We never met Pedro, but a chill fell over us when we learned of his death.  As we heard the news, our hearts reached out to Lucía, who had shared with us some of Pedro’s story.

Mary and I were leading a retreat for a congregation of the Reformed Churches of Argentina, a PC(USA) mission partner.  Evangelism is one of this denomination’s core concerns, and these folks wanted to spend the weekend thinking and praying together about their role as witnesses to Jesus’ love and justice in their community.  Mary and I had planned several exercises and a Bible study to motivate their reflection. 

The second day of the retreat Lucía distributed handmade paper butterflies to the participants.  She is completing her studies as a social worker and spends much of her time working with young offenders and at-risk youth.  Pedro, she told us, was only 17.  From a broken home, he had a long history of addictions and trouble with the law.  But he was a sweet kid, and when he heard that Lucía was going to this church retreat he agreed to make these butterflies.  He understood they were a symbol of hope, a sign that transformation is possible.

It was only a month later that we heard that Pedro had taken his own life. 

As it is in so many other countries, growing up in Argentina can be tough.  Families can be fragile, support networks are weak and underfunded, the pressure to escape life’s pain through drugs and alcohol ever present, jobs are hard to find. 

Folks like Lucia are committed to helping kids like Pedro and making sure that social services are available to the vulnerable.  And folks like Lucia understand that such work bears testimony to Jesus, and to the hope of abundant life. 

But it never stops hurting when someone like Pedro ends it all.

Pray for Lucia and the many other young professionals working in our partner churches. Pray that they might be able to hold on to the hope, strength and vulnerability that are rooted in their personal faith in Jesus Christ. Pray that they will be able to deal with stress and the pain of loss. Pray that they will have the energy to challenge established ways of doing things, and the vision to imagine alternatives for the common good. Pray that they will have courage and wisdom to build societies in which it is easier for the most vulnerable among us to live fulfilling lives.

We’ve been in Argentina for more than two years now.  We’re at the stage where our mission partners are asking us to help out occasionally with a talk or a workshop. We’ve had four such opportunities in the last couple of months. Three have given us a chance to get out of the big city and develop personal relationships with local faith communities. 

Mary has focused on offering simple exercises to help manage stress. Together we have offered workshops and Bible studies on evangelism and alternatives to violence. All have been well received.

We are also in conversation with two churches and one presbytery in the U.S. that hope to bring mission study groups to Uruguay and Argentina in 2014. Our partners here are delighted for opportunities to strengthen relationships with churches in the U.S. and the pieces seem to be falling into place to make that possible.

Do you want to get in on the party? PC(USA) mission partners in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile are doing wonderful work in service to the gospel. Seeing their work and experiencing the wonderful, complex diversity of local cultures can be a life-changing experience. Why not come and see for yourself? 

This is the perfect time for your church to start organizing a mission trip to this region for 2014 or 2015. I’ll be delighted to help you look at the options that are right for you.

Whether or not you can come and share with sisters and brothers here in person, you are already an active participant in our ministry here. Through your prayers, your correspondence and your financial commitment God is using you to minister in the Southern Cone and Brazil. Thank you!

Dennis and Maribel Smith began a new chapter of ministry in South America in January 2011. Dennis serves as the PC(USA) regional liaison for the Southern Cone and Brazil. (The Southern Cone of South America includes Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay.) Maribel serves in ministry in the home and continues her volunteer work as part of a network that treats post-traumatic stress and seeks alternatives to violence.