Our series of Q&As with country directors continues with Alexis Pacheco, who is based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and has worked for Tearfund for 20 years. He shares his thoughts on how he is working with church leaders to face problems in the poorest communities in Central America, the potential he sees in young people and what it takes to tackle climate change.
How and why did you start working for Tearfund?
When I was invited to a job interview by Tearfund I was working with the local Jubilee 2000 campaign in my region. It was a successful campaign that reduced the external debt of some of the poorest and most severely indebted countries. Several of Tearfund’s local partners encouraged me to go for the interview. I was offered the position of Regional Advisor, but it was not an easy decision as I had a commitment to the organisation and people we were supporting. What convinced me and gave me peace to work with Tearfund was being able to continue supporting that work. In fact, I was able to expand our support through the church and integral mission.
‘Young people are key to the development of a new culture of peace, service and solidarity within their communities and for those most in need.’
What are the key challenges you are facing in your work?
Poverty, violence and corruption. Pastors and church leaders have not been trained to face these problems. It gives us hope, though, when we see leaders who are able to change their way of thinking and demonstrate these changes through acts of solidarity and by promoting justice in their context. They start with their own churches, many of which are in very poor communities.
Can you tell us about a recent project running in your country that has encouraged you?
There are several, but I would like to focus on two:
Amiga Garífuna has a network of churches working on the prevention and care of people affected by HIV-AIDS. They discovered that many of the causes and roots of this disease came from the broken and violent relationships within families and, for many people, even in the church. Coming to terms with this situation and with the leaders and pastors has not been easy. It has meant breaking a taboo. We thank God that Tearfund has been able to be part of this and walk alongside people in this process of acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
The second experience has been accompanying the pastors and leaders of the Micah networks in three of the cities with the highest rates of violence in Central America: San Pedro Sula, Guatemala City and Tegucigalpa. The vast majority of pastors and leaders place a high emphasis on the salvation of souls. When it came to ministering in neighborhoods overrun with poverty and violence, they realised that they did not have the tools, neither biblical, theological nor practical, to be effective. So they have learnt along the way and we have accompanied them in this process. It is important that they do not feel isolated as leaders; we have helped them to share experiences, learnings and ideas. And we pray together to cheer ourselves up. It helps us to know how to face these situations and how to bring the whole gospel to these new contexts.
How has faith motivated or guided the growth of this work?
My faith is part of my vocation; that is, I do what I do because I believe it is part of my mission, the mission of God. Thank God I am able to count on the support of my own local church, which set a good example to me in my youth, and has learnt to carry out integral mission in contexts of poverty and violence.
What practical advice would you give to others who might just be starting out in this type of work?
Two words: commitment and ministry. You need a commitment that goes beyond favourable situations. It needs to manifest itself in the service of solidarity with those in need, knowing that our God is a friendly God who enjoys justice and hope. Our work is part of our ministry. If it were not so, frustrations and obstacles would easily make us lose hope. It is only when we can see the hand of God that we can continue to have hope in different communities.
What areas of potential do you see in your work and country?
Young people are key to the development of a new culture of peace, service and solidarity within their communities and for those most in need. I believe that issues such as the care of creation, advocacy for peace, more just processes, migration and the transformation of communities are areas where we must give more attention and time. This is necessary because they are key to growing the development and welfare processes in Central America.
What are the key challenges around climate change facing your work and country?
Although Central America is not a region that significantly contributes to the causes of climate change, it is one of the areas in the world most affected by its droughts and floods. We have a great opportunity to involve young people and the church to change the current culture and foster green and alternative energy sources to reduce the negative effects of climate change.
We need to develop a new theological vision of creation care and implement practices and ways of living with sustainable options that benefit communities, churches and the environment. We also need to improve training and practices for disaster risk reduction and renovation of a healthy ecological environment for communities that guarantees enough water and food for their inhabitants. Undoubtedly, this area is the one in which we must grow the most and is a great challenge for our work in the Central American region.