Hildi Amstutz, a longterm mission worker in Paraguay, has led spiritual retreats for pastors and other Christian leaders for the past eight years. Download full-resolution image.
Andrew Clouse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jesus promised rest to all who are weary, and Hildi Amstutz, a mission associate in Paraguay, wants to make sure that church leaders and other Christians in leadership positions are able to tap into the peace Jesus offers, by providing spiritual retreats.

Amstutz, born and raised in Paraguay, and her husband, C. Paul, have served with Mennonite Mission Network in Paraguay for the past 21 years, working in various church-related ministries, including co-pastoring a Hispanic church plant for seven years.

During that time, they as a couple became more deeply aware of the situation facing the majority of the pastors around the country—they are overworked, heavily burdened, and they struggle to make time to hear God’s voice in their demanding bivocational weekly schedules. This reawakened the vision in her to create a “sacred space” for pastors and people in leadership positions, a dream that lay dormant for about 15 years.

Eight years ago, Amstutz felt more keenly than ever that time had come to give this vision more shape. So the Amstutzes and a local pastor began offering guided silent retreats to pastors. These first very encouraging experiences and her perseverance have led to the creation of a nonprofit organization called Asociación Querit. They joined efforts with Wesley Schmidt, a Paraguayan doctor and the son of mission workers John and Clara Schmidt, who over the years had been entertaining a similar vision. Together, they are creating a spiritual retreat center equipped to host groups year-round. (Querit is the Spanish word for Cherith, the brook where Elijah rested in 1 Kings 17.)

According to a 2010 New York Times article, American pastors “suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.” Furthermore, many say they would leave their job if they could.”

Amstutz says the situation facing clergy in Paraguay is similar. She cites the work of Author Brian K. Rice, who says, “We live in times that are challenging and even toxic for attentiveness, reflectiveness, depth of wisdom, and lives that are well formed in the image of Christ.” Given this reality, it’s more important than ever to create a space where pastors and leaders are free from the stress of day-to-day ministry or demands of the business world, and renew their strength and calling by spending time in the loving and restoring presence of God.

“If God’s children—sons and daughters and servants—are strengthened, then the kingdom of God will keep moving forward with greater strength,” Amstutz said. “If they are healthy and strong, then they will also do better and more focused work, and not be like firemen just running around and trying to extinguish little fires.” 

Juan Carlos Poletti, a Paraguayan pastor who has worked with Amstutz since 2005, said that the concept of taking spiritual retreats is almost completely unknown among Paraguayan evangelicals, but when pastors participate, they leave renewed.

“We have testimonies of pastors who would have left their ministries if it hadn’t been for the retreats,” Poletti said.

Amstutz and her husband, C. Paul, who facilitates a business chaplaincy program, have offered an increasing number of retreats every year. In 2013, they plan to lead 10 retreats for pastors, seminary students, business chaplains, social workers and businesspeople.

Amstutz believes that without Spirit-led rest, Christian leaders are more likely to give in to temptation.

“A pastor, or any person, who is overworked is more prone to fall into sin because he has not attended to his relationship with God,” she said. “Where the intimacy with God is being neglected, the leader begins to look for intimacy somewhere else—he may fall into sexual sin, overspending, or an excessive focus on work, for example.”

Though it started out with a focus on pastors and other church workers, Christian leaders from the business world told Amstutz that they need spiritual renewal just as much.

Amstutz said she first experienced spiritual retreats while studying at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. After her first personal retreat, she was hooked.

Her first foray into leading a retreat in Paraguay was met with skepticism, she remembers. When she broached the idea with a group of pastors they worked closely with, one of them laughed and said, “You expect us to be quiet for a whole hour and sit there and meditate?”

Now, many years later, the same pastor works closely with her in designing and carrying out retreats, and also serves on the board of Asociación Querit.

Most of the retreats take place at the few Catholic retreat centers that exist in the country of 6.5 million. Since there aren’t many, they are almost always filled to capacity. As the retreats began to show such encouraging results, Amstutz began dreaming of founding an evangelical retreat center. When Amstutz joined visions with Schmidt, he had been working out an agreement with the Committee of German Mennonite Churches of Paraguay to build a retreat center on a 50-acre semi-forested property, which the German Mennonite churches had donated. She said she considers it divine leading that God joined her vision with Schmidt’s vision at just the right time.

They recently received a donation of more than $220,000 to begin building. If all goes according to plan, the center will open at the end of 2014.

###

For immediate release.

Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at andrewc@mmnworld.net, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.

 

 

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