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A letter from Dennis and Maribel Smith in Guatemala

October 26, 2009

Dear Friends:

I've just returned from four weeks of wonderful encounters in local Presbyterian churches through Mission Challenge, followed by World Mission Celebration in Cincinnati, a gathering of more than 700 of us who are passionate about Presbyterian mission.

My contribution to the Latin America plenary at the Cincinnati celebration was a brief reflection on “A Day in the Life of Latin America.” Here's what I shared:

The day begins with a memory of what might have been. Memories that go back centuries. Memories of dignity and autonomy. Memories that nourish identity.

For some, it’s the memory of la Patria Grande, the great Latin American nation dreamed by Bolivar and San Martin. For some, the memory of great civilizations centered in Cuzco or Teotihuacán or Tikal. For some, the memory of proud cities carved out of the Brazilian hinterlands by the sons and daughters of Africa.

But borders came to define our lives. Our differences became more important than that which we have in common: city folks versus rural folks, men versus women, indigenous versus mestizo versus African, landless versus landlords, powerful elites versus excluded majorities. We found that our divisions are not just personal; they are built into the structures, into the very fabric of society.

Centuries of injustice, exclusion, dependence; centuries of hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, profound creative impulse. 

God is here. Here are untold millions whose first waking thought each morning is: “Thank you, God, for this day. Thank you, God, for the gift of life!”

Here are millions of peasant farmers. Existence itself determined by the cycles of planting and harvest, sun and rain. Armies of day laborers cutting sugar cane, picking coffee and bananas. 

Here are giant agribusiness enterprises whose fields of soybeans and wheat are larger than some small countries.

Here are extractive industries processing oil, copper, nickel, gold. Is the profit worth the poisoned lives?

This small rural town has no full-time doctor. The school only goes through sixth grade. But they do have radio—their own local radio in their mother tongue—and television and an Internet café. They understand that their lives are somehow intertwined with yours. 

There is no employment for the children born here. They will leave for the city. Or cross borders—at great risk—in pursuit of a dream. 

Then there is life in the city. Most Latin Americans now live in cities. How can one touch so many people? How can one hear so many stories? An endless sea of stories—such longing, such energy. 

Here are those who can take refuge from the raw energy of the city by living in secure enclaves. Those who can't, learn to adapt somehow—learning to see without seeing, learning to embrace numbness. 

Here—in the city, in the countryside—is where people committed to the common good organize to challenge corruption and abuse of power, to challenge destruction of the environment. 

Here is where God’s people proclaim that violence in their midst—especially violence against women and children—is violence against God's own self. 

Here is where people respectfully celebrate the presence of God in the other person, working ecumenically to build the common good.

Here is where our brothers and sisters offer the gift of wholeness in Jesus Christ.

When you come home in the evening you reflect, perhaps, on what you chose not to see that day. “Have I lost the ability to engage in random acts of kindness? Have I remained silent in the face of pettiness or injustice? Have I lost the ability to be shocked by cruelty or indifference?”

Your soul aches. You seek solace in your community of faith. There you have a voice. There you can testify to God's benevolence. “Today I was not alone. Today we are not alone.”

The Spirit is poured out; hope is nourished. Here ordinary people reflect on being the people of God.

Under the Mercy,

Dennis A. Smith

The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277


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