Celebrating Our Dependence: Latin American Gathering Glorifies God, Edifies Church
By Jason and Abby Torgeson
The month of September was a busy but exciting month, which started with us traveling back to Brazil to attend the Church of God InterAmerican conference. While the flights again proved to be an adventure, once we arrived in the city of Santarém, we found that this year’s host country had truly pulled out all the stops. We are incredibly grateful for their hospitality, and it was a great joy to spend four days in fellowship, worship, and teaching in three languages with our brothers and sisters from across Latin America.
On September 7, the second day of the convention, the nation of Brazil celebrated its bicentennial. “Today is Independence Day,” the worship leaders reminded us, “but tonight we declare our nation’s dependence on Jesus Christ.” They held a special time of prayer and celebration, giving thanks for the bicentennial, and also for the Church of God’s upcoming centennial. “This year our country celebrates 200 years of independence, but next year, we, the Church of God in Brazil, will celebrate 100 years of dependence on the Lord.”
The central theme of the convention was family, and while we had the opportunity to explore a variety of relevant topics, including the night Abby preached on “God’s Provision for the Family,” what we found most encouraging was time spent with the family of God and, more specifically, the Church of God. The week was a wonderful reminder that we were created to live in community and to depend on one another.
Our family and the Costa Rican pastors traveling with us learned to depend on our gracious Brazilian hosts, who rescued us after we had to reroute our flights and who then drove us seven hours up the TransAmazon highway. Many more of us learned to depend on our incredible colleagues, the Todd family, who juggled family and convention responsibilities with securing last-minute travel agents to find creative workarounds for fourteen stranded passengers from three different flights. Nearly all the delegates learned to depend on interpreters, as the events flowed seamlessly between Portuguese, Spanish, and English.
Travel, as Church of God Ministries general director Jim Lyon reminded us one evening, is a lesson in learning to let go of control. Indeed, while we are free to make our plans, we are often utterly dependent on others to make sure they actually come together.
Beyond the logistics of international travel, we also saw the beauty of spiritual interdependence within the vast and diverse body of Christ. During the week, relationships were built, ideas were shared, and leaders returned home feeling encouraged and strengthened by connecting with brothers and sisters in a vibrant, growing church. Even as all returned home, we witnessed ongoing fellowship in WhatsApp chats, as attendees hoped to stretch out the experience a little longer.
Many are already making plans for how to get to Argentina for the next convention or to take advantage of other travel opportunities to get outside their ministry bubbles. Our Costa Rican leaders came back especially burdened for those who could not make the trip and are working to create opportunities for their colleagues to travel. They fully believe that new places inspire new ideas and have eagerly shared about how they plan to implement what they learned from Brazil into their local ministries.
One such testimony came from Pastor Noily, one of our key leaders, who shared about her experiences on the Sunday after the Brazil trip. Abby had the opportunity to preach at her church that day, which also happened to be the week of Costa Rica’s Independence Day. September 15 is one of our favorite holidays in Costa Rica, and it was a joy to be a part of the church’s special celebration, where they celebrated their freedom in Christ and then gave thanks for and honored their beautiful country through words, song, and traditional dance.
Celebrating the holiday reminded us once again of what we had learned in Brazil: while we may celebrate a nation’s independence day every year, we as believers are called to celebrate our dependence on Christ and on his body each and every day. Our North American culture teaches us that we are both free and independent, and we highly value the ability to make our own choices and be self-reliant. As citizens of the Kingdom, however, our values are different. Yes, we are free from the curse of sin and death and free to walk in grace. But Christ has not set us free to indulge our independence; rather, we are called to use our freedom to seek greater dependence on God and on those he has placed in our lives. We are not made to walk through this life alone.
In the end, whether we wave the Brazilian, Costa Rican, or American flag, and whether we celebrate our country in September, July, or another date, may we as citizens of the kingdom of God forever declare and celebrate that we are always free but never independent.
Jason and Abby Torgeson serve as Global Strategy’s regional connectors for Latin America. Learn more about their ministry and the international scope of the Church of God, including opportunities for involvement, at www.chogglobal.org.
Feature (top) photo credit: Jonathan Todd.