Restoration Movement History in Chile
Edio Carcamo is a seasoned Chilean pastor from Osorno. I believe he was converted by missionaries in the mid 1900’s and he tells me he has learned a great deal from them since his youth. He attended a four-year (I believe) Bible institute in Texas and pastored a church while studying. Since his return to Chile Edio has been living in his home town of Osorno and in full-time ministry. Edio’s connections with the United States and experiences with US culture enable him and his wife Ema to understand my way of thinking better, as I am obviously a Gringo. This enables us to talk about topics that might be culturally sensitive in a way that places what is important to God over our own pre-formed cultural ideals.
For instance, many US churches see plurality of leadership as a set committee of elders, while the term “elder” (anciano)in Chile is often no more than an age indicator, and its more abstract significance as someone of greater spiritual maturity appointed for leading the church is viewed as foreign. Most Chilean churches don’t have elders and the idea of plurality of leadership—as US Americans understand it—seems to be viewed as causing factionalism and hindering the growth of the church.
While conversing with Edio, I noted how the Iglesias de Cristodescribe their pastoral retreats as for “pastors,” “elders” (sometimes), “leaders,” and those “encharged” of the church, and we began to talk about how these terms may—or may not—refer to the same group of people. Let me interrupt the train of thought here to note briefly that the issue of plurality in Churches—and similar culuturally-sensitive topics—is not only Edio and Ema’s concern, nor is it solely my own and Dani’s, but it is the responsibility of the international church. However, I know we all would be honored if God were to use us to reach orthodoxy on a global level—even if we were only a small part of taking one of the first steps in the process.
In general, the Bible seems to promote community and the Idea that God has been in constant relationship (interaction) with Himself as the Trinity since the beginning. We know that “iron sharpens Iron,” “two heads are better than one,” and that the church is for encouraging one another in our walk with the Lord. We know from watching instant replays of the big game that every angle captured adds to the greater understanding of the reality that occurred. In the same way, the church exhorts itself when members share their personal experiences (angles) of God to contribute to the greater—and more orthodox—understanding of Him.
Nonetheless, these experiences must conform to biblical teaching and the orthodoxy of 2000 years of tradition. During my conversations with Edio, Ema, and others I began to understand something a little bit better. I began to perceive more clearly how the Chilean church has something to offer the world too. They have insight into God’s grace as the fruit of the seeds sown by missionaries and native Christians over the past 75 years or so. Yes, I do believe that there are more educational opportunities in the United States—ESPECIALLY biblically speaking. That’s why I desperately want Daniela and I’s children to speak English; so they will have access to greater learning opportunities. However, having said that, academic education is only a pawn to serving the greater goal of maturing in Christ and is not always necessary to achieve this main Goal. Though it is very helpful. Nonetheless, Chileans do have something to say—something to contribute—to the global church.
As such, Daniela and I are trying to converge our privileged access to the vaster theological information and church tradition available in English with our combined (albeit still growing on my part) solid understanding of Chilean culture to equipp us to break down more cultural barriers. We hope to break through these cultural barriers by providing other Chileans with a greater opportunity for participation in the greater—global—body of Christ by providing sound biblical teaching from sermon type to academic, while being sure to focus on the heart of the message of the Bible. That means cross-cultural accountability and working with professionals on both shores to promote generally accepted principals that can be applied to any child of God no matter where they are. Maybe one of Daniela and I’s children will even continue the work one day.
Other Thoughts on International Community
Short-term mission trips are coming to be understood as less and less effective in recent study, but in what sense? It seems that US American Christianity—amidst many other disciplines—is becoming privy to the world-wide sentiment that we haven’t been seen as sharing well with other nations, and now we have begun to rethink our role as the US Church. The idea of planting the seed of the gospel on unsown soil as missions as is being done in other areas of the world—such as the 1040 window—is now incompatible with the Chilean context.
This seed that is still being sown in other parts of the world has already been planted in Chile. But what about watering the seed? This might be described as pastoral care, discipleship, or spiritual formation. Can we put fertilizer on the seed? This might have the form of introducing more academic theological and biblical studies to our brothers and sisters. What about the dead leaves that fall of one plant in the forest and become fertilizer for another? THIS IS PROBABLY YOUR ROLE! These “dead leaves” are our personal experiences of Jesus Christ that fall from our lips to fertilize (produce growth in) the heart of a fellow brother or sister. This might be bilingual church members sharing with one another in person during short term mission trips (Or sharing trips? Or community trips?) and staying in contact through the internet. These trips would still be primarily for producing growth in the church even if the general connotation of “mission” has changed a bit. Interpreters may also be used. The idea of short-term missions might be over as the church has previously understood it, but that does not mean that we cannot have multi-cultural sharing and sharpening relationships with one another in a different context. Even if the community of the international church is more distant and/or more shallow than that which we have with our home churches, the benefits of sharing the experiences are still worthwhile, especially when thinking of long-term global development.
