For me, this year’s Bautistas por la Paz (Baptists for Peace) summer Peace Camp was a deeply renewing experience. In daily Bible Studies, theologian Dr. Elsa Tamez led us through the book of James, reminding us that faith without the solidarity of love is not authentic. In a workshop, I learned about the work of Olga Alvarado, a Mexican activist who leads an ecumenical outreach to migrants traveling to or returning from the US border. She reflected, “We think at first that we humanize and give them dignity, but really they humanize us because they help us acknowledge our vulnerability”. In another moving workshop, Dalia Juárez, Eleazaar Encino, and Aurelia Jimenez, leaders from the Seminario Intercultural Mayense, (Mayan Intercultural Seminary) in Chiapas, Mexico, described their work providing theological training and empowerment for indigenous people still fighting for dignity and freedom within Mexico.
Perhaps my most moving moment happened in a workshop on conflict resolution. A Mexican pastor described her first few weeks as a new pastor in a community where many people work to harvest sugar cane. Workers first burn the fields and then walk through to collect the stalks, which leaves them covered in ashes and dirt. In her first service, the pastor noticed that none of the sugar cane workers were in attendance. When she visited with them the following week, they told her that because of their dirty, ash-covered clothing, they didn’t feel welcomed in church. The next Sunday, the pastor showed up for church, dirty and covered in ashes. She walked up to the pulpit and led the service, clothed as one of the sugar cane workers. This act of solidarity had more impact than any sermon ever could. Word of her surprising act spread and the next week, the congregation was filled with sugar cane workers as well as original members who welcomed them.
Held in Misión Mazahua, a lovely rural retreat setting outside of Mexico City, the theme for this year’s Peace Camp was ‘Clothing each other in Hope’. This theme was beautifully interpreted in the chorus of a song composed especially for this gathering: “Tu nos llamas a abrir los brazos, desde rincones sin dignidad, a arropornos con esperanza, retazos de amor: solidaridad.” (You are calling us to embrace life, from the corners of dignity, clothing each other with hope and faith, pieces of love: solidarity.)
This was a historic gathering of Baptists from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean all committed to the work of peace and justice in our various contexts as people of faith. It was transformative week of living, learning and worshiping together despite differences of language and culture. The planning and leadership was provided by a talented group of Baptist leaders from across Mexico, Central, and South America. All services and workshops were conducted in Spanish with interpreters provided for the non-Spanish speaking attendees. It was an immersion experience for many participants coming from the North. We were immersed into the language, food, community and spirituality of Latin culture. We were invited to consider faith through the lens of a culture that values ‘we’ over ‘I’.
Worship leaders Gerardo Oberman and Horacio Vivares, (co-founders of Red Crearte, a Latin American liturgical network), encouraged us to transcend the barriers of language through the use of images, rituals and music. Their worship style focused on collaboration – all who wanted to participate were included, regardless of the level of musical expertise. Passion and meaning flowed through every service with worshipers frequently on their feet moving to the Latin music.
The final night of Peace Camp concluded with a fiesta. Participants feasted on traditional Mexican food followed by music and salsa dancing. Young and old, expert dancers and beginners, Spanish speakers and English speakers - all shared the floor and celebrated the gift of connection and friendship. United by our faith and a common commitment to the work of peace and justice that crosses all boundaries, we joyfully shared in a night of salsa and solidarity.
Beth Jackson-Jordan is the director of spiritual care and education for Carolinas Healthcare System, NE in Concord, NC. She is a longterm member of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz.