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A sweeping view of Latin America and the Caribbean in only 17 minutes

A new video gives mission co-workers the chance to tell Presbyterians why they’re so fond of their work

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — A new video produced by World Mission’s Latin America and Caribbean office takes viewers through a sweep of the region, checking in with mission co-workers and PC(USA) partners to help Presbyterians learn more about their work and their love for the region and its people.

The Rev. Betsey Moe and Eric Moe, mission co-workers in Guatemala, are credited with editing the 17-minute video. Betsey Moe is listed as a writer, along with Cindy Corell, whose work is in Haiti;  the Rev. Dori Hjalmarson, who serves with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras; and the Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll, a mission co-worker in Costa Rica since 2013. Click the triangle above to view their work.

Narrating the informative and inspirational video are Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and the Rev. José Manual Capella-Pratts, a husband-and-wife team who are the PC(USA)’s regional liaisons for the Caribbean. Cintrón-Olivieri was Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), the first Hispanic Latina and first Puerto Rican person to be elected to the office of moderator or co-moderator.

“Recognizing that we are interconnected across continents,” Cintrón-Olivieri says in the video, “we accompany partners as they reckon with climate change, dire poverty and hunger, and conditions that destabilize economies and entrench corruption and forced migration. As our partners determine root causes of these conditions, we join them in seeking justice. As they preach and teach new generations, we pray and sing and study with them. As they nurture community leaders in different contexts, we come alongside them in the struggle and joy of seeing lives transformed by God.”

There’s decades-old footage of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’s film “For All of Life,” which was produced by World Mission’s forebear, the Board of Foreign Missions. In the current video, Cintrón-Olivieri says that “in recognition that our mission practices have been paternalistic, our Church restructured our mission relationships in the decades after the Second World War … Our Church also sought new partner institutions in various countries with whom to serve in God’s mission.”

Those partners include the Joining Hands network, which have “connected Presbyterians to new partner organizations to address the root causes of poverty. Through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, our Church has both responded to disasters and worked to decrease the vulnerability of communities in regions already experiencing the impacts of climate change,” she says. Presbyterians in the U.S. “have stood with human rights defenders and those displaced by war. Together with our partners, we seek to be faithful to the God of life.”

The work of mission co-workers in Latin America and the Caribbean touches on three broad themes: partnerships, education and justice.

“Mission needs to be mutual,” Tracey King-Ortega, a mission co-worker in Nicaragua, says during the talk about partnerships. “We aren’t there to fix it; we’re there to walk together and learn together.”

“We are the bridge,” says Chenoa Stock, a mission co-worker in Peru, “to creating stronger and more intentional partnerships.”

In Costa Rica, “daily life is infused with theological questions as communities confront structural violence and deep-seated inequities,” Koll says in the section on education. “People here expect theology to be part of the answer.”

“The major transformation I’ve seen is in the lives of women. Older women have been able to fulfill a lifelong dream of studying theology and becoming pastors,” Koll notes. “It’s wonderful to watch them move into those roles, often with more theological education than the men around them.”

“I am particularly motivated by the faith of Christians who understand the Bible as a living word that challenges them to peace and justice, to live the gospel and to hope against hope,” says the Rev. Leslie Vogel, the regional liaison for Mexico and Guatemala.

Within World Mission is the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteers program. The Rev. Sarah Henken, coordinator of the YAV site in Colombia, says the program’s “growing focus on antiracism has helped me learn how to be more critical of my own actions and the systems at work around me. I give thanks to God for being part of this work, which is another aspect of peacemaking and justice-seeking.”

Capella-Pratts notes in his voiceover that Jenny Koball, the YAV site coordinator in Peru, recruited young adults from Lima to serve in the program during the years when the pandemic precluded YAVs from traveling abroad. Capella-Pratts called that “an important step in recognizing people called into service within their local context.”

Koball’s husband, the Rev. Jed Koball, companionship facilitator for the Peru Joining Hands Network, says, “In the very places where the Conquistadores arrived 500 years ago, people are still fighting for the right to have sovereignty over their own land, to have clean water and to breathe clean air and to live in harmony with one another and with the land around them.”

Jenny Bent, who with her husband Mark Hare serve the Latin American Bible Institute in Costa Rica, says students, administrators and professors at the university “are taking God’s promise of a new heaven and a new, renewed Earth seriously.” Hare said the two have recently been visiting community gardening groups in various neighborhoods. “Learning from this network of gardeners is making it possible for us at the university to start our own garden,” he says.

“We are living into this vision,” Bent says, “recognizing we are part of Creation — within it, not separate from it.”

Corell, who’s part of the Haiti Joining Hands Network, talks about its partner FONDAMA, “a network of farmer organizations all the away across the little country of Haiti … What excites me is the way they together look at the root causes of poverty in Haiti, the effects of climate change we all know so well in Haiti with all its disasters, the land-grabbing, the food imports. These are big issues, but the people of FONDAMA don’t shy away from the hard work — even when it’s difficult, even when it seems impossible.”

“Just in the last 36 hours,” says the Rev. Mark Adams of Frontera de Cristo, who’s shown along with his wife, Miriam Maldonado Escobar, in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, “269 men, women and children who came through these doors have been welcomed back to Mexico. They’ve been welcomed as beloved children of God after being expelled from the U.S. This is a place of more than enough, where people from both sides of the border come together to welcome our sisters and brothers as beloved children of God.”

Near the end of the video, mission co-workers are asked what they like best about working in the region.

“What I love about the border,” Maldonado Escobar says, “is it brings communities together to share culture and to share and cultivate relationships.”

Photo by Adrian Dascal via Unsplash

Betsey Moe says she loves “the rich history of the Indigenous people” of Guatemala, especially “how strong, innovative and resilient they are.”

“All this diversity!” says Jed Koball, adding Colombia “is like God’s little laboratory.” He said he appreciates the people’s “expressions of God, understandings of God and the presence of God,” which he calls “so real and so illuminating.”

“The people of Haiti are extraordinary,” Corell says. “The faith of the people of Haiti is unlike any I’ve ever seen.”

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