A letter from Dennis Smith serving as regional liaison for Brazil and the Southern Cone, based in Argentina
June 1, 2016
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It was Friday, April 15. Rev. Carola Tron was leading the weekly women’s Bible study at 4:30 in the afternoon at her church in Dolores, Uruguay. Suddenly the women sensed that something was very, very wrong. An unannounced storm was coming up fast; they quickly took shelter in the bathroom of the manse just across the street. They felt thunderous oblivion. Chaos. Then, eerie silence.
As they cautiously emerged—miraculously unharmed—from their refuge, they understood that Dolores had been hit by a tornado. The manse windows were broken, books and household items were scattered on the floor, but the structure was untouched. The church building across the street, however, was destroyed.
The tornado cut a swath 800 meters wide through this city of 20,000 in southwestern Uruguay. In addition to St. Savior Waldensian Church more than a thousand structures, including six schools, a day care center, and a hospital, were seriously damaged by the storm. Four people were killed and more than 500 were injured. Dolores sits on the banks of the San Salvador River and the tornado only added to the flood damage produced by three weeks of rain.
Carola and her husband, Rev. Dr. Darío Barolín, also a Waldensian minister, immediately helped to organize the disaster response in the community. Both Carola and Darío are respected community leaders and St. Savior offers a variety of programs to the community, especially to youth and children. The Waldensians are recognized as careful stewards of public resources, and the community gladly accepted the church’s offer to channel local and international aid through the church bank accounts. An early step was to request international assistance from ACT, the global ecumenical network for disaster response of which Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is a part.
The Waldensians are one of our ecumenical partners in Uruguay and Argentina and, as Presbyterian World Mission regional liaison, I was able to support the emergency response by translating the ACT request—by necessity a rather lengthy and technical document—into English. The request focused on quickly restoring potable water and sewage services to the community to avoid any outbreaks of disease.
On Sunday morning, April 17, just two days after the tornado struck, Carola gathered church members in a circle in what remained of the church building. They prepared a makeshift altar and gave thanks to God for the gift of life. They poured out their pain and grief for all those who were suffering. Carola emphasized that God had given them the gifts and the strength that they needed to rebuild this temple left to them by their ancestors. Although each family present had stories to tell of the role this building had played in their lives as families and as a community, Carola emphasized that future generations would write new stories about the building they would rebuild.
The Waldensian motto is “Lux lucet in tenebris” (Light shines in darkness), and the light of God’s Reign, Carola assured, is never extinguished. To close their time together that Sunday morning, Carola echoed the Psalmist:
As for me, I am afflicted and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God (Psalm 40:17).
Carola, Darío and the church members are clear that their first obligation is to help the whole community rebuild. That process is already under way, supported by the government, local businesses, international partners and local churches. As the city rebuilds, St. Savior is helping to provide trauma counseling for members of the community. Work on the church will begin soon. They have already received promises of support from fellow Waldensians in Italy, from the American Waldensian Society, and from Valdese Presbyterian Church in North Carolina.
As you pray for our partners in Dolores, please pray especially for Carola and Darío, that they might have patience, wisdom and perseverance during these times of rebuilding. In addition to their role as local pastors Carola currently serves as Moderator of the Evangelical Waldensian Church of Río de la Plata (IEVRP) and Darío as the Executive Secretary of the Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America (AIPRAL).
One footnote: Two Waldensian young women from Uruguay, Eliana Montana and Vanesa Rostan, will participate in the Presbyterian Youth Triennium to be held at Purdue University in July. Up to 5,000 Presbyterian young people—including ecumenical partners from all over the world—will gather to discover together how to “go into the world and make disciples.” Eliana and Vanesa will travel first to Chicago, where they will be hosted by Chicago Presbytery and First Presbyterian Church, Libertyville. Then they will travel with the Chicago delegation to participate in the Triennium. Waldensian youth in Río de la Plata selected Eliana and Vanesa to represent them at the Triennium and raised funds to cover their airfare. The American Waldensian Society has covered their registration fee and Chicagoland Presbyterians will host them prior to the Triennium. Mission in partnership!
Back to Portugal!
Last year I joined Wertson Brasil, the moderator of the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPU), on an exploratory visit to Portugal. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Portugal (IEPP) had sent a letter to the IPU inviting them to send pastors to help cover the IEPP’s shortage of ministers. IPU leadership had been praying for an opportunity to expand their involvement in God’s mission.
Wertson and I will return June 16-20 to Lisbon to participate in the IEPP synod meeting to discuss the next steps. After our preliminary conversations last year, the IEPP is now prepared to consider just what a three-way mission partnership with the IPU and Presbyterian World Mission would look like. In the meantime, the IPU has worked hard to identify possible candidates for mission service and to encourage local congregations in Brazil to take on part of the expense of the sending and support of mission workers. Please pray for Wertson and me as we explore this exciting new mission partnership with our Portuguese colleagues.
Our deepest gratitude for your prayers, your correspondence, and your financial support for our ministry. In these challenging times our mission service depends on you continuing or increasing your financial support. As you pray for us, we pray for you as you discern how to serve in God’s mission in your community and throughout the world. God is good, and God’s grace is sufficient.
Under the Mercy,
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