Can you possibly imagine an archbishop, four bishops, 8 presbyters and 2 ladies all travelling in a minibus for nearly 400 miles deep into the Argentine Chaco? The ‘craic’ was powerful. We were all heading to Juarez for the Service of Consecration of Nick Drayson as the new Bishop for the indigenous people of Northern Argentina. Beryl and I had the privilege and honour of representing SAMS Ireland and the Diocese of Down and Dromore at this colourful occasion.
After 8 hours of travel through dry, dusty scrubland we finally rolled down the dirt road into Juarez, a real cowboy town. The consecration was to be held in the evening on a floodlit basketball pitch, beautifully set out and decorated. The sound and lighting were excellent. The atmosphere was electric as 500 indigenous people awaited their new bishop elect and his guests. Then from a room nearby out came almost 100 deacons from the Chaco churches, both men and women all in their white clerical ponchos. The women wore colourful scarves on their heads. They walked in procession into the stadium and sat on chairs on either side of the large platform, followed by the presbyters and then the bishops.
The service was spoken in 3 languages; Spanish, Toba and Wichi. Bishop Abelino Apeleo of Chile led the service and brought a greeting in Mapudungo, his language from southern Chile. Bishop Pat Harris, a former SAMS missionary and first bishop to the indigenous people in N. Argentina, preached an emotional sermon in Spanish and Wichi from 2 Timothy. The Wichi Bible was only completed last year. There were some very powerful testimonies of God’s faithfulness over the past 5 years whilst the indigenous churches were without Episcopal oversight. Although they are used to hardship in every area of life they know how to persevere. I spoke to one pastor who has twenty churches under his care and cycles many miles to minister to them regularly.
The whole indigenous Church is sensing a new beginning. Bishop Nick and his wife Catherine have been received with love, excitement and expectation. Please pray for the vibrant indigenous church and its new leaders in the challenges of the days to come.
Rev. Gordon and Beryl Whitehead