In 2010 Church Mission Society merged with the South American Mission Society (SAMS). This year, CMS has taken a bold step towards cultivating a locally-led mission movement within Latin America. Mission development manager for Latin America Paul Tester will lead this work from Lima. Here he talks about vision, mission and tradition.
What led you to apply for the post of mission development manager for Latin America?
The short answer would be God. The long answer is I’ve been working happily with SAMS then CMS in the Diocese of Peru for 10 years, first with young people and then in discipleship across the diocese.
But when I read about the role, I felt a sense of calling. The idea of placing this position within Latin America to work alongside the local church to develop a mission movement within and from Latin America is really exciting.
So what will it take to grow a distinctly Latin American mission movement?
Many things are already happening within Latin America. There are Latin American churches who have sent missionaries to serve within Latin America and globally.
In addition to sending mission partners from the UK, we are already working with many local partners whom God has raised up (see pages 16–17). So we’re not inventing something new. We’re just looking to follow God’s lead and we’ve sensed that this is the right time to do something a bit different. We need to work with the Latin American church, encouraging dioceses and strategic partners to participate in this broad global movement from Latin America to the rest of the world.
We need to connect with other mission movements and we need to give and receive resources. There are lots of things that CMS can offer the Latin American church to help facilitate mission within and from the region – things such as experienced mission training and a vast network – and vice versa. We work closely with the Anglican province of South America to nurture mission growth and we will continue working together at a deep level.
What are some challenges in Latin America today?
There are issues of poverty, particularly wealth inequality. Corruption is another issue. There have been some huge political scandals and people are feeling disillusioned with politicians. There are massive environmental challenges particularly adversely affecting indigenous peoples and the rural poor.
There is a huge need for Christians to speak into these issues. I strongly feel this has to be led by the Latin American church and we from the UK need to walk alongside them.
So what will you do first?
The first step for me is listening, to God and to our key partners, getting a sense of what they see is the next step, what support they need in mission. My plan is to visit all our mission partners, local partners and short-termers in my first 18 months, to listen and observe and to build together from there. It’s a big challenge; we work in 10 Latin American countries.
I’m keeping the founding Venn principles of CMS very much in mind: particularly to start small, begin with prayer and to rely on the Spirit of God.
You’ve used the word “movement”. What’s the difference between a “movement” and “good things happening”?
The term “movement” gives a sense of life, as opposed perhaps to an institution. And I think we really are relying on the movement of God’s Spirit. God is way ahead of us in this. In a sense we see that already: Latin Americans have been serving in international crosscultural mission for years. God is already stirring things up and we are just looking to play our part. Also I think in a movement there is a unity of purpose, a common vision or direction. I’m hoping to find this as I travel around Latin America; I’m hoping to see mission in many different contexts, but with a similar desire to work together and equip each other to join in with what God is already doing.
CMS has chosen to place your role within the region. How significant is this?
I think it’s really important, both practically, because we’ll be geographically closer, and because it sends a strong message that we genuinely want to work alongside the Latin American church, not swoop in and take over. My office will be based at the diocesan centre in Lima and I think that will help with integration.
When you look ahead, what excites you?
We see Latin Americans migrating throughout the world and working in many different contexts, establishing churches. We see Latin American churches sending groups to serve in mission. That’s exciting. I’m also excited by how encouraging the church in Latin America has been to us in this move, particularly the Anglican Province of South America. The bishops have lent their support and been involved in this process.
Latin American Christians have real, visible passion for living out their faith, which can be contagious. I think in certain contexts Latin Americans may be more welcome and better received than someone from the UK.
Do you feel the weight of CMS and SAMS history on your shoulders?
I feel a sense of responsibility but I don’t feel weighed down – I feel excited to be part of that wonderful tradition. And if this move is truly of God, I don’t need to feel burdened. Rather, I can simply play the part God wants me to: looking after our current people in mission and cultivating a locally led mission movement.