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Working, We Wait

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

May 2020

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We wait – tired, anxious, a bit stir-crazy—but safe and healthy. We are thankful for all those that help us stay well, ranging from delivery folks to health professionals to all of you that continue to pray for us and support our ministry.

In Argentina, local authorities are rolling out a measured re-opening of the economy. Now we can go out – with a face mask, of course—to some shops on some days depending on the last digit on our identity card. Social distancing continues in force, the borders continue to be closed and the airport is only scheduled to re-open on Sept. 1.

Despite the pandemic, Presbyterian mission workers continue to serve God’s mission throughout the world. Some—for a variety of reasons—returned to the US. Many of us stayed in our countries of service. Wherever we are, our work continues: accompanying, encouraging, teaching—we go on serving as witnesses to God’s gracious presence throughout this stricken world.

Please know that today, even when so many are experiencing financial hardship, your continued prayers and financial support for our ministry is more important than ever.

Serving in God’s mission we learn early on that our understanding of how and where God is at work in the world is incomplete. God is bigger, deeper, more subtle than can be grasped by even the most learned or devout people of any one nation or language or culture. God exceeds all human understanding. That is why we always, always need to have our understanding of who God is and how God works challenged and deepened by our mission partners throughout the world. Especially now—when this pandemic makes it is so easy for us to withdraw into ourselves.

Today in Latin America, we live among many whose lives are marked by hunger, uncertainty, and desperation. As one of the most unequal regions in the world, millions throughout Latin America live hand to mouth, day by day. “Sheltering in place” for them is not an option.

We are grateful that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) as well as local PC(USA) congregations have been able to provide emergency solidarity grants to several of our mission partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. These grants have permitted our partners to continue food assistance programs to vulnerable populations whose situations have worsened because of COVID-19.

As PC(USA) regional liaison for South America, one of my lockdown activities has been to accompany the other PC(USA) mission co-workers in this region. Each one is facing unique challenges and opportunities. Each one is following expert recommendations and government restrictions to assure their well-being and that of their neighbors.

Part of my job is making sure that they know they are not alone. One way we show this in the Latin America/Caribbean region is to meet online for a 30-minute devotional and prayer time each Thursday afternoon.

In South America, the PC(USA) has mission partnerships with 16 churches, theological seminaries, and faith-based organizations. During the pandemic, I try to keep in touch with each one. What a joy this has been! Even under lockdown, churches continue to minister, seminaries continue to teach, and community organizations continue to advocate for those on the margins of society. I spend considerable time listening to, watching, or contributing to online reflections, seminars, and worship services!

One friend, a pastor who moved to a new parish just before the quarantine began, shared how hard it is to pastor a new flock while respecting the demands of social distancing. In this part of the world, we like to hug each other! Especially when so many are grieving because of loved ones lost, loneliness or loss of employment, it is hard to abstain from sitting down with a friend, throwing your arm around their shoulder, and together pouring out your hearts to God.

I also accompany U.S. and South American mission partners as they share and learn from one another in mission networks. Peru Network partners are looking at how to raise funds and respond to growing hunger. Venezuela Network partners are dreaming together how better to spread the word of their vital pastoral presence in a troubled land. Colombia Network partners continue to advocate for justice and reconciliation. We are glad to be able to coordinate advocacy efforts with the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.

We wait. We dream. In Latin America, many church leaders are thinking about what comes next. Part of my job is to be a witness to those conversations. After so many lives have been broken, so much economic devastation, thoughtful pastors and lay leaders are asking themselves: Is this the way things must always be—our social, political, and economic systems so clearly broken? Must we always live so deeply divided according to tribe and class and race? Must women and children, migrants and refugees, continue to suffer so much violence?

Are we in the U.S. ready to join that conversation?

We wait. We dream. We work. Trusting that God also dreams—of restoring the wholeness of humankind and of all Creation.

We wait. We dream. We work. Trusting that God’s dreams will not be denied.

Under the Mercy,

Dennis and Maribel Smith

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