Latin American Civil Responsibility
by Hal Thomas, North Valley Friends Church, Newberg. Hal and Nancy are currently serving with the Latin American Leadership Development Program (“PRODOLA” in Spanish). Most recently, they were in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and experienced the unrest there firsthand.
Wednesday, September 10, while Nancy and I were walking downtown in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, we became aware of increasing disruption around us. A few minutes before entering the plaza I had observed threatening activity centering around a school on Beni Street. I thought that maybe some university students had begun a demonstration. Now police officers began running towards us from an adjacent street. Powerful triple shot rockets that sounded like gunshots were exploding in the street behind them. We walked on to the opposite side of the plaza and entered another busy street where we finished our purchases. Before flagging a taxi to return home, we even bought strawberry and papaya floats. Everything still seemed relatively normal.
We began to feel the impact personally on Thursday morning. Nancy and I were scheduled to go with Sergio, a doctoral candidate in PRODOLA, the Latin American Leadership Development Program, to Buenas Nuevas Christian high school. Just as we arrived at the school an eleven-year-old daughter student came running down the street, sobbing. She had seen the car in front of her taxi attacked, the people pulled out and beaten, and the car destroyed. The taxi driver was able to escape. But just after she left the taxi to walk around the corner to the school, an older teenager attacked her and took her cell phone. She was in shock. That afternoon the school itself was threatened. The administration and teachers were able to load computers and files on a truck and remove them to safer places. They were also able to safely dismiss the hundreds of students to return to their homes. We also received instructions to be ready to evacuate our own university offices if mobs began to develop in our section of the city.
The story behind these incidents is complex and, while not the subject of this article, it continues to affect the lives of thousands. Social injustice, violence and conflictive political agendas are part of life in Latin America. In this social context evangelical Christians make up a significant percentage of the population. Bolivia, like various other countries, is now 15-20% evangelical Christian. And the question arises as to what difference it has made, or is making.
How do the Christians we know respond? Many are concerned that so little public influence is coming from evangelical Christians, pressing toward national ethics, morality and innovative creativity. Others note, more critically, that twentieth century evangelical Protestant missions called people to conversion but muted communication of their civic responsibility. But I am impressed with how the evangelical leaders we work with in Latin America are responding.
David and Arminda Tintaya, pastors of a Friends church in Santa Cruz, asked how they could help a widow with dependent children who had become a part of their congregation. The church purchased a couple of large aluminum kettles, a wheelbarrow, a gas bottle, a burner, and a large spoon, ladle and cups to set her up in business to make and sell hot fruit drinks in a market. It was what was possible for the congregation and became a lifeline for the woman, making it possible for her to support her family.
Hugo Pérez, a Baptist leader and our student in the Bolivian Evangelical University, is writing a master’s thesis on the successes and failures of evangelical leaders in Bolivian public service since 1950. He considers that public service and political leadership is a point of mission that evangelicals cannot ignore.
Jorge Lolín, a PRODOLA doctoral student, pastor of a large Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation and seminary professor in Quito headed evangelical participation in the rewriting of the Constitution of Ecuador this fall. He wrote, “as Protestant Evangelicals we have come together to present our proposals to the nation and to (the) … congress …. Among our proposals are: 1. that the name of God should remain in the constitution; 2. that the state assure and guarantee the value of human life from conception to death: 3. that the state recognize and protect the family and marriage. . . and promote healthy, viable families; 4. that the state recognize interculturality and the multi-ethnicity of our peoples….The President of Ecuador has invited leaders of the Protestant Evangelical churches to a breakfast (to talk about these issues).”
How are we as evangelical Friends in Oregon, Washington and Idaho responding? Our present Quaker Queries evidence both historical and contemporary concern for the expression of personal transformation and social responsibility. They build from a foundation of personal encounter with God and call us to respond personally to civic responsibility, and as the people of God, to work for social justice, responsible stewardship of the earth, and reconciliation and peace between persons and social groups. That’s quite inclusive. We cannot diminish our emphasis on encounter with God. But we do need to further recover and flesh out the Reformation and Quaker emphasis on vocation which is biblically both prior to and redeemed by, the doctrine of reconciliation of creature and creation with their Creator.
Although the circumstances may differ, like our Latin American brothers and sisters, we face the same challenges of responding as responsible Christians to our social context.
Questions for discussion:
- What do you think?! How are Evangelical Friends responding? Do you have suggestions or questions?
- How can we “further recover the Quaker emphasis on biblical vocation?