CLADE, which stands for the Congress on Latin American Evangelization, is a conference hosted by the Latin American Theological Fellowship (FTL) for the purpose of discussing key theological and missional issues in Latin American church contexts. Held every ten years, the conference draws an interdisciplinary group of theologians, pastors, intellectuals and development workers from the whole hemisphere under the umbrella of “integral mission.” This key characteristic of the CLADE movement emphasizes the church’s integrated mission to her neighbors in word and deed, thus bridging the divide that has beleaguered North American Christians for decades. Over 25 Wheaton and HNGR alumni were able to participate as speakers, volunteers and attendees when the fifth CLADE met in Costa Rica in July 2012 under the banner “Following Jesus in God’s Kingdom of Life: Guide Us, Holy Spirit!” We were able to catch up with a number of them for an inside perspective.
What was your involvement in CLADE V?
Jenn Ruppelt (HNGR '10): Volunteer.
Remer Brinson (HNGR '10): I had the opportunity to be a participant and a volunteer at CLADE V. As a participant, I was able to attend all the plenary addresses from FTL members from around Latin America and to participate in a 3 day small group session entitled, “Youth: the Protagonists for the Transformation.” As a volunteer, I was able to help with all sorts of behind the scenes work before and after the major events. Honestly, getting to volunteer was just an awesome way for me to support a bunch of my Wheaton friends who had some serious responsibility for coordinating CLADE V.
Rachel Beverage (Wheaton '11): I had the privilege of spending the last year working with the General Secretary of the Latin American Theological Fellowship on preparations for CLADE V and providing support to the steering committee. During CLADE V, I served as the volunteer coordinator.
Matt (HNGR '10): I was a volunteer for CLADE V, so I was running around most of the time trying to figure out behind-the-scenes logistics, but I got to sit in on a couple of sessions.
Ryan Juskus (HNGR '04, Assistant Director): I attended CLADE V as a participant and also had the privilege of giving a talk on environmental ethics, particularly in response to an increase in mining projects in the region, in collaboration with the conference’s breakout group focused on the ecological and social crisis in Latin America. I also had a chance to connect with many of our Latin American partner organizations.
What was one highlight of the conference for you?
Jenn: The worship at the end of each day. There was such a profound feeling of joy and hope in the unity brought by worshiping to the sounds of salsa, huayno, and much more.
Remer: I had two major highlights. The first was getting to connect with and learn from a dozen or so missionally-minded, passionate, bright Latin American youth in my “Youth: the Protagonists for the Transformation” small group sessions. The second was getting to serve alongside so many incredible Wheaton (many HNGR) folks. It was powerful to see the way we were all integrating our faith, commitment to justice, and passion for the Latin American Church.
Rachel: The dancing. CLADE V was a time for serious discussion and theological reflection, but it was also a joyful celebration of God’s Kingdom of Life. On Tuesday night, after the plenary, as the Latin rhythms began, the conference participants (and volunteers!) busted out dancing.
Matt: Being able to meet pastors, theologians, and NGO leaders from so many different countries who came together with a similar purpose. Though they came from various backgrounds, the participants I met were eager to collaborate and work together to explore how they and their Church body back home can live out the gospel of Christ in their contexts.
Ryan: The fellowship among a diverse group of Latin American evangelicals. It was refreshing to participate in a “theological conference” that brought together sociologists and theologians, artists and pastors, environmentalists and evangelists, and men and women with a focus on being the church that gets to extend God’s love and blessing to her neighbors.
What is one major issue that Latin American churches are facing and how are they responding?
Jenn: I'm gonna skip this one, as I wasn't actually able to be in many of the sessions because of the volunteer work. I'm hoping to listen to them online :)
Remer: Integral Mission is the heartbeat of the CLADE movement. Their churches are constantly seeking to integrate social justice and evangelism to care for the vulnerable, marginalized, and excluded in their communities. The whole conference was about how we live in light of the Kingdom in our own unique contexts, so though the issues varied the common call was to proclaim and seek the Kingdom of God.
