Voices from the Communion: Rev. Ofelia Dávila Llimpe, Pastor President of the Lutheran Church of Peru
(LWI) – Since May 2023, Rev. Ofelia Dávila Llimpe has been the Pastor President of the Lutheran Church of Peru (IL-P), a church she helped found as a layperson in the Eighties.
She was a The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council member from 2017-2023. She also served as a member and later coordinator of the Women and Gender Justice Network for Latin America and the Caribbean for many years.
In this Voices from the Communion interview, Pastora Ofelia, as she is called, speaks about her Catholic roots, the inspiration she drew from Liberation Theology and the Lutheran networks that shaped her mission.
Could you begin by sharing your first religious experiences and what shaped your Lutheran identity?
I come from a Catholic family where faith always had a central place. My father and mother were devout believers, and one of the most vivid memories of my childhood is that they took us to mass on Sundays. I celebrated my first communion in the Catholic church at age ten and briefly served as a Catholic Sunday school catechist during my adolescence.
However, it was important for me to find a place that not only allowed for religious activities but also encouraged contact with other people and offered opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. I discovered that in Liberation Theology, and my close contact with Lutheran friends strengthened my bond with the Lutheran church.
Liberation Theology attracted me because of its focus on social justice and its call to action in view of political and social realities.
How did ecumenical encounters shape your perspective on spirituality and social engagement?
Participating in ecumenical events and my trip to Nicaragua in 1984 were turning points in my life. During that trip, I had the opportunity to undertake field visits to communities in Managua and Matagalpa, where I learned about the region’s harsh social and political realities. It was an encounter with poverty but also with resistance and the struggle for justice. I met Priest Ernesto Cardenal, a leading figure in Nicaragua’s revolutionary process, who emphasized the importance of service and commitment at the local level. This trip broadened my perspective and strengthened my commitment to social justice and service.
After these enriching experiences, I began my theological studies in 1986. Interestingly, initially, I did not intend to become a pastor. My search for spiritual authenticity took me to Brazil, where I took courses at the Escola Superior de Teologia (EST) of the Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB). Then, I went to Argentina to study at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (ISEDET) of Buenos Aires. In both seminaries, I took courses and studied for a few weeks.
When I returned to Peru, I found a shortage of local leaders in the Lutheran congregations. At that time, I took on pastoral roles and became involved in training local leaders. Together with congregational leaders, I proposed the formation of a National Church. Until then, there were only independent congregations. We worked enthusiastically and managed to get the Lutheran Church of Peru (IL-P) off the ground in 1990, marking a significant change in the dynamics of the communities and the pastoral work of the entire church.
What were the crucial factors in that process?
Until then, we had foreign missionaries leading the congregations. During this crucial stage, we advocated for the training of local leaders, scholarships for theological studies, and the promotion of native leadership. The shortage of local leaders led me to take an active role and focus on education as a powerful tool to transform society from the ground up. And I decided to become a pastor myself. I believe that God was guiding my steps throughout this time.
From 1996 to 2000, I studied theology in São Leopoldo, Brazil. During this period, I reconfirmed my commitment to working with women and other aspects related to gender justice. I returned to Peru with my bachelor’s degree and applied for my vicariate. I was assigned to Pastor Patricia Cuyatti, whom I knew from Brazil.
Where did you serve upon your return to Peru?
On 30 December 2001, I was ordained to the pastoral ministry, and on 5 January 2002, I was installed in Cusco to carry out missionary work. In this task, I could work based on my formation and commitment. I addressed not only theological issues but also practical challenges such as education, gender violence and improving basic services such as housing and drinking water.