Voices from the Communion: LWF Vice-President for Latin America and the Caribbean Rev. Dr Nestor Friedrich
(LWI) - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a source of inspiration and hope in the world, says LWF Vice-President for Latin America and the Caribbean Rev. Dr. Nestor Friedrich and “in this communion of churches, we experience a true feast of Pentecost, and this is the experience I have had as vice-president.”
“In the LWF,” Friedrich continues, “our different theological perspectives, cultures, languages and ways of celebrating are learning opportunities and expressions of God’s sovereignty, grace and unconditional love.”
In this Voices from the Communion, Friedrich, a member of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil takes us through some memorable moments serving as LWF vice-president, and shares his commentary on the future of politics in his country, and the responsibility of the church in that context.
Tell us about your religious and spiritual upbringing as a child?
I was born in the city of Agudo, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the south of Brazil. A small and very welcoming town. I grew up in a traditional Lutheran family. My childhood and youth were spent in the school yard, which was also the church yard. The call to serve God as a pastor was a slow and gradual process. My father had a small library of books. There, I found picture books that told Bible stories. Besides this, the relationship with the local pastor, Pastor Brauer, was always very special. Thus, I believe, the Holy Spirit was molding and creating in my heart the passion for theology, the desire to be a pastor, to serve God's people. While most of my friends decided to study accounting, I answered God's call to be a pastor.
This week LWF delegations gather for COP27 in Egypt. You attended COP25 in Madrid? Why is it important for LWF to participate?
Of all the years that I have had the privilege and joy of participating in the LWF, participating in COP25 [the United Nations Climate Change Conference] was a special moment. I had the privilege of participating with a fantastic delegation of youth from LWF. At COP 25, I witnessed young people who were aware of the urgency to action concerning the climate, which at that time, was already impacting our world. Unfortunately, after this COP25, the situation became worse, as the world went backward in progress. The planet is reaching 3.2°C of global warming. This alone should be reason enough to unite the world around climate justice. However, we have become deaf to the groans of God's Creation (Romans 8.22).
A special moment at COP25 in Madrid was the demonstration of thousands of people advocating for climate justice including activist Greta Thunberg. I believe that these demonstrations need to be taken up again and again. We need to get out of the virtual world and occupy the streets. The passion of the LWF youth is fundamental in this cause.
What is the hope of the people and the church following the recent polarizing presidential elections in Brazil?
We entered this election, as polarized Brazilian people, and we came out of this election polarized, and this polarization in society is reproduced in the churches. There are a lot of monologues, judgments, condemnations, intolerance and hate speech still prevalent in politics. There is no dialogue among the parties. The church has always faced challenges and crises, but the intensity of the crisis in this era is frightening.
Lula's election brought a sense of relief, of freedom for those who felt suffocated and were intimidated by the authoritarian stance and hate speech of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro and those who follow him. Lula, and those who will make up the next government, will have a gigantic task of public policy reconstruction and reconciliation ahead of them. There are enormous expectations and issues! Today there are 9.5 million people unemployed, 49 million people living in social and economic vulnerability. Add to this the protection of Indigenous people, the end of deforestation in the Amazon, disarmament, investments in education and scientific research, to namea few.
As a church, we need to remember the crucified Christ for Christianity in Brazil. What we have today is a Christianity without Christ, which is idolatrous. We need a Christianity that does not condone hatred and violence of any kind, a Christianity that seeks reconciliation and forgiveness. As church in Brazil, we need to restore confidence in a journey where we do not see ourselves as “them and us,” but where we see ourselves as God's people on the way to the Kingdom!
As LWF Vice-President for the Latin America and the Caribbean, what are key issues facing the region?
The biggest challenge for the churches is sustainability. This has to do with finances, qualified leadership, theological training, strategic planning, new vocations for pastoral, diaconal, catechetical, and missionary ministry and issues like Lutheran identity, gender justice, climate justice. The rise of a fundamentalist and moralistic reading of the Bible that is extremely exclusionary, populist governments and the instrumentalization of churches and machismo, are some of the challenges that are always on our agendas. The efforts to carry out the mission of God entrusted to each of the churches in our region are admirable. I look with hope to the work of young people and women in our region.
Finally, how do you encourage your people to feel connected to the LWF and to the global communion of churches?
I love sharing the story and the history of the LWF. I recommend the LWF publications often. It is important to make it known to church members, to theology students, and to leadership about the work of the Communion. I had the privilege of accompanying the work of the LWF World Service and was reminded that it is wonderful work that impacts the lives of people living in situations of extreme vulnerability. To talk about LWF projects and programs and to be able to say that our churches are part of this work, is very important. There is, however, one thing that also needs to be affirmed: the feeling of "belonging" to the LWF is a two-way street. I hope that the presence of the LWF Regional Secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean and North America Rev. Sonia Skupch, who now resides and works remotely in the region, will foster this feeling of belonging.