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Pass the Guampa

Families can be complicated. So can churches, and groups of churches. This seems to be true everywhere, including Latin America.

“Trust does not come easily,” said Emerson Cardoso, Multiply’s Regional Team Leader for Latin America. “Churches with different religious structures are often reluctant to work together, and this impedes growth. Structure matters, but it does not create church growth. Doing the will of God does. And God’s will for the Church is that we be united in love.” 

What does love look like in this context? 

“The Church must be a home for those who have no home, and a family for those who have no family to turn to.” 

In Latin America, poverty, corruption, and disease, including COVID-19, have created an ever-widening rift between the privileged and the impoverished. In years previous, as a pastor, Emerson led his church in running an orphanage, a drop-in center for at-risk teens, and a shelter for unwed mothers and others in need. He argued that a holistic presentation of the Gospel was key to uniting individuals from vastly different religious and socio-economic backgrounds. It was also the key to uniting vastly different churches, allowing them to serve together in reaching the world for Jesus.

“The Church,” he stated emphatically, “must be a home for those who have no home, and a family for those who have no family to turn to.” 

Emerson pointed to Uruguay as an example. In 2018, Basilio Schur, a mission worker associated with a denomination of churches in the United States, set out eagerly to plant churches in a remote village of northern Uruguay. However, he was denied funding because it was the policy of his sending organization to focus only on planting churches in communities of 5000 people or more. While understanding this decision, Basilio could not let go of the vision that he felt God had given him for the isolated rural communities of this country. 

It was then that the Uruguayan Mennonite Brethren conference stepped in and offered him the use of a church building that had closed its doors some years previous. Basilio began to realize that God was leading him to look beyond the parameters of his own church family to also embrace the extended family of another denomination, for the sake of the expansion of the kingdom of God. So, he accepted the offer from the MBs and began to partner with them.

Within a few years, the church grew and planted other congregations, resulting in over seven hundred groups meeting in seventeen different locations throughout northern Uruguay. Basilio eventually connected twelve more churches that he had previously planted over the last twenty years into this network. 

As with any extended family, there were some uncomfortable moments around the table. 

“In the beginning, most of the MBs felt uneasy,” Emerson said. “There were some difficult and lengthy meetings over those six months, but we just kept passing the guampa around and drinking a lot of mate!” 

It took time for both groups to become familiar with each other and to overcome their cultural differences. But over time and tea, the balance of opinion tipped toward a merger. In the past two years, this partnership between the more charismatic values of the newcomers and the structure of the MBs has galvanized church growth in Uruguay like never before. 

It took time for both groups to become familiar with each other and to overcome their cultural differences.

“Now,” Emerson grinned, “only a small number of us are uncomfortable.” 

That growth has continued even throughout the pandemic. Emerson described how, before COVID, Basilio had become accustomed to travelling around to visit each church and preach in the center of their villages. “But during lockdown,” Emerson explained, “he could not do this. So, he would record a sermon on a mobile app and send cell phones to be shared with the families in each village. The Word of God was heard in this way by over twenty thousand people every week!” 

Since the Uruguayan MBs first agreed to the partnership, they have been hosting training initiatives based on Anabaptist principles, such as peace and reconciliation. Seeing the fruit born in Uruguay, ICOMB is hopeful about similar collaborations occurring elsewhere in South and Central America. In Peru and the Dominican Republic, for example, Emerson has been involved in spearheading leadership exchange programs, pastoral coaching, and the sharing of MB teaching resources with a wide spectrum of churches. 

As God’s people become a vibrant and dynamic extended family in Latin America, Emerson is determined to promote this kind of radical collaboration throughout the region. “It pushes us to move,” he said, “to venture beyond our zone of comfort, to leave the safety that religiosity provides. The Church is not an organization, it is a living organism!”

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Is God calling you to join him on mission in Central or South America? Go to multiply.net/latinamerica to learn more or call a Regional Mobilizer for information about current service opportunities: 1.888.866.6267

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