Homeward bound, here at Ministrio Pistarini international airport, as we prepare to travel to a city still in profound shock.
The atrocity at the Manchester Arena abruptly hit the media here in Argentina mid evening – we are four hours behind you.
Jacqui and I then had the surreal experience of following events on the other side of the world in real time – as if Tarleton, where one of the young victims lived, was just down the road from our hotel.
All this in total contrast to the isolation experienced by those pioneering missionaries to Argentina, even just a generation ago. Rachel Leake, wife to Bishop David and Andrew’s mother, did not hear that her own mother had died until well after the funeral.
So yesterday morning we were still, like you, in deep shock. One of our own granddaughters could easily have been at the concert. Moreover, daughter Jennie asked us to pray for a college friend who is head of a sixth form where seven students are either in intensive care after losing limbs or were then still missing.
As we walked along the waterfront of Puerto Madero we found ourselves in conversation with a local woman about our age. On discovering we were English she promptly offered her condolences. “It must be very difficult for you,” she said.
Indeed it was, but I thought at the time how this showed that we are not merely isolated individuals alone in a big world. Instead each of us belong, we are part of a community.
As far as this woman was concerned the tragedy in Manchester, some 7000 miles away, had touched us in a way different than it had affected her. Those young people were our young people.
And so this sense of belonging inspired the people of Manchester to respond as they did. Opening their homes and their hearts, a whole community coming together in compassion. It is how God has made us.
For as pastor Paul Tripp observes: “We weren’t created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects.“
And yet this powerful sense of belonging can be so easily be corrupted into demeaning or even demonising those people who are not us, not of our kind. We need to be vigilant to those who would debar all Muslims as terrorists.
Greek culture in the time of Jesus was particularly dismissive of other peoples and cultures. In fact, those who were not privileged to speak Greek were mocked for their primitive-sounding language. “Bar-bar-bar-bar” is how they spoke! And so they were ridiculed as ‘barbarians’.
So when Paul writes to the Christians living in the ‘civilised city’ of Colossae, he makes the astonishing claim, that so-called barbarians are welcome into the family of God, just like us. The same status even.
“There is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free person. Instead, Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11).
This has radical implications, not least for how we are to value not just all people but also all peoples.
On Saturday I was in Iguazu, on the Brazillian border and there being no ParkRun in the vicinity I decided to do my own 5k, running along a splendid road cut through the subtropical rainforest.
On one side of the road were the up-market conference hotels, each beautifully landscaped and offering every facility to their discerning customers. For me it was breakfast heaven.
In total contrast, on the other side you could see hidden in the trees ramshackle huts with an untidy collection of all kinds of stuff. Here lived the indigenous people, the Guarani, seeking to make some living by selling their native wares to the tourists.
Now I have no idea how typical these Guarani people were of their community but this was their land, their forest. Even so I knew which side of the road I belonged to.
And so I am in complete awe of those Christians who respond to the summons of Jesus to cross the road and live with the indigenous people, sharing their lives and anxieties.
I wrote the other week of how the young Alfred Leake from a fishing village in Norfolk responded to God’s call to live on another planet, in the Chaco region of northern Argentina. And his ministry with the Wichi, the indigenous people of the region, has been continued over four generations of Leake’s.
And today the Wichi continue to be disparaged by those living on the right side of the road.
One of Sheila’s students in Salta, a privileged teenager from a wealthy family, wrote: “Wichis are so ignorant that they do not understand that if they want to improve the way they live, they will never progress and what is worse they will continue being a problem for producers.”
I have met so many heroes for Christ over the last few weeks who have sought to serve the Wichi. One I met at a CMS conference one month ago in Oxford: the Bishop of Northern Argentina, Nick Drayson along with his wife, Catherine Le Tissier.
Some 90% of his church are Wichi and so he decided to live where they live, not in the elegance of Salta but six hours away in the mud of Inginieiro Juarez, a town suffering the consequences of social breakdown.
For this is what Jesus would do. More, this is what Jesus did. “When the time came, (Jesus) set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.” (Philippians 2:6f)
May we each have the courage to cross the road in Jesus’ name.