Teologia Integral: An Introduction to my time in Peru and Bolivia
It seems like most Christians identify themselves as either Matthew 28 Christians (those who believe that our first task as Christians is to follow Christ’s command to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations) or Matthew 25 Christians (those who feel compelled to take literally the judgment of the nations in which we’re told that our task is to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned as if they were Jesus himself).
I think we’re called to both. What if the hallmark of faithfulness to Jesus Christ is to insist that we will work with partners around the world and in our own neighborhoods to build solid, long-term relationships of accompaniment that are founded on a compelling invitation to others to give their lives to Christ? And what if we acted as if we really believe in Jesus’ prayer - “God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and committed to the construction of the reign of God all around us?
As I’ve traveled, I’ve been looking for the best of each of those. Where are the strongest examples of evangelism and new church development in our Presbyteries? How do our partners in mission carry out the work of evangelism around the world? In addition to investing in the mission programs of our denomination, how can we better support the important work of our validated mission partners like the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (http://www.pff.net/) and The Outreach Foundation (http://www.theoutreachfoundation.org/ )? Where are the best examples of mission work that takes on the world’s economic, social and environmental inequities that are antithetical to the values we profess as followers of Jesus Christ?
Last week, Luis Perez (from Bolivia) and Jubenal Quispes (a Peruvian now living in Bolivia) taught me a new way to think about that elegant balancing act between sharing the Good News of who Jesus is and living as if we believe Jesus meant what he taught. They call it “teologia integral,” a theology that genuinely integrates social justice and evangelism and care for all of God’s creation. Luis is a pastor of the “Light and Truth Presbyterian Church” in La Paz, Bolivia, (part of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Bolivia), and also serves as the General Coordinator for the UMAVIDA Network (Joining Hands Network for Life). Jubenal, an advisor to the eight different organizations that make up the network in Bolivia, is a young theologian and lawyer who left the Catholic Church to become a Presbyterian after training for eight years to be a priest.
As I traveled in Peru and Bolivia at the end of October, I was hosted in both countries by the partners in “Joining Hands Against Hunger,” and I was extremely impressed by what I believe to be the best mission effort I’ve seen for the Matthew 25 side of our work as a church. I was accompanied by members of the Giddings Lovejoy Presbytery, which has partnered with the Joining Hands Network against Poverty in Peru, and by members of the San Francisco Presbytery, which is working in Bolivia with UMAVIDA. We were also accompanied by Maria Arroyo (Coordinator for Latin America in the Worldwide Ministries Division), Lynn Connette (the Presbyterian Hunger Staff Person who links Presbyteries to our eight Joining Hands Networks around the world), and our mission co-workers in Peru (Hunter and Ruth Farrell) and Bolivia (Bob and Julie Dunsmore)
As I fly back to the States, I’m struggling to put words on the experiences. The encounters and meetings and conversations and worship services and travel have been so fast and furious that it has been difficult to process – and impossible to write about - as we’ve traveled. I did take extensive notes, and I’ve mapped out a series of four or five reflections on our experiences that I will try to write as I travel during the next week.
If you’re looking for background to my own reflections, here are a series of weblinks you might want to check out:
Presbyterian Hunger Program: www.pcusa.org/hunger
Joining Hands Against Hunger: www.pcusa.org/hunger/jhah
UMAVIDA Network (in Spanish): http://www.redumavida.org/
Dunsmores: www.pcusa.org/missionconnections/letters/dunsmorer/dunsmorer_0510.htm Giddings Lovejoy Presbytery: www.glpby.org/Teams/latinamerica.htm#Peru