A Letter from Dennis and Maribel Smith, based in Argentina, serving as regional liaison for South America
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There is a certain clarity that comes in the presence of victims.
I’m sitting in the newly inaugurated Museum of Memory Against Impunity in Managua, Nicaragua. I watch as the photos of several dozen children who had dared to protest tyranny and corruption in the land of Sandino are projected on the wall. They were killed in April 2018 by Nicaraguan government forces.
I have just walked through a collection of random objects that commemorate lives cut short – a football jersey, a diary, tennis shoes, a silly Halloween mask – all arranged just so.
Mothers, siblings and classmates have organized this collection. They welcome visitors at the door. Their slogan is “Love Truth. Love Justice. Love and Do Not Forget.”
At one of the meager displays three students stand and salute their fallen classmate; they break out in a rendition of the Nicaragua national anthem.
Now I sit and watch images of these children and I know that these people have reached a point from which there is no return. Inaction is no longer an option. One day, perhaps, they will speak of forgiveness or reconciliation, but today, they are certain, is a time for change.
I am here serving as staff to a PC(USA) General Assembly Task Force on Central America. Their report will be presented to the Baltimore Assembly next June.
We have been listening to church partners in all five Central American countries and today, in this museum, we listen to hear how and where God is present in this place at this time.
I lived in Central America for three decades. But now I live far to the south and my mind wanders. What does it take for a community to come together and say: “Enough!” Throughout the region, it seems, a seismic shift suggests that many communities are coming together to demand change.
In Argentina the spark has been growing hunger in a country long celebrated as a grain basket to the world.
In Perú, it has been public frustration with a corrupt legislature that resists calls for new elections by a reform-minded president.
In Chile, violent protests have broken out against the growing gap between rich and poor and against price hikes for public transportation. The first step toward peace, observed one commentator, is for the elites to recognize that solidarity is a question of the rights of all citizens, not charity.
From Brazil, Amazonian indigenous leaders have traveled to European capitals to denounce genocide at the hands of the government, ranchers, and miners.
This is not to say that wisdom and justice will prevail. History is seldom that simple. Populist soothsayers of all ideological flavors still spin seductive narrative webs in service to their own lust for power.
In a post-truth society how does one winnow the chaff of self-serving propaganda from the grain of truth that seeks the common good?
Our church partners throughout the region tell us that power corrupts. For a time, they say, power can instill fear, buy silence, co-opt opponents. But a time comes when a critical mass is reached, and fear and greed are not enough.
Indeed, as Reformed Christians so very conscious of human frailty, how do we strengthen institutions and processes that will hold all of us accountable?
Martin Luther King Jr. affirmed that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I long for that to be true. But in the meantime, life is complicated, and many good people end up broken by the process.
There is something about life lived here and now that breaks many people. But it is our brokenness that binds us together. It is our brokenness that is caught up by God’s Spirit and transformed into fierce hope and persistence.
God gives us a vision of power used not to corrupt, not to abuse or to oppress, but to serve the common good. Here’s what we know: somehow, death and injustice do not win in the end. We are a resurrection people. In my mind’s eye I return to that little museum on the campus of the Jesuit university in Managua. The images of persistent children flash on the wall. And the words echo in my mind: Love Truth. Love Justice. Love and Do Not Forget.
Thank you for your prayers and for your generous support for our ministry.
Under the Mercy,
Dennis A. Smith
Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission
Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,
Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.
The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.
I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.
Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.
Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.
Faithfully in Christ,
Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission
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Tags: brokenness, change, corruption, genocide, hunger, justice, murder, Museum of Memory Against Impunity, nicaragua, PC(USA) General Assembly Task Force on Central America, protests, reform, social justice, solidarity, truth, tyranny
Tags: Dennis and Maribel Smith
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