International Ministries

Journey to the Southern Tip

June 15, 2011 Journal
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Dear friends,

 

“Really, what has most impressed me about this Christian Education class that you’re teaching is to see a woman professor. It’s so inspiring to me.”

I was in Valdivia, Chile, 12 hours south of Santiago, offering a course to 20 students at a recinto or partner institution of the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana (UBL), the seminary in Costa Rica where I teach. Since most Chileans get off work at 7:00 pm, the class met from 7:00-10:00 pm. The majority of my students came from very conservative denominations that did not allow any leadership roles for women.  Many of the students had never experienced a Sunday school class; their idea of  “Christian education” was a sermon. Even those churches with Sunday schools assumed they were only for children. So their membership is largely illiterate biblically. They were stunned as we studied how the vibrant churches of the early centuries became lukewarm, filled with error and apathy in the Middle Ages, as all biblical study was eliminated. Their final assignment is to write a complete plan for a Christian education program in their church, and I hope that some will be able to implement it.

Various people told me that Chileans are a reserved and conservative people, acutely class conscious and deeply respectful of order and authority. Those characteristics were accentuated by 17 years of dictatorship under General Pinochet (September 11, 1973-1990). This has shaped the churches as well, producing authoritarian leaders and obedient members, with a strong emphasis on following the rules and being punished for breaking them. I found my students fascinated but still nervous about exploring new ideas.

My experience was quite different with the Baptist Theological Institute in Temuco, where I was invited to give a lecture on transformative Christian education. Pastors, Sunday school teachers, and seminarians filled the room and enthusiastically interacted with my proposals to offer more participatory classes. 

The highlight of the trip was a visit with my missionary colleagues, Dwight and Barb Bolick, in Temuco. They work with the Mapuche indigenous people of southern Chile, where they have earned both respect and affection. Dwight has studied the Mapuche language, Mapudungun, and is encouraging the people to celebrate their own heritage in the way they live and worship. (This is an important emphasis at the UBL where I work.) That includes developing sources of income on their land, such as bee-keeping, so they don’t have to move to the city. Meanwhile, Barb encourages traditional weavers and finds markets for their craft. She is also developing a curriculum for pre-teen girls based on the Christian virtues and has trained a number of tías (“aunts) to disciple groups of girls.  We worked together on the theme “fortitude/ resilience” while I was there.

Once again, I was humbled by the crying need for knowledge and gifts that I so often take for granted. Everywhere it seems that the churches are desperate for curriculum, for educational programs, for teacher training, for new creative ideas. I received half-a-dozen offers to return and work for an extended time to build up the local church. The need is urgent and overwhelming. I am so grateful for your support in making it possible to respond to some of these needs.

 

Together with you in service,

Ruth Mooney