A letter from Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson in Peru
A Transforming Moment in Brazil
We were all listening intently, trying to understand the Portuguese and the Spanish translation that followed. We were mission co-workers from all over Latin America and members of our wonderful support team from the PC(USA) national office in Louisville. The speaker was a Brazilian partner pastor telling us something of the history of his church. One thing he said really struck me. There was an ongoing conflict in Brazil in the early 1900s over direct and indirect mission. “That’s it!” I thought excitedly. I was raised as a Presbyterian, and we do very little direct evangelism. We call mission in its many forms evangelism. We expect that our actions will shout our faith without having to speak it, or that they will give us an open door to share our faith. Our evangelism is indirect.
That resonated with my experience here in Peru. In our work with partner churches direct evangelism and the formation of new converts is the first priority. Mission teams that visit Peru from the United States have a lot to offer. Medical, dental, optical and clean water campaigns are wonderful, but it is always hard to convince Peruvian pastors that such work will do more than distract them from the primary work of evangelism. In fact, they are wary because a “mission” that does not do well will have a negative impact on their witness.
I watch our partner pastors with awe as they freely share the gospel in every aspect of their daily lives. We always ask Pastor Rodrigo to sit in the front of the taxi because we know he wants to share his faith with the driver. He is always thoughtful in his approach, but he always shares his beliefs. In one hotel we stayed in while traveling he helped three of the staff to come to faith, and he visited with others who had made new commitments while he was there the previous time.
I could not help but remember my training in Inter-Varsity while I was at Smith College. One afternoon during a conference we were sent out to witness to three people. I went to the library because I could not imagine “confronting” someone else with my faith. As I read the Bible, I read about post-Resurrection Christians speaking freely of the transforming power of their faith and took part in many miracles. So I have been struggling to learn from my colleagues here how to speak more freely. However, I also try to help them to see the opportunity that campaigns present for witness through indirect evangelism.
My Brazilian partner helped me to see that this dialog (and at times conflict) between direct and indirect evangelism still goes on today. My hope is that I can help my U.S. and Peruvian colleagues understand and admire two distinct ways of reaching out in the name of Jesus Christ so that we all can serve together in love.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 294