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a report by Ron Copeland
Willi Hugo Perez, 2004 graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and current academic dean of SEMILLA, the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary in Guatemala, returned to EMS Feb. 7-9, 2005. His message focused on Jesus and the road to Emmaus.
Perez suggested that many people in Latin America are like the disciples on the way to Emmaus. Just as the disciples in the New Testament were in despair because they thought that the Jesus project had failed – there would be no liberation for Israel, there would be no utopia, the shepherd had been struck and the sheep were scattered – so also the people of Latin America had believed that Latin America was going to change but it didn’t. Now “hopelessness permeates” the land.
Perez highlighted Jesus’ teaching method. First, he walked with them. Then, he became involved with the discussion; he wanted to share in their situation, to learn of their situation before teaching them a lesson. Jesus, Perez suggests, then provided another interpretation of the situation, and in doing so he gave the disciples a new horizon and a new light. “He transmitted hope – certainty with Faith.”
Latin America needs this message of hope, proclaimed Perez. The people of Latin America need to know that God’s Kingdom is new and different – it is Kingdom of justice, peace, fellowship and love. He emphasized that the Church needs to put into action all of its resources in order to spread hope. He said that Christians, like Jesus on the road to Emmaus, must first pay attention to the lamentations of those who suffer – Christians must “share bread with those who need to recover.” Perez ’s heart longs for his brothers and sisters in Guatemala to learn that, guided by Jesus, they can reinterpret their situation through Him and find Faith in spite of the powers of evil.
“There is a powerful mystery in the act of sharing with others,” said Perez in what seemed to be a call to comfortable North Americans.
On Tuesday, I was able to speak to Perez for about an hour. I asked him what, if anything, he wished that we would do to help him relieve the despair of his people. He suggested, humbly and kindly, that it would be nice if more of us would come to Central America and see the situation for ourselves and then learn about United States foreign policy, and speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ prophetically and boldly into that situation.
He told me about his work in Guatemala and all over Central America, and about the despair in places like Nicaragua where the current unemployment rate is 80 percent. I asked him what is the most positive type of ministry happening in Central America right now – what kind of ministry is reaching the most people, in a lasting way, with the reality of the hope in Jesus?
His answer was what he calls “Theology of Incarnation.” Apparently, pastors are realizing from the example of the life of Jesus that they are called to live among the poor, physically – to abandon earthly comforts to bring the Good News to hurting people. Again, he hearkened back to the road to Emmaus: “These pastors are living with people in their situations, social and spiritual. This is a very holistic Gospel – a Gospel of Hope.”
To learn more about SEMILLA and Willi Hugo Perez’ other work in Central America, go to www.semilla.org.gt.