Musings from the Mission Interpreter

Will the South be Possible?

Methodism and the witness of the gospel in Latin America and the Caribbean

Attitudes towards southern neighbors of the United States of America have fluctuated over the years. Many Canadians and US people enjoy vacationing in places like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and the islands of the Caribbean. Church groups send volunteer teams to work with locals in places like Haiti, Mexico, and Honduras. Yet, at times northern hemisphere people have ignored, controlled, or disdained neighbors to the south. Such disdain has worsened due to tensions surrounding US southern border migration.

These attitudes have permeated relations between The United Methodist Church and sister churches in Latin America and the Caribbean. United Methodist attention draws more easily to Africa, Europe, and the Philippines whose churches remain–for now–in the denomination. While there are nearly two hundred years of relationships between US Methodists and Methodists to the south, the fact that most Methodists are autonomous from The United Methodist Church has diminished missional involvement.

That is why relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean are more important today than ever. The US population continues to show increases in Latinx presence. By mid 21st century, as much as 30 percent of the population in the United States will identify a Latin-American heritage. Despite the ever-growing population of Latinx people in the US, many US non-Latinx people still carry distorted views of those who trace their roots to the south. For instance, many non-Latinx assume their neighbors who originated from the south are Roman Catholic. In truth, there is great diversity of religious expression among Latin Americans.[1]

There are excellent reasons why most of the Methodist churches of the Latin America/Caribbean region became autonomous affiliated churches of The United Methodist Church. We will explain those reasons later. For now, we raise the question, “Are strong, connectional relations even possible in Latin America and the Caribbean among people identifying as Methodists?” Is the south possible? Will it be possible?

This question echoes a deeper question given expression in poetry and song nearly forty years ago. As countries in South America emerged from military dictatorships (At least 16, including Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile), the human cost of the struggle for freedom and democracy was laid bare in the words of Jorge Boccanera, himself forced into exile during the “dirty war” in Argentina from 1976 to 1984, and his fellow exile living in Mexico, Carlos Fernando Porcel De Peralta, who put music to the poem. The song, ¿Será posible el sur, será posible?  became an anthem for many living in the south. It became known best through the voice of Mercedes Sosa in an album by the same title in 1984.

Will the south be possible, will it be possible?[2]

So many stray bullets straight to the heart of my people

Too much ‘mother’ meddling crazily

And every memory of incarceration

Will the south be possible, will it be possible?

So much winter fallen

On the last longing look of my brother’s face

So much meager laughable salary

And with the empty plate the executioner awaits

My territory!

That once turns in the dark

From that question, that simple question

Will the south be possible, will it be possible?

If you saw yourself in the mirror, my South, would you recognize yourself?

My territory!

That once turns in the dark

From that question, that simple question

Will the south be possible, will it be possible?

                Songwriters: Jorge Boccanera / Carlos Fernando Porcel De Peralta

When Mercedes Sosa sings it, the song takes a turn when she incants the words, “¡Mi territorio!” My territory! After the questioning comes the affirmation. This is my territory. This is my people. This is my future and my hope. More than my territory, for the those living in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is “our” territory, and the song carries the promise that the people living there will be the protagonists of their own future.

For the last thirty years, Encounter with Christ in Latin America and the Caribbean (EWC) has responded to the interrogative of Boccanera’s song with a resounding yes and with it, the embrace of solidarity with our fellow Methodists who have lived with poverty, economic instability, and inequality, and now disease and now an inadequate roll-out of vaccinations for COVID-19.

EWC has said over and over again, the South is possible, the South has a future with hope and we want to accompany our brothers and sisters in Methodist churches and Methodist related agencies and institutions of education to join with them to relieve suffering, to right wrongs, to give children and women a chance at a better life, to spread the good and even great news that through faith in Jesus Christ there is a way to life lived more justly and holistically.

Encounter with Christ in Latin America and the Caribbean was established in 1992 to tell the story and celebrate the Methodist Mission in the countries of South and Central America and the islands of the Caribbean. Since its inception, close to 3 million dollars have been raised for EWC’s Permanent Fund. Interest from the fund provides grants to churches across the region in the areas of social justice, leadership development, and evangelism. Since then, EWC has provided more than $1,000,000 in project support, funding shared missions with The Methodist Church in 26 different countries.

