The Baptist World Alliance will give its 2006 Human Rights Award to Gustavo Parajon, a 70-year-old medical doctor and the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Managua, at the conclusion of its annual gathering in Mexico City.
An unassuming man, Parajon, joins Jimmy Carter and Lauran Bethell, a missionary with the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., as an award recipient.
One of the BWA’s 16 vice presidents for 2006-2010, Parajon told the Freedom and Justice Commission, “I am deeply honored by the award that I will receive, God willing, on Friday, but realize that it is the work of hundreds of people in Nicaragua that have made this possible.”
“Our country was torn apart, and asunder, by the revolution, by the war in the 1980s,” he said. “Churches in the conflicted areas were always very interested in bringing peace about.”
Parajon recalled being appointed as a member of the Nicaragua’s National Reconciliation Commission that worked with “humble men and women, poor in the material sense but rich in the spiritual sense that felt peace was the norm that was what Jesus Christ was asking us to have.”
These Nicaraguan Christians exposed their lives and made it possible for opposing groups to give up their weapons, he said, noting that in June 1990 that warring parties in the south “gave all their weapons to the peace commissioners.”
He said that Roman Catholics and Baptists worked side-by-side with one another.
Parajon told EthicsDaily.com that Mark 10 was an important passage for his peacemaking work.
“In Mark 10, Jesus said he came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many,” said Parajon, who also cited the Beatitudes where Jesus talks about peacemaking.
He credited very poor Nicaraguan Christians, who could hardly read but were moved by the Spirit, with talking to both the army and the insurgents to bring about the end of the war.
He said they continued to negotiate conflicts in “120 villages [where] there are no medical doctors, no nurses. There are no governmental offices, no justice of the peace, no police, no army. These people are helping the peace commissioner” when they help negotiate village disputes.
“These Christians … have understood their responsibility,” he said. “The wholeness of the gospel [is] that Jesus came to serve, not be served. We Christians are called to do the same for the people in need.”
Noting poverty resulting from Nicaragua’s international debt, Parajon said, “Poverty is the number one problem in Nicaragua. Poverty always brings about increase of violence, especially against women and children.”
He said, “We have to do something about poverty,” which causes a high infant mortality rate.
That commitment has been a life-long commitment for Parajon, who founded Provedenic in 1967, a rural healthcare effort now in 32 communities. It trains local citizens to be healthcare providers for common aliments, as well as teaching suturing, midwifery and administration of basic treatments.
Parajon said that child mortality has dropped considerably in the communities where Provedenic works.
A few years later, he founded the Pro Denominational Alliance Council of Evangelical Churches (CEPAD) in 1972. It started to organize churches to work on natural disaster relief and has expanded to provide development and reconciliation programs.
Recognized as one of the most influence evangelical Christians in Nicaragua, Parajon received the Sesquicentennial Medallion as an Outstanding Citizen of Managua in 2002.
At that time John Sundquist, executive director of the American Baptist International Ministries said, “He truly reflects what it means to engage the gospel in the transformation of society and the empowerment of the poor.”
In 1980, he received the Dahlberg Peace Award, an ABC’s peacemaking award.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.