Bishop Nick (left) meets Toba community leaders
From ecological concerns to family discipleship to the future of worship, CMS mission partners Catherine and Bishop Nick Drayson find plenty to talk about as they travel vast distances to meet and listen to the marginalised communities of the Chaco region of northern Argentina.
"We've been eating fish!" the people told us as we arrived in Santa Teresa on a four day visit. We had already guessed that from the fishy smell hanging in the air, presumably exuding from people's pores, and by the number of people on motorbikes and in pick-up trucks who were hanging around the area recovering from their exertions in the river.
There was great concern that there would be no fish this year, and that the people who live near the river would go hungry. Engineering work done in recent years has upset the ecological balance, and this is being monitored by the three countries through which the River Pilcomayo runs.
It seems that there has been enough water flowing to allow some fish to struggle upstream and spawn, but the reason so many had gathered near Santa Teresa was that the water levels had dropped, and many small fish were trapped in pools and easily caught.
Further up-river none have been caught at all.
This is just one example of the changes that are going on in the world surrounding the Amerindian communities, both in the forest and the towns. Nationally the emphasis on mining and crop production is threatening subsistence cultures.
ASociANA (the Social Accompaniment group linked to the Anglican Church) works closely with lawyers and NGOs to help the communities monitor and respond to this situation, whilst Land for Life tries to focus on the bigger picture of environmental change.
At the same time, our colleagues Rene Pereira [CMS Latin partner] and David and Shelley Stokes [CMS mission partners] travel constantly round the many isolated churches offering training and pastoral support.
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As we visit far-flung communities, we find that we constantly have to adjust between the overview and the detail. In between looking at the overall state of the church finances, or the vision for the next five years, we may be spending time with individuals, praying for healing, or counselling couples or clergy.
We are now into our third year in the work and beginning to understand a bit more about how things function culturally and spiritually for those who attend and lead our churches. We are encouraged by some of the new people on diocesan committees, and some of the activities and initiatives in the local churches. The new emphasis on family discipleship is also giving us, and others, plenty to do...
The week following Easter this year was wet – it rained every day and most nights. At the end of the week we had a meeting planned for the Tobas, the second workshop of the “Making Disciples in the Family” project. Rather than us going to them, they were coming to us. Catherine, however, had to fetch them on a lorry (to make sure that the right representatives came... which they did, eventually, along with their extended families!).
As the day dawned it looked like we might have to cancel the meeting but the lorry driver was confident he could reach the communities, so they set off – through mud and water. Later that night the lorry re-emerged full of people, tired but ready for the family encounter.
Meanwhile a major storm over their area meant that the return journey was even more difficult, with flooding in some places. It does not seem to have "dampened" their enthusiasm too much though, as the weekend was dry in our venue and hearts full of desire to "do family" better, especially the women participants, whose voice isn’t always heeded in Toba society. (Incidentally the extra water in the river means that more fish are arriving from downstream.)
A few weeks earlier, a very different group also met in the same venue, this time Wichi leaders looking at liturgy, how we worship and why. The old hymns and prayer books are out of print, and there is a new generation of believers worshipping in different ways (see photo overleaf).
Should this be reflected in the reprint, or should we stick to maintaining the “pure” origins of their faith as it was handed down? Answer – revise the language to make sure it makes sense today, and have a further consultation, this time with the youth!
Join us in prayer:
- Give thanks for the commitment of those supporting the indigenous communities in questions of justice, the environment, pastoral care and theological education. Pray for safety, wisdom and ease of communication.
- Give thanks for the emerging youth leaders throughout the diocese. Pray for God's wisdom in adapting to change.
- Pray for the development of a more balanced and enriching discipline of worship in the different churches under our care.
- Pray for a growing awareness of discipleship in families.