Rachel: Most of the available resources for pastors and Christians are translations of English materials from the US. The most accessible are translations of Joel Osteen and other prosperity gospel preachers, which have had devastating effects on many very poor regions of Latin America. Latin American Christians have responded by starting small publishing houses and writing theological training materials and books. The Latin American Theological Fellowship publishes several books a year that engage with the realities of the Latin American context.
Matt: From what I understand, one of the issues that Latin American churches are facing is discerning how to respond to the physical and social needs of their communities. Rather than simply focusing on the spiritual needs of those with whom they interact, many churches are pursuing a more holistic understanding of the gospel and attempting to equip their members to be agents of social change in their communities. Churches and NGOs are working together to serve the members in their community through a holistic gospel that seeks to respond to multiple needs within the community.
Ryan: I’m going to take Assistant Director’s license and highlight three issues that emerged as fields of Christian mission in the next decade: women, children and the environment. Women’s rights, wellbeing and leadership emerged as a leading issue and resulted in a statement by CLADE V’s female participants. A focus on child wellbeing and the “good treatment” (buen trato) movement culminated in all participants being “vaccinated” against child maltreatment. Finally, environmental issues emerged as a key area of church mission in light of their integral relationship to social, political and indigenous health as manifested in this Calle 13 music video that was shared by the Andean delegation.
How would you challenge the North American church in light of CLADE V?
Jenn: I would challenge people to listen to what Latin American theologians are saying. I think the biggest challenge right now is establishing a conversation between the North and South.
Remer: I would love to see the North American Church open itself up to be influenced, taught, and transformed by the Latin American Church. The theology of integral mission would bring wonderful change to North American Churches, but we must be open, understanding, and humble to learn, listen, and change. The North American Church has so much to share with the Latin American Church as well, but so often I’m afraid we force ideas, structures, and mission on them, without pausing to ask questions.
Rachel: The church in the Global South has so much to offer the church in North America. The theologies and commitments of the Latin American Christians at CLADE V are radically relevant and challenging for North American Christians. We must actively seek to put ourselves in places where we can listen to people outside our own context.
Matt: Similar to the issue faced by Latin American churches, I would challenge the North American Church to pursue a more holistic understanding of the gospel that does not content itself with simply trying to meet the spiritual needs of their communities, but seeks to respond to social, emotional, and physical needs as well. We can categorize human needs in order to more fully understand them, but we should never allow ourselves to disregard the importance of a certain aspect of human needs and the Church's responsibility to be attuned to and respond to all of them. We need to reach out beyond the needs of our congregation and seek to serve those in our community in a manner that bursts with the compassion of Jesus Christ. Finally, I should make it clear that my use of "we" is not just a general use of the first-person plural, but a challenge to myself as well, because too often I segregate the needs of human beings and do not make an effort to respond to human needs in a holistic manner.
Ryan: I had opened my talk on Christian environmental ethics with an apology for my people’s disregard for environmental issues that are already negatively impacting millions in Latin America. I then invited my fellow participants to help me and the North American church to imagine Christian ethics and values unchained from the destructive, anthropocentric worldview that far too much many of us possess in the North. I noted that Latino values—hospitality, family, community—as well as indigenous communities’ relational worldviews held promise for a way forward. After my talk, the first question I received was from a Brazilian who had worked with A Rocha Brazil, a Christian conservationist organization, and had just recently witnessed the failure of Rio+20 to commit to any major changes on environmental issues. He asked me, “How in the world is it that Christians in your country do not see the ecological crisis as an issue of deep Christian concern?” Basically, he wanted to know how North American Christians could justify environmental (and thus social) destruction in the name of Christ; or at the very least, why churches neglect to preach on creation care. My challenge would be to live out an answer to that question that draws from the deep well of biblical faith, hope and love, and does so by looking to our Southern neighbors for some largely-forgotten values and worldviews that could guide in Christ’s kingdom of life.