Response: June 2016 Issue

Called and Commissioned

Andrea Reily Rocha Soares is United Methodist Women’s new regional missionary to Latin America.

Called and Commissioned
Rev. Samuel, Rev. Chang and missionary Andrea Reily Rocha Soares at the 2016 Program Advisory Group meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

In October 2015 Andrea Reily Rocha Soares was commissioned United Methodist Women's new regional missionary to Latin America. response spoke with her to learn more about her and the region she serves.

response: What can women in the United States learn from the grassroots and women's movements in Latin America?

Ms. Rocha Soares: Latin America carries a lot of scars as a result of many, many years of social, political and economic instability. Some of the scars are still very fresh and open. On a daily basis, many families struggle to maintain a job, buy the necessary amount of food, keep safe in the midst of gunshots, provide education for their children and have a place to sleep. Despite all that, Latin American people are very determined and creative! They do not give up very easily, and they rise above their circumstances. With minimal resources, women invent ways to make a living, from selling cakes on the streets to collecting recyclable materials in the neighborhoods. The women come together to support and strengthen one another. And they share. … They share food, and they share their lives. Through sharing, the women are empowered to stand up for their rights, and they are sure learning to do that!

response: Any advice for women who seek to be sensitive and aware of the diversity of cultures and languages throughout Latin America?

Ms. Rocha Soares: Language is very interesting: I might be able to speak it, and I might still not understand the people. But that is what makes learning a language so fascinating; it requires relationships! It requires getting together, being together. The best way to learn about Latin American culture and its diversity is by being with the people.

As for myself, I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn three languages: English, Portuguese and Spanish. I was born and raised in Brazil as part of a mixed U.S. American-Brazilian family. When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad for a year in Santiago, Chile. I do not speak the "local language" of many Latin American countries, so I myself will be challenged by the cultural, social, political, economic and religious diversity present in this area of the world.

response: United Methodist Women members are especially concerned with income inequality, environmental justice, maternal health and domestic violence. Which of these issues are important to your regional women?

Ms. Rocha Soares: I believe that all these issues are somewhat interconnected, and all of them affect Latin American women to a great degree. Climate change has a direct affect on everybody. It is responsible for jobs and the displacement of people. Too much rain or too little defines the amount of food and its prices. Much of Latin America's economy is based on agriculture and livestock. Furthermore, for many years, there has been a noticeable increase in single parent families. Women are becoming responsible for supporting their families financially. Yet they receive less pay than men for the same work done. Latin America still carries in its DNA the machista culture: Men are seen as superior, as providers, and those who maintain the family, yet they are often not there to do this. The culture imposes that women are fragile and must be dependent on men. Every day, millions of women, youth and children are victims of domestic violence; they are oppressed and dominated emotionally, socially, physically and financially. Many women are dying because of the violence, but they are also dying because of a lack of health care. According to the World Bank, limited access to health care is the number 1 cause of deaths of mothers and their children. Childhood and maternal mortality has decreased significantly, but it is still a big concern in Latin America.

response: What are some of the unique issues and challenges of the Latin America region?

Ms. Rocha Soares: I do not think that the issues and challenges faced by the people in Latin America are very different from the ones faced by the poor living in "developing" or even some "developed" nations. For many decades, people have been fighting for land reform. In many Latin American countries, a very small number of wealthy people own most of the land. Small farmers, who own a minimal portion of the pie, struggle to survive in the capitalistic world. Those with no land are driven out of the rural areas to the cities, looking for jobs and a way to survive. In most cases, the cities do not have the structure to receive so many displaced people, and extreme poverty is what the future holds for them. For many families, prostitution, involving even the young children, becomes one of the only options available for survival. The little money obtained from sex is used to keep the family alive, to feed everyone. And the cycle becomes never ending if something does not stop it.

response: What can women in the United States do to support your work?