Another thing that comes to mind is sending young persons to the US to participate in my own—or another church’s—ministry/pastoral internship program where they can get more diverse understanding of ministry to better adhere to the way God prescribes it through the Bible.
Chilean Family and the Church
In the US—and other wealthier countries I suppose—once a child comes of age, they are free to do whatever they want. This is not at all different from the Chilean situation. However, thereisa difference in the child’s ability to be self-sustaining. Chilean—and most of the rest of the world’s family’s—are more dependent on each other to survive. I’ve known this bit for a long time—and maybe the information is not new to you either—but, what I am newly realizing is that different characteristics of society make it easier for US Americans to flee the nest than in most other countries. For instance, houses and apartments in Chile are built with morethan two generations in mind or more than one family in mind, Debt is harder to acquire, and obviously jobs pay less.
What this means for the church is that the “my house, my rules” mentality—at the least—pressures adult children—and the children’s children—to attend church. In some cases they are outright threatened with eviction if they don’t attend. We know that God doesn’t force us to worship him, but wants us to choose him willingly, so when should Chilean parents stop mandating their children to attend church? At the “age of accountability” (when God sees them as an adult)? At 18 (when the Chilean government sees them as an adult)? Somewhere in the middle? Afterwards? MAYBE A GREATER QUESTION TO ASK IS: Is the forced attendance (NOT participation) of the adults encouraging the church or harming it? It seems that a foreigner—newly introduced to these cultural circumstances—should probably listen more than comment on the subject… especially one who has not even had a child yet. So, I’ll just leave this one for all you more experienced ones to chew on for a bit.
A Great Option in Theory
Edio, Ema and I had a great time praying and talking about these and a slew of other culturally sensitive topics that are best considered with the grace and understanding of Christ. My mind was stretched and my understanding grew notably. And so, it appears that one logical option for long-term service in Chile would be for Daniela and I to work with Edio and Ema in Osorno, and to learn what practices and spiritual disciplines have kept the Iglesia de Cristo of Osorno thriving in God’s grace over the years. If it were God’s will that Daniela and I would work with Edio and Ema in Osorno, we would be a great team and possibly even a contribution to the development of missions—in general—over the long-term. But, the bigger blessing would be the huge boost of acceptance by church members of the Iglesia de Cristo—in the region—from working with Edio as the nationally renoun pastor that he is. Finally, nobody likes to make mistakes—especially when people’s eternity is hanging in the balance—so the idea of learning from an educated native—and listening to him recounting his own culturally-relevant human error to help me avoid making the same mistakes—placed alongside the great mentorships that have already been blessing our ministry—seems to be a strong recipe for success.
Moving in Santiago
But, we feel convicted and encouraged to continue our work in Santiago—for the time being at least. There are some activities that haven’t born as much fruit as we would like, but I’m really growing in being able to gauge an audience—whether it be old or young—to present them with that aspect or prospective of the gospel that will help them most where they are. I refer to ONE aspect because, who could capture the entirety of the gospel in a sermon or day or year, when it takes us more than a lifetime to fully mature in it? What IS good to know is that, Edio and the Iglesia de Cristoin Osorno has offered us a ministry partnership, and we are and will be praying about it in the inmediate future. Please be praying for God’s direction with us over the next while. More to come on the previously mentioned Bible studies soon.
Right now—just to give you an idea of the ins and outs of daily routine, I’m processing the recently-learned information from Osorno and writing to you about it, planning the youth meeting for this weekend, scheduling meetings with ministry mentors to talk about ideas discussed with Edio, trying to fix the internet, and continuing through a book that attempts to capture the great spectrum of ideas that should be considered in extracting theological meaning out of the biblical text (exegesis).
Later I’ll go pay a couple of bills. Then stop by the store on the way home to make room for ministry activities during the weekend so Dani and I can attend and serve together instead of shopping. I just try to do as many things in a loop—or outing—as possible so that we are the most productive with our time. Daniela is at work. She has a big event this week to bake a lot for and her and Tabi Boyce are prayerfully considering a ministry opportunity that we will be exploring in greater detail as family units (the Boyce’s and the Kepschull-Vera’s). This weekend there is a multi-church conference held in the north of Santiago to promote inter-church community and orthodoxy. It is organized by the pastor’s meeting I have been attending. As always, there will be more to share soon.
Daniela and I were talking last night about how much we love that—at least in our personal relationship—it doesn’t matter that she is Chilean and that I am a US American. It’s not that we ignore it or try to avoid the difference, it’s simply that God’s maturing love in us helps us see past it or through it to what is behind it or at the center of it (the created person). We talked about how cool it would be if that understanding wouldn’t stay confined within the walls of our marriage but, was a model for us to look at others the same way and for other believers to have that higher quality in their own intercultural/international relationships with one another. It seems that Christianity must keep up with the times in forming these uniting relationships that strengthen the global Christian Church though the idea may seem strange—or even unpractical—in the present.