By Stan Friedman
MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA (August 2, 2013) – Integrating social justice with evangelism, advocating for victims of abuse, and training young leaders were key themes of the recently concluded triennial conference of the La Confraternidad de Iglesias del Pacto Evangelico de Iberoamerica (CIPE).
The gathering, which also marked CIPE’s 25th anniversary, was held July 22-26, with more than 110 people attending. CIPE includes churches in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and the Ministry of Hispanic Covenant Churches in the United States (MHIPE) as well as associate members in Uruguay and Spain.
The overall theme for the event was “We Are MORE Planting Churches Together.” For a previous Covenant News Service story on CIPE’s push to plant 100 churches in the next five years, click here.
In an interview, Ivan Carrasco, president of the Covenant Church of Argentina, said,
“It is important to include ministries of justice and human rights in planting new churches, because the gospel is good news to humans and opens the door to salvation for the lost soul. Giving physical support makes sharing the gospel truly comprehensive and people are more willing to hear the gospel.”
Carrasco added that the global economic crisis has devastated much of Colombia and the most vulnerable are hurt the most. Drug use, as well as domestic and national violence, also has caused much suffering.
During a presentation to the gathering, the Colombia Covenant Association highlighted ministries of justice within their country.
With help from Norway and the United States, the Colombian Covenant churches sponsor programs that reach 1,300 people, mostly children. Those ministries include helping prostitutes start new lives and learn job skills, providing basic education for children in marginal areas, providing nutritional foods to school-age children, and offering assistance to internally displaced people.
According to multiple relief organizations, more than 5.5 million people have been displaced within Colombia and another 380,000 have sought refugee status elsewhere as a result of violence involving paramilitary groups and drug cartels.
The Shalom Covenant Church in Medellin, with some help from German sources, sponsors the Home for Peace for internally displaced children. Pastor Carlos Diaz said nine children live in the home, some of whom watched their parents being killed and cut into pieces. The church also sponsors a feeding program for 25 adults.
“It’s time to get out of our comfort zone,” Diaz said.
CIPE churches also are supporting multiple programs to protect victims of abuse The Covenant Women of Colombia has worked with the church to promote the Advocates for Victims of Abuse (AVA), originally designed by the Department of Women Ministries for the Evangelical Covenant Church.
A candlelight service held one evening during the conference focused on the church continuing to respond to the violence. The entire group surrounded victims of violence and prayed for them. Shirts painted by victims of abuse were hung for everyone to see.
One shirt was illustrated with a weeping girl inside a broken heart asking, “Momma where were you? I needed you.”
Covenant Youth of Colombia and the International Covenant Youth Organization presented on the need to train and include young people for ministry. “The young people are so passionate to learn and serve,” said Ed Delgado, president of Centro Hispano de Estudios Teologicos, the Covenant’s Hispanic training center in Compton, California, and a presenter. To read about a historic agreement between CHET and CIPE, click here.
The Colombian church presented the grand finale. Each person was given a Colombian poncho and then two men, a Trova from the word troubadour – sang back and forth to one another in rhyming poetry, including every person in leadership, every country, and every guest,” said Nancy Reed, a retired Covenant missionary who still is involved in international Hispanic ministries. “It was fantastic.”
Conference attendees agreed that they “will share information in a more efficient way, have a human resource center, the desire to organize social work in each member country, establish a continuous church-planting movement, be sensitive to the problems of violence and empowering rights, valuing young adults and assuming leadership.”
“CIPE has been an agency for empowerment,” said David Mark, the Covenant’s co-regional coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean. “CIPE at its best makes things happen.”
After the conference, Samuel Galdamez, president of MHIPE and pastor of La Iglesia del Pacto de Turlock California, recalled the dreams of CIPE’s first president, Jorge Taylor, for the ministries to grow and impact their world. “What is happening today?” said Galdamez. “Impossible ideas have become a reality, a great open door to service. I have been strengthened as a pastor. Now is the time.”
Carrasco said he was excited about the emphasis on church planting. “Church planting speaks of a genuine move of the Holy Spirit, which is mobilizing the church to meet the great commission. To be an active part of this brings joy and hope, that in the midst of social indifference and injustice, the people of God arise with a common purpose to plant the flag of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In addition to planting local churches, one of the CIPE goals over the last few years has been to increase the number of countries with Covenant congregations. “They love the Covenant and want to see Covenant churches throughout Latin America,” said Reed.