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New missional connection brings disciples from Argentina to Florida

New missional connection brings disciples from Argentina to Florida

Missions and Outreach
Giuliana Franco (bottom left) and Adrian Vera Baez (top right) pose for a group photo.

A cross-cultural experience happens when people enter a completely different environment to gain understanding about the needs and customs of people who are different from them.

Clarke Campbell-Evans, the Florida Conference director of Missional Engagement, compares it to taking off our cultural lenses and seeing people and faith in a new way.

Florida Methodists already do that in collaborations with Methodists in Cuba, East Angola and Haiti. Now, another has begun with the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina.

Adrian Vera Baez plays a guitar in worship at St. John's by the Lake in Miami Beach
Adrian Vera Baez plays a guitar in worship at St. John's by the Lake in Miami Beach.

The seeds for that were planted two years ago on a trip to Argentina for the opening of new offices for the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. During the journey, Campbell-Evans and Bishop Ken Carter discussed ways they could benefit from a mutual mission outreach.

Because of those talks, Adrian Vera Baez and Giuliana Franco of Argentina are working in Orlando with Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. They arrived last August and will return home at the end of this summer.

“They get to take off the glasses and pass them around the circle, to have a richer, deeper more meaningful experience of life,” Campbell-Evans said. “It will help them all grow in their capacity and ability to know and experience the world and recognize that all of us have different perspectives on the world and the faith.”

The Methodist Church in Argentina was shaped by decades of difficult political and economic realities, he said. Methodist churches in South America were started by American and British missionaries, but they became autonomous by the 1960s.

The new denomination took shape in the turmoil following the demise of dictator Juan Peron. An estimated 22,000 people died in the U.S.-supported campaign against political dissidents in the 1970s, known as the Dirty War. Many of them just disappeared.

The government targeted many young people who were considered leftists or rebels.

“The Church leadership stood up to the dictatorship, speaking out against the disappearances and developing a strong emphasis on human rights,” Campbell-Evans said. “That is part of the origin story of the Methodist Church in Argentina.”

In addition to political turmoil, he said the country’s economy is not stable.

All the institutions, including the Church, have struggled. While faithful, the church has been forced to operate with limited funds.

“The experience of the Church is very different than ours,” he said. “Even though American churches have financial issues of their own, Argentine Methodists would consider American churches more affluent.”

Campbell-Evans said the Florida Conference wants to begin sending American young adults to Argentina for a missional year. In May, he will return there with a delegation including pastors, lay people and students from Bethune-Cookman University, which is establishing a sister relationship with the Latin American Education Center University, a Methodist school in Rosario.

Heidi Mareburger Aspinwall, director of the Young Adult Missional Movement (YAMM), said the Argentine project has learned to be adaptive in its first year.

Giuliana Franco hard at work filing documents.
Giuliana Franco hard at work filing documents.

Vera Baez was initially assigned to a YAMM project with St. John by the Lake United Methodist Church in Miami Beach but later transferred to First United Methodist Church in Kissimmee to work in its Hispanic mission church, Casa de Paz. There he works with Puerto Ricans trying to adjust to life in the United States.

Franco was initially assigned to United Methodist Cooperative Ministries in St. Petersburg, which has a day care and preschool in a Hispanic neighborhood. She now also works with Hurricane Maria refugees in Orlando at the Community Hope Center.

Aspinwall said these have been valuable lessons that will help better prepare them for the next pair of Argentinians. The language barrier proved to be a challenge, as did navigating all the paperwork required for background and other checks.

“It has been an experiment,” she said. “We have learned from it.”

She knows that the young adults have learned from it as well.

“It’s tapped into their sense of adventure,” Aspinwall said. “They’ve learned about how we do church, how people interact. They’ve seen that there are so many possibilities.”

Vera Baez said he sees the exchange program as a chance to grow spiritually and to learn about people in another country.

“I liked this opportunity because it helps me understand the development of the Church in the United States and specifically in Miami and Orlando,” he said.

“This situation is very interesting with regard to the Latino community, I think it's good that the Conference can help develop Hispanic ministries. I like to think of a Church that can include Americans and Hispanics, we are one body.”

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