The planned programme for 2020 included a visit by our District Chair, which it was hoped would include development of a link with the Methodist University in Rosario. Cumbria was looking forward to a visit of Nora Viacava and Natalia Ochoa from the Argentine Methodist Church (IEMA) – both being involved in a programme of development of lay leaders there. Nora heads up FeMMA (the equivalent of Methodist Women in Britain) and was to lead the Cumbria MWiB Residential Conference in November.
Both exchanges had to be postponed but close contact by e-mail, Facebook etc has continued.
A link between a village school (Langwathby) in Cumbria and a Methodist primary school in Rosario was launched but has been put on hold while schools are closed. One of the teachers from Rosario (Geri de Paris) visited the school while visiting Cumbria with her family in 2018 and keeps in touch. Both schools are keen to develop the link when circumstances permit.
Covid 19 hit South America hard. IEMA saw an urgent need to distribute food and other essentials to needy people in the churches and their communities. In July we received an urgent request from Bishop Americo to say that funds were running out and could we help? An appeal to our churches in Cumbria produced an immediate and generous response and just under £6,000 was sent to IEMA.
Bishop Americo wrote: "Our gratitude is immense for the generosity of your help with the families that IEMA is assisting. The money you have sent has benefited very many families who give thanks with joy and gratitude".
The far-flung nature of the Methodist churches in Argentina has led them to make much use of modern technology. Consequently they were well-placed to stream services during lockdown, make videos and generally keep in touch with each other and with us.
A minister in the Patagonia District invited us to contribute a reading and prayer to a "devocional" (a short service on video) seen by church members in that part of the country. The Bishop also invited us to make a short video, giving thanks for the Partnership, which was circulated to all churches for inclusion in worship. Stephen and Graciela Cohen in Bariloche (Patagonia) sent a message of appreciation of the Partnership together with pictures of their visit to Cumbria in 2015.
James Tebbutt sent a video with a Christmas greeting, which IEMA circulated via Facebook.
The strong link that has developed between the women of Cumbria District and FeMMA has continued with frequent exchanges by e-mail, Facebook etc. FeMMA has a Facebook page that we can tap into and IEMA has a good website.
Throughout the lockdown Pastora Cristina Dinoto has posted a daily prayer on Facebook, which has been relevant to the current situation and has proved inspirational.
We look forward to reinstating the exchange visits postponed from this year and developing the school and university links. The university link proposed would be between Cliff College and UCEL – the Methodist University in Rosario.
We have much to learn from each other and, whilst the use of modern technology is a great way to maintain ongoing contact, we have found that exchange visits and "making friends" have been invaluable in developing and deepening the links between our two churches.
The seeds of the Partnership were sown at the millennium, when Methodist Bishop Aldo visited Cumbria, and it really took off in 2005 when 5 representatives from Cumbria visited Patagonia. Exchange visits both ways by church leaders, members and young people since have cemented the Partnership between IEMA and Cumbria District.
The Partnership is supported by the District Partnership Group in Cumbria and by the national leadership team in Argentina.
Although there is an obvious inequality of resources between our two countries, we and IEMA have wanted the partnership to be one of mutuality and, whilst we have supported some projects financially, we have also gained a great deal from our Argentine friends. They are now skilled in the use of information technology, necessitated by the vast area that their church covers. They are strong on social justice issues and enthusiastic in worship.
Ray & Joan Wager on behalf of District Cumbria-Argentina Partnership Group.