Encounter with Christ in Latin America and the Caribbean seeks to expand the impact in the region by increasing the Permanent Fund from 3 million to 12 million dollars. With more funds to draw upon, Encounter’s grants will empower our Methodist related partners to impact more and more lives and communities of people living in the region.

Those living in Latin America and the Caribbean from our sister ministries take a proactive role in the decisions on how the fund is used. As part of a mission partnership between the General Board of Global Ministries, the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL), and the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA), a team of people receives applications and decides on grants. The Encounter with Christ Advisory Board tells the story, offers mission encounter opportunities, and raises funds to increase the permanent fund, but does not make decisions on grant-making. Encounter is a central funding source through The United Methodist Church for evangelism and outreach projects developed throughout the region.

The Methodist churches in Latin America and the Caribbean work with some of the most marginalized populations in their communities such as women and children, immigrants, indigenous communities, and those suffering from racial and gender inequality. EWC partners with the national Methodist churches in the region by providing program funding for social justice and evangelism outreach efforts.

Our relationships with our US and Latin American/Caribbean partners are guided by Christ’s mandate to love our neighbors. We understand this to mean:

  • Preserving the dignity of our mission partners through open, honest communication
  • Recognizing each national Church’s right to self-determine its own strategic plan for expansion and outreach
  • Allowing each person involved with Encounter to discover and develop her or his gifts and talents for mission and service
  • Celebrating unique cultural differences that make the body of Christ more inclusive and dynamic.

Encounter with Christ in Latin America and the Caribbean offers a unique opportunity to respond to the challenges and needs of evangelization, leadership development, involvement in ministries with women, youth and children, and ministries with people of Indigenous or African heritage. This program aims at providing accompaniment and financial resources to mission and ministry efforts that promote faith, life and justice in the region. Encounter also strives to nurture and sustain our Methodist connection, ecumenical relations, and mission partnerships.

The funds that EWC have raised has helped more than 150 programs. Here are a few highlights from the grants recently made:

  1. $10,000—MCCA Leeward Islands District. St. Kitts and Nevis. “Female Faith-Based Farming for Rural Food Security.” To develop and operate a small−scale commercial farm on 20 acres of arable land available to St Paul’s Methodist Church using environmentally friendly and yield−increasing farming methods. GM Goal: Seek Justice, Freedom and Peace.  GM Priority: Disaster Relief and Sustainable Development.

Program Goal: The project´s overall goal is to develop and operate a small−scale commercial farm on 20 acres of arable land available to St Paul’s Methodist Church using environmentally friendly and yield−increasing farming methods. This goal will be evident in the majority of the arable land being cultivated and producing crops that are being sold to individuals, hotels, and restaurants in the surrounding areas, evidenced by the crops harvested, purchase agreements with hotels and restaurants, the farm employing several women from the church and community, and a crop production log. The farm is intended to continue being part of the Christian Social Witness of the congregation.

People Impact: The total number of persons to directly benefit from this project is at least 2,871, including 127 church members, 275 primary, secondary, and college students, 18 primary, secondary, and college faculty, 2,151 weekly hotel and restaurant guests, and 300 general consumers including persons in the communities served by St Paul´s Methodist Church.

  • $10,000.00—National Evangelical Primitive Methodist Church in Guatemala. To provide livestock care training to women in a rural community, acquire livestock and needed consumables, and provide follow−up support and monitoring. GM Goal: Seek Justice, Freedom and Peace. GM Priority: Disaster Relief and sustainable Development.

Program Goal: This project aims to empower women in communities, bolster community development, dignify the work and lives of the church´s brothers and sisters, and combat malnutrition. It will focus on three main areas to meet its stated goals:

− Training: A training on malnutrition and all relevant aspects of working successfully with livestock and

zootechnics will be offered, similar to one offered previously.

− Knowledge assessment: At the end of the training, breeding area and participants´ knowledge will be evaluated.

− Timely follow−up: On animal health and the development of the project overall.

People Impact: 30 women will benefit directly from the project, further benefitting 30 families.

