To get to know a friend you need to know her history to really know where she is coming from. It is no different for our Church’s partners across the globe, in this case, our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean.
We’ve been friends for a long time. Some of our partner churches have been in relationship with us since their founding in the 1890s. And, like old friends, we sometimes forget the pieces of their history that are different than our shared stories.
While the United States and Canada may point to a history as a colony of England, the colonial experience of much of Latin America and the Caribbean was arguably more damaging due to the more violent nature and length of the fight for independence. Just because a country gained independence from a European master didn’t mean that there were not dictators of a homegrown variety. There also are layers of cultural and economic colonialism that still cast shadows from countries in the northern hemisphere.
A point of common history is the mistreatment of First Peoples and the importation of slaves for a plantation economy. Both north and south are still dealing with the legacy of these inhumane systems. And in both hemispheres the imposition of culture came along with the Christian missionaries, whether they were Catholic or Protestant.
For these reasons and more, the wonder of God’s love is that we are learning to truly partner with our sister churches in the southern hemisphere. It is not so much a sending-receiving relationship as a sharing of gifts. The Christian Pentecostal Church in Cuba is one example.
Though the Cuban government openly persecuted the church in the 1960s and the missionaries departed to their home countries, the church did not die. According to Rev. Eliseo Navarro, current president of the Christian Pentecostal Church, the denomination has gradually improved relations with the government and is now free to preach and witness, even going door to door with the message of God’s love. They have won the right to study for ministry and recognize the gifts of both men and women, ordaining both. The church’s example of facing down the odds is a gift to those in the north.
As friends and partners in the northern hemisphere, the church in the United States and Canada can help the church in the south in ways that may not be immediately apparent. For instance, Navarro reported that Cubans have become quite innovative and resourceful at working with decades-old technology as a result of the trade embargos of the United States. Other Latin American countries experience the effects of global corporations exploiting cheap labor in hazardous conditions.
And the northern church can rejoice with the south in their blessings – the vitality of the young, the sense of community and belonging, their work in transforming and blossoming out of misery. The churches in Latin America and the Caribbean are not a club, but they carry the burdens of each other together.