June 17, 2024

Event Coverage Highlight

Panelists Discuss Latin American Missionaries in ‘Soul by Soul’ by Adriana Carranca

Panelists, left to right: Sarah Stillman, Graciela Mochkofsky, Adriana Carranca and Samuel Freedman

by Chad Bouchard

Brazilian journalist Adriana Carranca, an OPC member who received the OPC Foundation’s 2018 Harper’s Magazine Scholarship in Memory of I.F. Stone, stumbled into an unusual story during a reporting trip to Afghanistan in 2008 when she learned that a couple from her home country was running a pizza delivery business in Kabul. She wondered why a couple with two children would relocate to one of the most dangerous places in the world to make pizza. After some digging, she discovered the two were operating covertly as Christian missionaries, trying to convert Afghans in the face of extreme risks.

On May 2, the OPC and Columbia Global Reports hosted a panel at Book Culture about Carranca’s book, Soul by Soul: The Evangelical Mission to Spread the Gospel to Muslims. Carranca is a Columbia Journalism School graduate who covers conflicts and human rights. Samuel Freedman, a professor of journalism at Columbia who was one of Carranca’s teachers, moderated the discussion.

When she returned to Afghanistan in 2011, she visited the missionaries again to pursue the story, and found that the Latin American missionary community had grown.

“I started meeting this entire group, a huge group of Argentinians, Colombians, people from Chile, from all over Latin America. And many, many Brazilians. Brazil is now the second largest sending country of missionaries, only behind the U.S.”

She said the appearance of missionaries from Latin America in Kabul is part of a larger shift in the religious landscape over recent decades.

“The change that Latin America went through, you started really seeing in the 70s. Latin America turned from four centuries of being under the Roman Catholic Church to Protestant and actually evangelicalism.”

Graciela Mochkofsky, an Argentinian journalist and dean of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, said as charismatic Christian movements such as Pentecostalism have grown in the Global South, more missionaries have targeted Middle Eastern countries in an effort to convert Muslims to Christianity.

“This phenomenon is a story that has incredible impact, that has sent waves of change into the political and the socio-economic makeup of the region and of the Global South,” she said. Mochkofsky applauded Carranca’s book for exposing an issue, which is only known mostly in academic circles, to a wider readership. “It really fills a void of information for the general public around something that is touching so many people.”

Sarah Stillman, a staff writer at The New Yorker who teaches investigative reporting at Yale University, said while reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan, she found that 80,000 people from other countries were working on U.S. bases from places such as Fiji, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, mostly in service jobs. “One of the only places where they actually had some form of social equality on the base was in the church,” she said, where workers and military service members attended the same places of worship.

“A lot of these workers were treated so horribly and were essentially trafficking victims, and then when their contracts weren’t renewed or at the end like the withdraw in Afghanistan, they were just kind of like booted out on the street, not getting plane tickets home, and they wound up going into the communities and living there because they couldn’t afford to get home.”

Freedman asked Carranca about the tactics of Latin American missionaries in trying to convert Islamic Afghans to Christianity.

She said there is a consensus among the evangelical community that Latin American missionaries are more successful and more efficient than Americans “because they just make friends.”

“I went to many barbecues in Afghanistan. And soccer is a major entry point. When you talk to Iraqis and Afghans and you mention Brazil, they think of soccer immediately. And this opens doors,” she said. “Also, because Brazil is not involved in any wars. Most Latin American countries are not. So they don’t think of Brazil – there’s not that resistance that they have for listening to Americans.”

Click the window below to watch a recording of the program.