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Review of the Misson

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The Mission- A Review

History of Christian Missions
CHHI657 B01 201220

The Mission a film directed by Roland Joffe, recounts the tales of the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. In the paragraphs that follow we will look through the lens of the film and reflect on missions in the context of the colonial expansion that was taking place. Secondly the mission strategy of the Jesuits will be un-wrapped. Lastly it will be noted the attention to culture and the challenges of the work which goes hand in hand with the over all strategy. The film brings this time in history to life and paints a beautiful picture in the mind of the viewer of what took place.
The whole encounter with the Guarani Indians was set in motion long before anyone outside of Paraguay knew they existed. The Spanish and Portuguese sought new lands in Central and South America. As they quested after these lands three things took place conquest, settlement, and evangelization[1]. The peoples of these lands were then subjects under the dominion of Christian Kings to whom the Pope had given sovereignty. Columbus took his first voyage in 1492, and by1515 the occupation of the West Indies was complete. With every expedition or quest and conquest came friars and priests. A good portion of the work was done by the Franciscans and the Dominicans, and later the Jesuits. The most notable for the Jesuits was Paraguay. In the beginning the work of the Jesuits suffered a lot from the hostility of the colonists. The colonists did not want to see such a large portion of the population draw out from under their control. The movie depicted this struggle; the Indians were seen as ‘savages’ and beneath the colonists and therefore put into slavery. Crow calls the tensions between the Indians and colonists as “ unworthy yet natural reactions of the society which surrounded them”.[2] The Indians feared the colonists as much as the colonists feared them. It was like this in North America as well, fearing the unknown causes people to do irrational things such as oppressing the Indians. With the establishment of reductions the Jesuits came to be in control of a lot of land, this also hampered the relationships with the colonists. The film depicted the mission strategy closely resembled the actions of the actual Jesuits. Father Gabriel is seen traveling a great distance through perilous terrain to the Guarani as he makes his way over the falls he plays music to win their hearts. As he gains their trust through music and other calming actions he begins to share Truth. Once peace and a friendship was established he began to build a ‘reduction’. Neill gives a description of what the reductions looked like, with a noble looking structure in the middle being the church, the people lived in houses that were built in rows. Each mission has a disciplined structured, with everyone contributing to life and work.[3] The film showed life on the reduction closely. With the peaceful relationship in tack Father Gabriel brought other brothers to help educate the Indians, not just with the Gospel but also with the ritual of the Jesuits. The strategy depicted in the film mirrored that of the actual Jesuits; the film focused more on the conflict between those in power and the Jesuits more than the actual mission strategy. However the images shown allow the mind to connect the acts and the heart of the Jesuits with the Indians. The Jesuits sought to meet the Indians with peace and love and through that hoped to educate and enable them. The Downside of the strategy came with the lack of self-discipline and independence. When the Jesuits were removed from the territories the mission they had established if not taken over by force and destroyed crumbled because there was nothing to sustain them. In the film the Jesuits give attention to culture of the Indians. They meet them where they were and did not seek to change them. There is a scene in the movie where the “savageness” of the Guarani is on trial and someone poses the question of sacrificing their babies. Father Gabriel states that it is not a barbaric mystic sacrifice, but one out of necessity, that each family can only have two children because that is all they can carry when they are on the run. The Father had not sought to change this but understood it, even if he did not agree with it. When it came to converts and the teaching if religion all was done in line with the Jesuit order. Which is odd to see taking place in the middle of now where. The songs were sung in Latin, not their native tongue. Even though the Jesuits translated the Bible and other works into the Guarani heart language, the songs remained in Latin. The Jesuits found themselves in difficult situations, often alone, faced with the monstrous task of bringing discipline and Christian belief to large groups of people. Not only that but them ended up in the most remote difficult areas of the world. The opening scenes of the film are that of a Jesuit brother being killed by the very tribe they sought to save. Next Father Gabriel is trekking up the mountain almost losing his life in the process only to be found at the mercy of the Indians when he finds them. To say it was a difficult task would be an understatement. The film was good and did paint a mental picture to only what must have been an inkling of what really happened. In the film the question is asked if maybe it might have been better if the Jesuits never went above the falls to the Guarani. It seemed that their terrible fate might not have happened if they had been left alone. As I was reflecting on the film and history I thought this might be true. If they had just left them alone maybe their peoples would have survived colonization on their own. I was reminded of Roman 10:14 “how then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

Bibliography

Crow, John A. The Epic of Latin America. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1971.

Neill, Stephen, and Owen Chadwick. A history of Christian missions. Rev. for the 2nd ed. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1986.

----------------------- [1] Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, (London:Penguin Books, 1990), 143.

[2] John Crow, The Epic of Latina America, (Garden City, New York: Double Day, 1971). [3] Neill, 172.

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