  • $9,700.00—Council of Methodist Churches in Venezuela. To create an online store and use the profits to exclusively support a program accompanying local church youth in their Christian walk and social service. GM Goal: Make Disciples of Jesus Christ. GM Priority: Evangelism and Congregational Revitalization.

Program Goal: The Widening Horizons program goals include the following:

– Identify emotions, and where healing is needed.

– Learn how to listen and be a good conversation partner.

– Reinforce a relationship with God as the base for living a Christian life, and equipping youth to navigate

missionary challenges.

– Provide healthy spaces to take advantage of leisure time.

– Promote teamwork and strengthen a sense of belonging while having fun.

– Finance the Widening Horizons activities in a sustainable way.

The Widening Horizons program activities include the following:

– Motivational workshops dealing with emotional intelligence.

– Motivational workshops dealing with effective communication.

– Educational workshops dealing with spiritual life inside and outside the Church, and also learning about

CEMCV’s Constitution.

– Creating chess, baseball, and soccer clubs.

– Offering theater and art clubs.

– Using profits from the online store called ’Barch’ to support all the aforementioned activities.

People Impact: Widening Horizons aims to directly benefit 50-100 adolescents and 4 adults working as guides and mentors.

  • $9,000—The Methodist Church of Mexico. To provide academic tutoring to students and life skills training to women in a disadvantaged rural community. GM goal: Alleviate human suffering. GM priority: Evangelism and Congregational Revitalization.

Program Goal: The first goal of this project is to improve academic achievement amongst students who are falling behind in primary and secondary education in the La Joya community. The corresponding activity will be to purchase at least three computers and hire a teacher who tutor students daily.

The second goal is to improve self−esteem amongst disadvantaged women in the La Joya community and provide new avenues to express themselves creatively and explore opportunities for economic advancement. The corresponding activity will be to set up and arts and crafts school in the same cooperative school facility used for academic tutoring, so they may join daily classes offered by a local artisan. The facilitator will train women to produce handicrafts that may then be sold to improve their economic situation.

As a program run under the auspices of the Methodist Church of Mexico’s Mexico Annual Conference, these goals align with its stated priorities to provide training opportunities for women and children.

People impact: Approximately 30 women and 20 children will directly benefit from this program.

And now, we return to an explanation of why so many of our fellow Methodists in the Latin America and Caribbean region are autonomous affiliated churches in relation to The United Methodist Church.[3]

Both the MCCA and CIEMAL Churches were established out of the missionary work of the Methodist Churches of Great Britain and the United States. Caribbean Methodists for the most part came out of British mission (except Cuba and Puerto Rico). Cuban, South and Central American and Mexican Methodists were the result of missionary work coming from the United States. For those in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, the term ‘connection’ carries a special connotation that is close to the heart. The notion of connection or connectionality would seem to contradict the concept of autonomy.

Why then, autonomy? Why did most of the churches of Latin America and the Caribbean, once an integral part of their mother churches in England and the United States, become independent?

Eduardo J. Gattinoni, the lay leader who was chosen to represent the Methodist churches of Latin America in conversations with The United Methodist Church on this matter, explains, in the 1960s, the structural issue in three points:

 1) Discipline. The Discipline of The United Methodist Church is approved and can only be modified by the General Conference that takes place in the United States every four years. Unsurprisingly, given that the overwhelming majority of the church is in the US, the representation of Latin American churches and other non-US churches was a slim minority. Consequently, most of the changes introduced in The Discipline responded to issues related to US churches, almost always markedly different from the issues faced by our small churches. The result was a 500-page book, written by and for a church of some ten million members that was to be applied to our churches of only a few thousand.

2) Disconnect. The disconnect between The Discipline and the reality of churches in Latin America and the Caribbean proved to be a mismatch. For example, The Discipline’s directives for order—the number of commissions and committees, the procedure for decisions—were impossible to fulfill. The Discipline became a complex and US-based book of legislation that had little relevance to churches in Latin America and the Caribbean.

3) Distance. Additionally, our Annual Conference had to vote on amendments and constitutional articles, for the General Conference, on subjects that were distant from our reality. Conversely, our own proposals, which responded to our needs, had very little chance of being accepted, not because of ill will, or lack of democracy, but because of the distance between our contextual reality and the reality of the majority of the General Conference. The majority did not and could not understand or found irrelevant our context and reality.