Ms. Rocha Soares: Pray! Pray for their brothers and sisters in Latin America. Pray that the work done there through United Methodist Women may always be led and inspired by the Spirit. Pray that United Methodist Women can be light and salt in the world. Pray that I may have the wisdom to discern the voice of God and the strength to stand still in the midst of all the challenges.

They can also give: Give their time to Latin American people. Give their hearts and hands to serving in their communities. Give their ears to listening to what God is doing in Latin America. Give their voices to telling and retelling these stories. Give their financial support to what they believe is God's work. And come visit! Come spend some time with us. Come fall in love with Latin America.

response: What are your hobbies or activities outside of your work?

Ms. Rocha Soares: I am a big movie fan. I watch some of the blockbusters, but I do prefer more alternative or international movies. The new animation films are fantastic! Reading is also part of my free — and not so free — time activities. Some days I just stop what I am doing and read for a while; it is "me" time for resting and refreshing. I also like to exercise, and every so often I go for a hike. My greatest passion is traveling. It is more than just a hobby — it is one of my spiritual disciplines, something that I experience as a way to grow and mature in my life with and in Christ.

response: Do you have any advice for achieving work/life balance?

Ms. Rocha Soares: I got married recently, yet my husband and I have already created some mechanisms to keep us balanced. We have both made family quality time a priority, and we help one another to be accountable on that. We live in a small city, which makes it possible for us to be at home for lunch almost every day. We are busy people, but we stop, in the middle of the day, to catch up with one another. Once a week we have a night to ourselves. We also have quality time with our extended family and friends on a regular basis.

response: Have you received any advice from other regional missionaries or national staff on your work with this powerful organization?

Ms. Rocha Soares: They all sent me very nice e-mails welcoming me to the bunch. They are amazing women who love serving the Kin-dom of God with their God-given gifts. I look forward to learning a lot from them and with them. I initially met some of the national staff when I was in New York City for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Woman in March 2015. I was not yet a regional missionary. I admired their love for what they do and for the people they work with. I think that's the best advice I've received and been shown as I start this new part of my faith journey: Love! Love God! Love God's work! Love God's people!

response: What are your hopes and dreams for your work with United Methodist Women?

Ms. Rocha Soares: As the journey — relationships — begins, I hope that many seeds can be planted in fertile soil, and even in not so fertile soil. I hope I can water many of the seeds that were planted by women who came before me. And I hope I can watch the seeds grow through God's powerful hands.

So I dream that every woman in Latin America will have a chance, like the Samaritan woman, to encounter Christ and taste of the Living Water. I dream that youth will know self-worth as daughters and sons of God. I dream that every child in Latin America will feel welcomed and loved, as Christ invited all the little ones to come to Him. I dream that the Kin-dom of God will become visible here, as it is still to come.

response: Who are your role models or mentors?

Ms. Rocha Soares: My three types of parents: parents, godparents, and grandparents! My parents have taught me the beauty of the Christian faith. Through their lives, they have shown me Christ in a very simple and empowering way. I have received from them the Gift. Yet, it has come with a note: "Share with others!" My godparents have taught me Christ-like hospitality: Everybody is welcome in their home. From a cup of coffee to a place to spend the night, strangers become family. They have taught me to love people as Christ loves. My grandparents have spent their lives teaching me an interesting definition of mission. They, themselves, were U.S. American missionaries to Brazil for more than 40 years. My grandfather, a historian, theologian and pastor, taught me the value of an education that transforms lives; my grandmother, an art teacher, has taught me to be creative and think outside the box. In other words, they have taught me to testify the Word by using my life as a creative instrument of saving-transformation.

response: Are there any questions that we should be asking? Or any advice that you wish to share?

Ms. Rocha Soares: Mission is God's work. It is God's initiative in us, through us, around us and above us. Mission is an invitation for all of us to be part of the act. Accept the call to spread faith, hope and love in action to all creation!

Click Here. Andrea Reily Rocha Soares' Bio

Mary Beth Coudal is interim managing editor of response.

Posted or updated: 6/2/2016 11:00:00 PM