Signs of hope amid challenging times
Leadership Conference in Latin America opens with context analysis and insights from member churches
(LWI) - Vibrant churches who are visible and present in their communities, empowering youth and women, and working on human rights, gender justice, climate justice, and migration, were in focus on the opening day of the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) & North America Leadership Conference. The conference, which takes place in Lima, Peru, from 10-14 May brings together close to 60 church leaders from the LWF member churches in these two regions.
Learning from the ministry of Jesus
The conference opened with two keynote speeches on the context of the Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean and North America. The picture painted by the keynote speakers was quite bleak, yet not without hope.
Anthropologist and theologian Dr Linda Thomas, from the United States, spoke about the rise of populism, racism and migration in the two regions, that increase the threat of violence, especially for women. There is a long-standing refugee crisis whose roots lie in violence and abuse, she said, and there is no end in sight. If we want to understand this refugee crisis, Dr Thomas added, it is necessary to understand the different levels of violence from which people are fleeing.
Sociologist and theologian Dr Jonathan Pimentel, from Costa Rica, shared insights drawn from general statistics on Latin America and the Caribbean in 2000-2018. He said the data indicates there is much inequality in the region and a high level of mistrust in political institutions. On the positive side, there is general trust in religious institutions. About 39 million people in the region are malnourished, he noted, and daily survival is difficult for many. “It is a dangerous region for women, it is dangerous for journalists,” Pimentel added. Human rights defenders are also threatened in many countries. Furthermore, climate change and a lack of respect for the climate poses threats to biodiversity, and pollution is on the rise.
Asked how the churches should respond to these challenges, Dr Thomas emphasized they should look to the radical justice ministry of Jesus, stand with the oppressed and most vulnerable, and address the root causes of violence.
”We believe in God’s grace”
The day continued with short reports from church leaders on the life and work of their churches. The reports offered insights into how the churches are vibrantly witnessing in their diverse contexts.
Pastor President Gerardo Hands of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Venezuela shared how his church is responding to the ongoing political crisis in the country. “The biggest challenge for our church is to be a sign of hope and transformation” accompanying people in their pain, loss, and need. “We believe in God’s grace,” the Venezuelan church leader concluded.
It is important for our church to see young people “as protagonists who contribute in a rich way” to the life and vibrancy of the church.
Pastor President Sílvia Genz of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil said her church is focusing on empowering young people. It is important for our church to see young people “as protagonists who contribute in a rich way” to the life and vibrancy of the church, she said.
Pastor President Karen Castillo of the Augustinian Lutheran Church of Guatemala told of an educational project in her church that empowers young women from rural indigenous communities to claim their dignity and space in society and leave behind traditional and oppressive gender roles. Bishop Atahualpa Hernandez and Rev. Consuelo Preciado from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia shared how the Colombian church is empowering women and will hold a national meeting of women in August, with participation from sister churches.
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) told the church leaders of ELCA´s future directions which outline five goals for the church until 2025. The third goal is about congregational vitality which includes a focus on congregations being strongly present in their communities.
The meeting continues until 14 May with further keynote speeches on Lutheran identity, intergenerational discussions led by youth from the member churches and discussions about how the churches in Latin America and the Caribbean and in North America are living our their calling globally as members of the LWF.