Opportunity for Action in Peru

Proceso Kairos Peru is changing the status of women in church and society.

Opportunity for Action in Peru
Proceso Kairos Peru partner The Asociacion Civil Adultos Sanos y Unidos, a social and support group for older adults in Callao, Lima.

Proceso Kairos Peru is a nongovernmental organization in Lima, Peru, with regional coordinators throughout the country promoting equity, equality, inclusion and citizenship from a theological perspective focused on life. It works from a gender, human rights and intercultural approach to empower people to be agents of change in their lives and communities. Proceso Kairos is a partner of United Methodist Women supported by members’ Mission Giving.

“Kairos” means an opportunity or time for action. The organization offers education and advocacy regarding young women’s health and sexuality, leadership training in civil and human rights, and theological and pastoral training to help women develop spiritually and as leaders in church and society. It’s building a network of partners to help increase its outreach and effectiveness

I spent my first day with Proceso Kairos with a group called Asociacion Civil Adultos Sanos y Unidos, or ACASU, a social and support group for older adults. Translator Andres Cordero and I took a taxi about 40 minutes north of Lima to the Bella Vista District in the province of Callao. The group facilitator was especially engaging, and the group members were excited to share

“Before the group my life was boring, I had the same routine. Then I heard about ACASU,” said Ida Ramos Sierra, 59. “I wanted to become a part of it and make a healthy change in my life. I came to the group and felt like part of a family, met other people the same age as me or a little older. I come here and I feel better.”

Proceso Kairos partners with ACASU, composed of mostly women, in line with its mission to build confidence and skills so that individuals can be advocates for their needs. It helps the older adults of ACASU know their rights, and coming together helps them build group identity and strength.

“This group gathers people who are retired, elderly, who want to make better use of their free time and progress toward an active aging. We have started training group members in social skills so that this organization is relevant in the community for elderly people and to help influence public policies,” said Rafael Goto Silva, Methodist minister and member of Proceso Kairos’ board of directors. “We had workshops on the topic of personal identity and also organizational identity. We helped group members identify their organizational skills so they can develop capacity as active agents and better partner with other people and institutions to improve their quality of and use institutional tools to influence policies that can improve their lives.”

United Methodist Women members know the strength of group identity and the support it provides. They also know the importance of being in fellowship and building community.

“We do a lot of activities related to healthy food, healthy recreation, workshops and informational talks and training,” said David Gustavo Roberto Elias, president of ACASU. “We also do paintings, ceramics, and other activities. Being sedentary brings too many problems. Being active brings positive results that we can already see.”

Rosenda La Rosa de Matsumoto, 78, worked as a nurse for 30 years. She first came to ACASU because it offered diagnosis and treatment for her arthrosis.

“Here we do as much as we can to help one another. We go outdoors for walks so that we can be more active. We named our group ‘healthy and united,’ and we try to be that. We also try to encourage friends and family to be part of the group,” she said.

She is happy United Methodist Women supports Proceso Kairos.

“We are grateful for the talks and workshops. Thank you for supporting them. They help change our perspective, which helps change our attitude in a positive way.”

Sierra shared how the group has helped her learn to listen to others, to be in solidarity. It’s helped her build her identity.

“Proceso Kairos told us that we shouldn’t feel like people who don’t have a place. We do have a place in our homes and society. Kairos is continually helping us become more united and identifying ourselves as an organization. We feel more like a family,” she said.

“We even talked about sex among the elderly,” she continued. “It was a very spicy topic, but at the same time important. Proceso Kairos helped us be less inhibited and more open. When we went out from the meeting we felt content and open-minded instead of ashamed. Everyone was participating and offering their opinions and it was very helpful. It helped us see we could face problems and come up with solutions together. Every day we learn.”

Changing the role of women

The same day, Proceso Kairos hosted an ecumenical meeting of women pastoral leaders at their office in Lima. Women leaders of 12 different churches gathered to discuss the topic “presencia y voz de las mujeres en las redes sociales,” or the “presence and voice of women in social networks.” The group brings together women leaders from different Christian denominations in Peru for support and strategizing to increase the role of women in church and society.

“The Bible has been used to tell women to be silent, that they cannot be leaders,” said Luzmila Quezada Barreto, director of theology in feminism and gender for E-Comunidad Wesleyana and member of the ecumenical women’s group. “But we read it from a different point of view. Inside the church there is psychological and moral violence. Women are suffering. The perspective of patriarchy is that women suffer. We should be mindful, even suspicious, of the ideology we are given.”

Proceso Kairos works to bring a feminist perspective to church in which men are seen as the authorities. It offers education on gender and the Bible as well as skills training for leadership.

