A letter from Sara Armstrong in Peru
The Peru Mission Network Challenge
At the Peru Mission Network annual conference last year we accepted the challenge of hosting the Peru Mission Network (PMN) ’12 gathering in Lima. All PC(USA) churches with partners in Peru were invited to take part in this year’s conference held November 12-15.
12 U.S. and 13 Peruvian partners took on the challenge. An additional 25 observers, church leaders, conference planners and translators were in attendance. The focus of the Bible verses for the days together was Eph. 2:19 and 22, in Christ we “are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household...built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
We started in February of 2012 interviewing leaders and seeking Peruvian participation in the planning process. We visited several conference centers looking for a safe and affordable place, somewhere midway between Peruvian conference accommodations (where pastors sleep on Sunday School room floors and eat in church kitchens) and American conferences (where participants usually stay in hotels). Safe and tasty food was also a consideration, as was ease of transportation to the Lima airport. The Cluny Center was a great option!
Peruvian and U.S. planners agreed on these goals for the conference:
• unity by grace
• to help Peruvian partners understand the breadth of the PC(USA) work in Peru
• to provide an opportunity to study and deepen our understanding of four key issues that are having a profound impact, both in Peru and the U.S.:
• to welcome new partners and show them options for shared work in Peru
• to enjoy each other’s company, pray, worship and sing together
• evaluate, prioritize and plan for partnerships, in light of all we learned
• help the work to become self-sustaining
We asked Instituto Bartolome de las Casas to help us find great speakers and coordinate the small groups, both the lecture responses and the long-range work.
We were delighted to welcome partners from the states of Lima, Puno, Cusco, San Martin (Moyobamba) and Ayacucho (Huamanga, Huanta and Maynay). They met with delegates from Los Angeles, Calif.; Nashville, Tenn.; Pt. Orange, Fla.; Joplin, Mo.; Charlotte and Boone, N.C.; Houston, Texas; and St. Louis, Mo. Most of the delegates traveled to visit their counterparts for one or two weeks before or after the conference. Both travel and translation logistics were a challenge. The conference was held in Spanish with simultaneous translation for English speakers to 12 headsets. (We are profoundly grateful to Sarah Henken and Billy Greenman for the four days of simultaneous translation of the large group gatherings.) Seven translators worked with the small groups to facilitate communication.
The conference opened with worship. Music on the quenua, samponia, charango and guitar was led by the group Folk Kairos. The sermon was given by conference moderator Pastor Eduardo Arbocco.
The first talk, an overview of the political, economic and social situation in Peru today by respected sociologist Pilar Arroyo, addressed growth. The Peruvian GNP since 2001 has grown by at least 6 percent a year and strong growth is expected to continue beyond 2016. Most of the growth is due to exploitation of natural resources, global investment, and increased tourism. The strong economy has generated a host of challenges for Peru: unjust distribution of wealth, which leads to polarizing conflicts, and struggles with health, education, infrastructure and employment issues.
Conference attendees spent time getting to know each other Monday afternoon, and those who were not exhausted from previous travels enjoyed a documentary on mining in the evening. Tuesday we focused on Mining and Water. Videographer Ernesto Cabellos showed films he has created documenting a large mercury spill in San Juan, Choropampa, in northern Peru. It explores the relationship between the Newmont Mining Company and the local community over the following year. This presentation offered us a way to talk about the painfully divisive issues around mining in the Andes and the Amazon, often on indigenous lands.
Social anthropologist Fánel Guevara introduced some of the many water-related themes that impact Peru (and the U.S.) today and then small groups responded to the question: “How can we, as a church, influence and improve the situation of mining and water?” Both Peruvians and Americans were challenged to think about our role as a church in a new way. In one photo attached Conrado Olivera reports on the work of the “Square Group.”
A schedule change on Tuesday night allowed us to see several fun videos: The first video is from PromPeru featuring Peru, Nebraska. The second video from PromPeru features a visit to Loretto, Ital, by natives of Loretto (in the Amazona region) and the third is photos of Lima taken from an ultralight plane.
The third day we heard from Ricardo Soberon, a lawyer who briefly served the current administration as Drug Czar. Ricardo is very charismatic and people either loved or hated his talk. He presented material cataloging Peru’s recent history with cocaine and the risks it poses for security and development. The dramas that groups developed as a response were engaging and showed the struggle by the church to confront narcotrafficking, drug sales and abuse in both countries.
Milton Guerrero gave the final talk. Among his many qualifications, he is an economist who has directed the Central Reserve Bank and who represented Peru in Free Trade negotiations. He is also an active Presbyterian. He spoke about the economic changes of recent years in Peru and their effect on the church and community. He gave stats on economic change and spoke of the need to parallel economic growth with development.
This talk was followed by the partnership gatherings in which they designed a logo representing their work together.
The Wednesday evening program was a delight with our Talent Night. Attached photos give an idea of the diversity of the entertainment.
The final day was devoted to making long-range plans and worshiping together around the Lord’s Table.
There have been many responses to the conference. Peruvians never have experienced a conference like this one. Some are inspired to take the model back home and try it. Others are still thinking about how to integrate all they learned into the lives of their churches. Americans who have been coming to Peru for years were amazed at how much useful information they could learn about Peru in a few short days.
We are seeking a host location for the 2013 PMN conference in the U.S., and we plan to meet in Peru again in 2014. The future is richer for our time together. The challenge now is to publish the conference results, and follow through on the long-range plans, in unity by His grace.
Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 23