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Hope In God’s Grace

A Letter from Dennis and Maribel Smith, serving as Regional Liaisons for South America, based in Argentina

April 2018

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It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m worshiping at El Redentor (Redeemer) Presbyterian Church in Medellín, Colombia. I’ve been participating in the synod meeting of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, and the moderator of Central Presbytery, Rev. Martha Muñoz, has asked me to preach to this small, store-front congregation in a poor neighborhood of Medellín.

It’s good to be back in Latin America after almost five months visiting churches in the US. The gritty, warm humanity of the neighborhood. The praise band. The fervent prayer. Spontaneous abrazos (embraces) at every turn. All feels familiar and welcoming.

As we look together at Mark’s account of Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem, we see that this dramatic moment is far from decisive. Jesus knows that he and his followers are in mortal danger. He knows that this week his enemies may crush him, no matter how much he trusts in the Resurrection. Yet he knows that in brokenness is hope, and that God is working here and now to make whole all that is broken.

Somehow, as this decisive week begins, Jesus finds the courage to confront betrayal, torture and humiliation with dignity. Somehow, Jesus understands that God’s Spirit is loose in the world, the Spirit of Life that not even death can subdue.

The women understood it well before the men, for they were the first witnesses to the Resurrection. Emboldened by the Spirit, after first being dismissed by the men, they would proclaim hope and grace and wholeness to all.

Hope in God’s grace is what brings together these 50 or 60 faithful in Medellín on this Palm Sunday morning. They are especially thankful to know that sisters and brothers from the PC(USA) are praying for them this day, as are sister churches throughout South America. It is important to them to remember that they are not alone.

Maribel and I returned to Buenos Aires on February 15. Again, the sights and smells of home. The muggy heat as summer ends. Walking to the municipal market early Sunday morning. Subways, buses and trains to take us where we need to go. As we settle in again, we remember that days in Latin America have a different rhythm, and that feels good.

Our time in the US was rich. From Camas, Washington, to New Orleans, Louisiana, from Amherst, Massachusetts, to Midland, Texas, we had the joy of staying in your homes and sharing with you how God is at work in South America. Thank you for your hospitality and friendship! Our only regret is that we couldn’t visit all our partner churches!

This trip was special for us because we were able to spend time with Alan, our first grandchild. Alan was born on August 16, 2017, and he is, of course, amazing! How convenient that he and his parents live in Louisville!

We are grateful to the Furlough Home on the Louisville Seminary campus for giving us a homey atmosphere where we could learn the joys of grandparenting. A special shout out to Rev. Clay Thomas at Rivermont Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga for lending us a vehicle for much of our time in the US — and to Rick Ufford-Chase for helping us make that connection. (It’s hard to be grandparents in the US if you don’t have a ride!)

I’ve hit the ground running since our return. Late summer (by that I mean summer in the Southern Hemisphere!) is the season for church assemblies in South America, and in recent weeks I’ve represented the (PC)USA at meetings of our ecumenical partners in Perú, Bolivia and Colombia, with more trips on the horizon. Each of our partners has special gifts and faces unique challenges, so it is a joy to sit in on these meetings and get up to speed on how we can work together in God’s service. Please pray with me that God will give me the grace to be a good listener and a helpful interpreter of how we are called to work together as partners in God’s mission.

For the first time in decades, I will be at General Assembly in St. Louis this June, so if we didn’t get a chance to catch up while Maribel and I were in the US, please look for me there. A strong delegation of (PC)USA mission partners from Latin America and the Caribbean will be present in St. Louis, so this will be an excellent opportunity to share stories and learn from one another.

As we begin a new term of service, we covet your prayers. Just like my friends at El Redentor Presbyterian Church in Medellín, to know that you are praying for us and for our ministry strengthens and consoles us. Your financial support makes our ministry possible. For 180 years, US Presbyterians have been supporting mission workers like us. We are proud and humbled to be part of that tradition. Thank you for your continued, prayerful support.

Under the Mercy,

Dennis Smith

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