By: Jorge Baños
“C. René Padilla, father of the “Integral Mission” model that prompted evangelicals to see social action and evangelization as “two wings of the same plane” passed away earlier this year. Christianity Today published a note on its website in tribute to this great Latin American evangelical leader. Dr. René Padilla, who distinguished himself for almost five decades in evangelical and public life for being a great writer, editor, pastor, lecturer, and director of evangelical organizations and foundations, departed into the presence of the Lord. He was the co-founder of the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL), and has been a mentor of many, many generations.
Who was René Padilla and what did he do to be worthy of a distinguished tribute from the Latin American Evangelical Church?
Padilla was born in Ecuador, son of a working family. He spent part of his childhood in Colombia and lived for a short time in Perú coordinating the Evangelical University Students Movement (CIEE). He eventually settled in Argentina where he lived for many decades, until his death. He studied in the United States and England. He had the opportunity to settle in the United States or Europe, but his commitment to Latin America caused him to always make that part of the continent his home.
We speak today of “Integral Mission” because of the father of the concept, Dr. René Padilla. As God inspired him to write and speak on such theology, Padilla influenced the Evangelical Church to become greatly committed to impacting Latin American society.
Before Padilla, the Church in Latin America interpreted its mission in terms only of saving the soul of the person, regardless of the individual’s surrounding social life. Yet, Padilla caused leaders to speak about a more integral interpretation of the mission of the church. For decades, Padilla made us ponder the following questions: What is the gospel? What is evangelism? Who is Christ, and how do we understand him today? What is the Church and what is its link to the message of the Kingdom of God? What is the mission of the church, and how do we understand it? These types of questions not only merit yes or no answers; they make us think and rethink about our role as the Church in Latin America.
Padilla taught us that social responsibility is part of the integral mission of the Church and that it must be carried out in the social contexts where we serve. We know that we live in a part of the continent (Latin America) plagued by social injustices, poverty, economic inequalities, drug trafficking, labor exploitation, and the violation of human rights, not to mention many other evils that afflict us. It is in these contexts that Padilla exhorted us that the Lord’s Church must be present and visible, not only with the spoken Word, but with its testimony and service.
If a gallery of the great men and women of the faith in Latin America existed, the name of René Padilla would undoubtedly occupy a special place there, mainly because of his life and contribution to the Latin American Evangelical Church. The Church in this part of the world has great gratitude for everything he said, did and wrote. Thank you, hermano Padilla, for the legacy you have left with and in us. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).