“We were the first ecumenical institution in Peru working from the perspective of gender in theology that is not patriarchal,” said Barreto. “The discourse of the church has perpetuated women’s low self-esteem. We stand up and feel empowered to participate in church and as a social movement.”

Luz Landa is president of the Methodist Women’s Federation of Peru and another participant in the Kairos Peru ecumenical group.

“Kairos has helped me in my personal development, in my confidence. It’s been a space of transition, of growing into leadership. Step by step I have been taking a more leading role within the organization and my church,” she said. The group trains its members to work with other women from different contexts but remain united in God. It also builds communication skills and understanding of what ecumenism is and can be, said Landa. Her role as president of the Methodist Women’s Federation allows her to visit women in all six districts of the church, from the coasts to the mountains to the jungle areas, working to empower women within a “macho” culture.

“I experience a different context in each district of the Methodist church. The strong macho culture in the mountains is different from the Lima district, where women are more free. On the coast women are trying to progress. It has helped me to have this space in Kairos,” Landa said.

“A pastor told me, ‘You are a different woman! You are now leading women!’” she continued. “But I wouldn’t say something changed. It’s more about expressing what one is feeling. Work with the women is something so beautiful because you learn how to hear others, how to really listen, have a more real communication.”

The general coordinator of Proceso Kairos, Maria Elena Zelada, has broken boundaries in her own church, becoming the first woman presbytery of the Pentecostal church in Peru.

“I was in charge of leading 42 churches, with mostly male pastors—I’d say about 75 percent. The knowledge that Kairos gave me helped me fulfill this task,” she said. She has been with Proceso Kairos for 23 years, starting as a beneficiary as a young pastor.

“In Kairos’ 24 years it has positioned itself as a leader working in the community for women, with churches, with different religions and institutions. We are all growing as women who hear one another and are developing the holistic health of women,” she said. “The barriers women face are many. It’s not easy for women to reach spaces where they can make decisions. We’ve started going into communities as well as them coming to us. We go to churches. We still have a lot more work to do. The process requires patience, tolerance and forgiveness. Despite the majority presence of women in churches, they still aren’t seen as leaders. Their potential is wasted. Their capacities could benefit the system.”

Standing against violence

The next day Proceso Kairos hosted a meeting of Red por una Familia Sin Violencia, or Network for a Family Without Violence, of which Proceso Kairos is a part. This group works to help the church in its prophetic mission to eliminate family violence through advocacy and awareness. It trains pastors and church readers in healthy relationships and how to work as people of faith to end domestic violence. It meets every month.

“The church needs to know that God created both man and woman in God’s image, so we both must receive respect,” said Lupe Lazaro Arroyo, pastor and director of women’s ministry for the Iglesia de Dios de Peru. “The women’s ministry is dignifying and training women through truth and Holy Spirit. Our strategies train and nourish women to be disciples.

“I have been working with families of domestic violence for about a year,” she continued. “According to statistics, violence does exist in the church, and pastors themselves are not that aware.”

Establishing women’s worth and equity is a big step toward eliminating violence against them. The church has a role to play in ending the imbalance.

“Sometimes the Bible is used against women—telling them to be silent, perpetuating the idea that women are only useful as assistants. Some biblical passages have been used to justify the mistreatment of women. Women in the church in Peru aren’t reaching leadership positions. Women should be promoted within the church so it can grow,” said Arroyo.

Red por una Familia Sin Violencia also knows men must be included in this work. Samuel Asenjo, Pentecostal pastor and representative of the Peruvian Bible Society, knows men are also responsible to raise the status of women.

“Men have a role to play in ending violence against women and children. The work we have to do as pastors is important. I’ve had to reflect on my own biblical interpretations,” he said. “We have to acknowledge that the church is resistant to change its patriarchal structure. We need to help change attitudes.

Increasing women’s presence in all facets of society will increase the spiritual and physical well-being of women, children, youth and communities. Valuing women’s worth and contributions and ensuring their places in leadership will lead to a world in which all thrive.

“The processes of development are not going to be effective if we don’t offer community to women. This is key to success—showing women that they are capable, reliable leaders. We must accompany one another,” said Zelada. “Women are strong and creative. We are resilient. Women offer life where there was none. We need to be committed to the development of women.

“I want to deeply express my gratitude to United Methodist Women who for more than 10 years have been committed to working with Proceso Kairos Peru. You don’t know how important your support is.”

Nile Sprague is a photographer based in Mendocino, California. Tara Barnes is editor of response.

Posted or updated: 10/9/2017 12:00:00 AM

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