The Global South – Dr Leopoldo Sánchez

 ‘Global South’

Dr. Leopoldo Sánchez, Vice-presidente de la IV Convención compartiendo sobre Ministerios Hispanos al Consejo de los Presidentes de los Districtos de LCMS

It is not news that the Hispanic (Latino) presence in North America is growing, Dr. Leopoldo Sanchez said in his opening remarks to the COP. Yet it would be incorrect to categorize the culture as monolithic, he noted. Rather, it comprises a vibrant spectrum of cultures, reflecting the experiences and coming together of groups and nationalities as varied as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, indigenous peoples of Central and South America, Argentineans, Brazilians and Chileans. Broadly speaking, Sanchez explained, the term “mestizaje” describes this coming together of the cultures that make up Latin American and the Caribbean.

What we are experiencing, Sanchez told the COP, is the advent of the “Global South” on the world stage. Sanchez defines the Global South not only as Mexico and Central and South America, but as “that part of the world south of North America and Europe … including countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds.” In their ethnic and cultural histories, many Latin Americans can have roots in all these continents, Sanchez added.

In the Americas, unlike Anglo cultures, which increasingly appear secular and even hostile to the church, Latin cultures generally maintain some respect for the church, Sanchez said. People may be nominally connected to the church (historically the Catholic Church), but nevertheless they are asking important questions about God, faith and spiritual life.

“In many ways, the post-church paradigm does not fit,” Sanchez told the COP. “Even children of Latin American immigrants to the U.S. are joining some church — either Catholic or Evangelical/Pentecostal.”

His own experience is perhaps typical, Sanchez said. In Panama, while his family was nominally Catholic, no one had ever called him a “sinner” until he encountered a Pentecostal street preacher. After seeing Sanchez spend time with Pentecostal Bible groups, his father, who “thought it was weird to walk around with a Bible” made sure Sanchez retained some connection with the Catholic Church.

In Williamsburg, Iowa, Sanchez was finally introduced to the Lutheran church. There, Sanchez said, “people were not afraid to talk about the Bible … but they were also not afraid to have a liturgy, albs, candles and a hymnal — an indication that the church has a salutary tradition.”

Sanchez said that throughout the Global South, Pentecostalism is making great gains because, in part, its form of the Christian faith resonates with the “spiritual” component of Global South life, in particular with the belief in God’s immediate work in everyday affairs. Yet, in some respects, it also runs counter to that same life. Especially in Latin America, and among Latinos in North America, the message can become virulently anti-Catholic. In that respect, Sanchez noted, our own Lutheran doctrine, traditions and forms of worship can offer, along with a solid biblical foundation, another thread for outreach to Hispanic communities.

In ministering to Hispanic communities in this country, Sanchez offered the following:

·         Remember that you’re dealing with poor or developing communities and churches. These are not stable, wealthy communities, but rather communities and people living on the margins. Mission goals have to be realistic, e.g., is self-sustainability in five years a realistic goal? Not likely.

·         Be aware of the cultural differences: Anglo culture is driven a lot by goals. Global South culture is more process (and relationship) oriented. Time is seen qualitatively rather than as a checklist for getting things done. Be flexible with the use of time. Negotiate a way to achieve worthy goals while building trust through relationships.

·         Commit to the long haul. You are not dealing with people who were raised Lutheran. Catechetical and theological formation is needed as well as evangelism. Participation in the life of the church will grow over time. (Yet it must be part of the discipleship process rather soon. “Going ‘Protestant’ does not guarantee retention of Latinos in the church,” Sanchez said. “They must be trusted with tasks and leadership.”)

  • Remember that Hispanic life in this country is often transient. A family may be members of your community for only a short time. Be prepared to “hand them over” to the next congregation on their itinerary. Think of the church, not only congregationally, but also synodically, as a network of congregations where transient families are welcomed and nourished.
  • Understand there may be some hesitation and suspicion about an Anglo church doing outreach, as in, “Maybe these people just want me to speak English before I can become Lutheran.” Don’t make learning English a condition for hearing or proclaiming the Gospel.
  • Don’t underestimate education. In addition to human care, some of our strongest outreach opportunities are provided by our schools. Our parochial schools and our Concordia University System are likely the most underutilized means of Hispanic outreach in our Synod.

In many ways, Global South people in North America live in a “Galilean” context, in an in-between world, Sanchez said. For example, “While Americans often view Mexican-Americans as too Mexican, Mexicans themselves often view Mexican-Americans as way too American.” Yet these “Galileans” are capable of critiquing “what gets in the way of the Gospel in both cultures,” Sanchez said. “They can be great bridge-builders.”

And as with the Galileans of Jesus’ day, Sanchez added, Mexican-Americans today are among the poorest people in the U.S. As with Latino growth in general, their growth is currently fueled, not by immigration, but by birth rates.

In concluding his remarks, Sanchez briefed the COP on the 2012 Hispanic convention and asked for their financial and prayer support. The gathering, he said, is scheduled for June 19-22 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

As part of its regular business, the COP approved the placement of 14 vicars and 13 pastors. Also, it ratified the placement of 50 ministers of religion — commissioned

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