Dr. José Míguez Bonino, a prominent Methodist theologian, well known in different parts of the ecumenical world, reflecting on these points, pointed out that “This apparently very formal and institutional question has its roots in another much deeper and more fundamental question. The life and mission of a church takes place in a given time and space and, if it is not related to its own time and space, it becomes irrelevant and meaningless. The ways in which a great church, with a long and deep presence in the life of a rich and powerful country, with its own social, cultural, and religious tradition, can and should organize, plan and fulfill its mission and choose the means to do so, can hardly fit with the conditions of the small churches, sometimes working in overt or hidden discrimination, in poor and dependent countries and related to totally different social, cultural and religious conditions. Therefore, although the immediate question is related to the organization and the regulations, the central theme that underlies the question of autonomy is the necessary freedom so that the Church can respond to her call in the given place and time where God has placed it.

Why this kind of autonomy?

The question was: What kind of organization could fit the wishes of all the churches?

1) The first proposal was simple, to ask that, under the same Constitution, each Central Conference in Latin America have the freedom to outline its own Discipline. While this question was being studied, the Methodist Church in the USA was working on the project of union with the Evangelical Church of the United Brethren, which would result in The United Methodist Church. COSMOS, the Commission on the Structure of Foreign Methodism, created by the General Conference, considered that the proposal presented by the Central Conference of Latin America was not appropriate at that time because it could affect the Jurisdictional Conferences in the US and the union that was in process.

2) The Mission Board (today the General Board of Global Ministries) in consultation with COSMOS convened three consultations, in which not only Latin American churches but other churches related to the US church from other continents participated. Some of these churches did not hide their fear that, if they became autonomous, they would lose the help and support, including the financial resources of the Mission Board. It is important to note that, at this point, the Mission Board made it absolutely clear that this would not be the case.

In sum, the churches of Latin America became autonomous from The United Methodist Church so that they could organize themselves more appropriately to their context. Around the same time, the Methodist churches of the Caribbean became independent of its mother church in Great Britain. The reasons for the change of relationship were missional. The connectionality of Methodism remains relevant as we draw from a rich history of relationships to help one another fulfill the mission that God has given.

The relationship and missional partnerships that began nearly 200 years ago still play a key role in the ministry of Methodist Churches in the Latin America and Caribbean region. The south is possible. The south has a future of hope. Even more, with the solidarity of people called Methodist from many parts of the globe, our sisters and brothers in the south can move forward to fulfill its God given mission today.

In Christ’s Love,

Douglas Ruffle

Original Spanish lyrics of the Jorge Boccanera poem:

¿Será posible el sur, será posible?

¿Será posible el sur, será posible?

Tanta bala perdida al corazón del pueblo

Tanta madre metida en la palabra loca

Y toda la memoria en una cárcel

¿Será posible el sur, será posible?

Tanto invierno caído

Sobre el último rostro de mi hermano

Tanto salario escaso riendo con descaro

Y en el plato vacío el verdugo esperando

Mi territorio

Que una vez gira en la oscuridad

De esa pregunta, de esa pregunta

¿Será posible el sur, será posible?

Si se viese al espejo, ¿se reconocería?

Mi territorio      

Que una vez gira en la oscuridad

De esa pregunta, de esa pregunta

¿Será posible el sur, será posible?

Si se viese al espejo, ¿se reconocería?

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Jorge Boccanera / Carlos Fernando Porcel De Peralta

Sera Posible El Sur? lyrics © Korn Intersong Ed. Mus

[1] For more information, see this Christian Century article: 

[2] This translation of the song, ¿Será posible el sur, será posible? is humbly offered by Douglas Ruffle, Mission Interpreter for Encounter With Christ. Improvements to the translation are welcomed. The original Spanish language lyrics appear at the end of this document.

[3] We thank the Reverend Juan Gattinoni for putting together this history from which excerpts were translated by Encounter’s Douglas Ruffle. The explanation attributed above to Eduardo J. Gattinoni, is Juan Gattinoni’s father.

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