As a seminary intern in a Benedictine Catholic monastery in Mexico, Rev. Philip Anderson was first introduced to Latin America. Latin America stuck with him, and he went on to become a missionary pastor in Colombia. Since then, his ministry in Latin America has only expanded. He is now a volunteer coordinator for the Election Observer Mission of the Ecumenical Forum of El Salvador/Latin America Council of Churches. In this two-part blog post, he reflects on the region’s history and what its current climate means for the Church, both in the United States and in Latin America.
Rev. Anderson writes:
I became interested in Central America when I served as a seminary intern. It was an unusual internship. Another intern, Ralph Baumgartner, and I, both from Luther Seminary, were assigned to serve with a Benedictine Catholic monastery near Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. That was 1973-1974, a period of transformation within the universal Roman Catholic Church following Vatican II (1962-65) and the Latin American Bishops’ Conference response, in Medellín, Colombia, 1968.
Liberation theology was having a significant impact throughout the hemisphere, with its emphasis on a “preferential option for the poor” and a re-reading of the Bible in Base Christian Communities, relating daily social, economic, and political life with the Word of God.
I then served as a missionary pastor in Colombia, South America, 1977-1982. In 1980, I made a month-long visit to Central America, by bus or pick-up trucks from Panama City to Guatemala City. As a result of that trip, the American Lutheran Church, together with the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (to become the ELCA) asked me to focus on Central America beginning with a strategic plan for the involvement of those churches in the Central American region. In part, this need arose from the presence by then of hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees in the United States, the vast majority undocumented. Churches in the United States were asking about this new phenomena and felt the need both to assist these refugees (not recognized as such by United States law) and to understand the root causes of their flight from countries of origin.
Together with Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches missionary Bishop Kenneth Mahler (deceased February 2014) and former Jesuit and church historian Phillip Berryman, we visited El Salvador in July of 1980, three months after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador.
Among those we met were Jesuit priest, Ignacio Ellacuría, later assassinated by the Salvadoran army during the guerrilla offensive of November, 1989, and Lutheran Pastor (later consecrated Bishop) Medardo Gómez, head of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod, supported by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
In next week’s post, Rev. Anderson will explain the climate in Central America today, and why he and Bishop Gómez, recipients of the Sylvester C. Michelfelder Award for Christian Services, urge Americans to reach out to Central Americans in their midst.