutting to plant back home. The cutting serves as a symbol of unity of the vine of all Christians, and we are hopeful that for next year’s encounter, everyone will bring with them the yuccas that they grow from the cutting.

Thank you very much to everyone who made the day possible, especially the Mesa Redonda, the Campamento family, the Comisión Directiva, the Pastoral Comission, the Christian Education Commission, the Consejo General, and Global Ministries / the Division of Overseas Ministries. Many blessings!!


“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”

Psalm 126:6

Indigenous people in Paraguay have largely had a difficult post-contact experience. Even the Guarani, who survived through strategic alliances with the Spanish, faced exploitation, enslavement, and expulsion. Many tribes are now located on reservations in the baking hot Chaco. Some practice agriculture, others husbandry, and still others, handicrafts. For the most part, government services do not reach these communities.

Pastor Cristóbal Mareco with a flock (of sheep).

The Comité de Iglesias para Ayudas de Emergencia (the Committee of Churches for Emergency Aid) was originally founded as a human-rights organization during the dictatorship. Under the direction of its three charter churches, the Catholic Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the Evangelical Church of the Rio de la Plata, it has gradually expanded its portfolio to include indigenous rights. As CIPAE field workers accompany indigenous leaders, they begin by listening, seeking to understand traditional practices as well as hopes for tomorrow. They affirm, and they ask questions.

Marian with CIPAE Director Victor Ayala (second from left), Pastor Mareco (right), and staff.

Gradually, as a result of years-long collaboration, indigenous groups are able to try new things and develop new strengths. Manioc is a nutritious vegetable – so CIPAE is coordinating with one group to share its Manioc cuttings with another. There are no water treatment facilities, so some women are reviving the practice of clay-jar water filters and CIPAE is expanding their market to other tribes. And, the Nivaclé community has decided to sell their agricultural products in bulk, commanding higher prices through higher volume and more precise timing.

The storage shed where Nivaclé members bring their produce until they are ready to sell in bulk.

In some areas, there has also been more traditional missionary activity. CIPAE does not weigh in one way or the other about this. Rather, CIPAE commits itself to a model of critical presence in which it walks with indigenous leaders as they navigate a better future for their communities.

The Nivaclé sanctuary.

Speaking with Graciano, a member of the community and the CIPAE liaison.