peru, cont.

Costas paredesBut, even so, our hosts at World Vision recounted the new problems of rapid urban growth: gangs, delinquency, drugs, and underemployed youth. State-funded programs are still battling corruption. Christian ministries need the “imagination” to build “bridges” with churches, universities, and rural communities and to craft new ways of empowering and protecting youth. The lone poster in our meeting room challenged viewers to “imagine a world where the children are saved . . . from hunger, abuse, exploitation and war.”  Here, as in other places of the world, salvation is linked with shalom.

This aspiration also reflects the values of Tito’s institute, which entered its “second phase" in 1990 when it established the Orlando E. Costas Graduate School. The graduate program seeks to prepare Christian ministers with a fuller understanding of the “religious, socio-economic and political context” of their missions. Until his death from cancer in 1987, Costas had a notable role in linking evangelical missiology with social justice. Born in 1942 in Puerto Rico, Costas undertook missionary work in Costa Rica before beginning an academic career at several American institutions, serving eventually as the dean of Andover Newton Theological School. He became part of a generation of Latino/Hispanic scholars who spoke of “contextual theology” and a “holistic gospel” at a time when most ministers focused almost exclusively on conversion. Although he did not identify with “liberation theology”—the label coined by Peruvian priest Gustavo Guitiérrez in 1971—Costas still believed that the church needed to respond to many of the issues that it embraced, and he formed the Latin American Union for Civil Rights, insisting that “for too long the poor have been hidden from the eyes of theology.”

Plaza Mayor LimaIn the past few decades, evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have spread quickly in Peru, especially as liberation theology waned with the decline of the Marxist-leaning Shining Path. Just a day before I arrived Ollanta Humala, the president of Peru, made his first appearance at Lima’s largest evangelical church—a Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation—to attend a service commemorating national independence. It was a clear sign of the evangélicos’ growing political significance. CEMAA is one of the institutions trying to link that swelling influence with social obligation and interdisciplinary learning.

The need for interdisciplinary study was one of the prevalent themes in a breakfast meeting that Tito organized for me with several friends of CEMAA, including his two sons, now graduate students at Biola and MIT. Tuition at CEMAA is low, the enrollment modest, but the constituents enthusiastic and loyal. Although CEMAA was initially linked to the nearby Evangelical Seminary of Lima, its current independence enables it to give coursework greater scope. Graduate degrees are offered in alliance with the South African Theological Seminary, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the transnational Latin American Doctoral Program. For Tito, CEMAA is also a site for convening colloquia and workshops for Christian workers and thinkers, and provides him a platform for participating in many of the events of the Latin American Theological Fraternity. The institute also sponsors a digital publication—Integralidad—and features a program for women in ministry.

One guest at our breakfast, Rebecca Rivadeneira, has published her own research in the journal about the recent urban migration of the Shipibo Indians—the indigenous people on the Ucayali River in the Amazon rainforest. Their ability to persevere in Lima, she claims, depends on sustaining their language and Amazonian customs; it is a life made possible largely by the support of bilingual churches, such as the Evangelical Nation Heavenly Church in the slum-neighborhood of Cantagallo. In such communities of faith migrants work through the fusion of traditional ways, gospel Cantagallo muralvalues, and modern medicine. Both Rebecca and her husband—missionaires to the Amazon—recounted how the pastors of their region struggled to address the philosophical questions of their young people. They needed a broader encounter with the culture and ideas of contemporary Latin America to nourish the church for a new generation.

Our conversation also turned toward government initiatives to support education in the Amazon. One of CEMAA’s instructors is a former member of Congress. According to his report, government programs have enabled many promising Amazonian youth to attend universities in Lima, but attrition rates are high, primarily because the youth lack the support structures to adjust to both the academic and the urban cultures. Nevertheless, he claimed that a relatively strong rapport between church and state in Peru provides opportunities to develop fresh approaches to social problems, including support for intranational migration. Scholars now acknowledge the prevalent and brave role the evangelicals played in the local resistance to the Shining Path in the Andes, and legislators now see the evangelical movement as a huge ally in their struggles against drugs and poverty throughout the nation. I had asked World Vision officials about the potential of American collegians to serve in Peru, and they noted that those with "quantitative skills" were especially welcome on their projects in the Andes, though cautioned that so many American youth had difficulty living and working with the poor.

Often, when I do encounter poverty, I find myself drawn inward, wrestling with thoughts about how one can indeed reconcile the evangelical heritage of outreach with the tradition of liberal arts inquiry. Those are also times when I can feel shamefully abstract. Any effort to imagine our engagement as global citizens requires us to understand the trust and discernment exercised by local workers, teachers, and volunteers who have blended charity and research into a way of life. We witnessed a few prime examples one afternoon when Tito and I were taken to the Manchay settlement in the hills just outside of Lima.  This is barren, parched land. Although Lima boasts several tropical plazas and parks, the capital is actually considered a “desert city”—the second largest in the world, behind only Cairo. Once you leave the central basin of the city and drive into the surrounding slopes, the landscape becomes arid and rocky, devoid of trees and shrubs.  Water, which must be trucked in, is scarce—and costly. From a distance, Manchay might seem a picturesque tableau of painted homes—blue, turquoise, orange and lime—but it is mostly a shantytown. The village is Manchay one of the squatter settlements built by the indigenous refugees who fled the violence of the mountains during earlier decades. Brick and cement structures are crammed along unpaved roads, with open-air windows and doors. Iron bar often protrudes through the top cinder blocks, as if the homes are not complete. Health problems—notably, malnutrition and impaired mobility—are prevalent among children, along with the social stigmas that often accompany them. 

At a high point in the settlement, a small cement building has been tranformed into a place of therapy for children with “habilidades diferentes”—or “different abilities.”  One of the workers there, a young woman in her 20s, is a native of Manchay who had completed medical training, resisted offers in Lima, and returned home. With the simplest of rails, exercise toys, and mats, she has developed therapy regimens for the children who struggle with the most severe problems of movement, and is clearly a magnet for the children's affections. The children at the site had been waiting for us, and they greeted us conventionally with music, balloons, and small Peruvian flags. But they cheered most when one young boy simply walked halfway across the dirt floor.   


Images: Tito Paredes interviewed about CEMAA (Spanish) (click for YouTube video), Plaza Mayor in downtown LIma, Cantagallo mural contrasting LIma with the Amazon, homes in Manchay.