‘Walking Together’ in Mission in Paraguay
By Elliott Wright
New York, NY, November 27, 2012—The United Methodist Church and the Methodist Evangelical Community in Paraguay have a new partnership, a relationship that the leader of the Paraguayan churches calls “walking together in mission.”
Several years in the making, the partnership is symbolized by the assignment of a missionary to develop a children’s ministry in Asunción, the capital of the Latin American country of 6.5 million people.
Mary Escobar is the first missionary of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries sent for service in Paraguay. Bishop Pablo Mora of Paraguay took part in her late October commissioning in New York. In a subsequent telephone interview, he expressed joy that his church and The United Methodist denomination are now linked in mission — “walking together.”
The Methodist Community in Paraguay is some 25 years old and started in part through mission outreach from Methodists in neighboring Brazil, according to the Rev. Edgar Avitia, a Global Ministries’ staff member. It has 45 congregations, approximately 3,000 members and 33 local pastors but only three ordained elders (full clergy). The growing church, said Bishop Mora, is highly regarded in heavily Roman Catholic Paraguay because of its emphasis on helping people move forward in all aspects of life — spiritual and material.
Education as Priority
The pressing need to train clergy and lay leaders explains the strong emphasis Bishop Mora puts on education, and specially the completion of facilities for the church’s Bible Institute. The school presently has 26 students, with 10 set to graduate at the end of this academic year.
Education figures significantly in the mission partnership with Global Ministries. Both the Bible Institute and New Horizons School in San Antonio are new projects of The Advance, the United Methodist designated giving channel. New Horizon has 700 students in grades covering 12 years. It has a library, computer laboratory, and courses open to the neighborhood, according to the Rev. Juan Gattinoni, another Global Ministries staffer who visited there last June.
Mary Escobar, the new Global Ministries missionary, is set to work with the Mary Joe Phillips Daycare, an emerging community-based facility related to church in a poor neighborhood of Asunción. The center, which has ecumenical support, provides meals, recreation and educational activities for 10 hours per day. The average per capita income in Paraguay is just over $4,000 per year.
Three Additional Priorities
Along with completion of the Bible Institute, Bishop Mora listed three other Methodist priorities of equal importance in Paraguay:
- Providing medical personnel for church-related clinics for the poor around the country.
- Developing a facility to host camps and retreats.
- Starting new congregations in areas where the church has no presence.
The bishop was born and grew up in Paraguay and became a missionary in Brazil after attending theological seminary in São Paulo. Once home, he was instrumental in organizing the Methodist Community in Paraguay, which deliberately uses “community” rather than “church” in its formal name to distinguish it from a previous Methodist entity. He was elected to the episcopal office four years ago.
Other Mission Partners
The Methodist Church in Korea, the Mission Society, and the Methodist Church of Brazil are among the other mission agencies with personnel in Paraguay. Global Ministries expects to work collaboratively with these groups under the leadership of the indigenous Methodist community.
The oldest Methodist sanctuary in Paraguay today comes from a much earlier mission era, according to Rev. Gattinoni. It stands 120 km from Asunción in a rural area, built in 1888 by the Evangelical Church, a forerunner to The United Methodist Church. Ecumenical Protestants agreements in the early 20th century assigned Paraguay to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The rural church was used by many groups over the decades and is today, again, the setting for Methodist preaching.
Learn more about the work of Global Ministries in Paraguay. Support Mary Escobar with your gift.