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The Extraordinary Dr. Parajón

Photo courtesy of American Baptist
International Ministries
By Andrew Sharp

In late 1978 and early 1979, Nicaraguan rebels known as Sandinistas battled the troops of dictator Anastasio Somoza for control of the country. RMM missionaries and Voluntary Service workers in Nicaragua, based in the capital Managua and in many rural villages, were swept up in the war. Some of their stories were told in the May and June 2013 issues of the Beacon (“Caught in the Crossfire” parts I and part II).

There is a thick binder at the RMM office that contains hundreds of pages documenting correspondence between RMM’s home office in Rosedale and Nicaragua during this time, along with missionaries’ accounts and magazine articles. The agency’s leaders scrambled to deal with the crisis and get workers out safely.

One name keeps showing up over and over in these pages—a Dr. Parajón in Managua, who gave much-needed counsel to the RMM staff over the phone, helped communicate with all the widespread missionaries, and pulled all the strings he had to getting plane tickets for the trapped workers. He sometimes even escorted them to the airport. Allen and Carolyn Roth had been trapped in a war-torn neighborhood in Managua, not sure whether to leave or stay. Allen wrote in his journal, “At 11:45 (June 16) a stranger walked up to me and in English said, ‘You need to go home. Get ready right away. I can get you to the airport by 1:00 PM.’ It was Dr. Parajón from CPAD.” He had risked his life to get the Roths to safety.

Who was this Dr. Parajón?

Gustavo “Gus” Parajón was director of CEPAD, the Consejo de Iglesias Evangélicas Pro-Alianza Denominacional, or as it’s called in English, the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua. RMM worked closely with CEPAD in its health programs. Parajón founded the organization to deal with the Managua earthquake of 1972, and it grew into an organization that provided disaster relief and development programs that promoted literacy and health, among other efforts. Parajón was noted for living out the gospel through his care for people’s needs—both physical and spiritual.

He was educated in the United States, earning a B.A. at Denison University, an M.D. from Case Western Reserve University, and a masters in public health from Harvard. He met his wife Joan at Denison, and they became Baptist missionaries in Managua, where he worked at the Baptist hospital, in addition to his aid work.

Parajón continued to work for peace throughout the 1980s as the war between the new Sandinista government and the Contras dragged on. For his efforts, he was in great danger from the Contra forces as they tried to destabilize the government, according to Sally Ann Flecker in an article in Denison University’s online alumni magazine (Spring 2013). “That didn’t stop Parajón and his team from going into war zones to assist in the peace commissions,” Flecker wrote. “They traveled without bodyguards, and Parajón carried only a notebook and a Bible. Once his team was stoned by an angry mob. Another time his vehicle was hit by bullets, but miraculously, nobody was injured. While he was gone, his family and members of his congregation would hold their breath.”

Parajón was later selected as one of four members of Nicaragua’s Committee of National Reconciliation, a group that worked with other Central American countries to bring peace to the region and end the Nicaraguan civil war. In 2002, he was honored as an outstanding citizen of Managua during the city’s 150th anniversary celebrations, and in 2006 the Central American Parliament honored him for his peace and reconciliation work during the war years.

He was senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Nicaragua until 2010. He died at 75 on March 13, 2011 in Managua.

There’s no telling where RMM and its workers—or Nicaragua—would have been without Gus Parajón.



Sources:

“IM Remembers the Life of Extraordinary Service of Gustavo Parajon,” March 17, 2011: http://www.internationalministries.org/read/33930

Sally Ann Flecker, “Minister of Peace,” Denison Magazine Online, Spring 2013: http://denisonmagazine.com/2012/departments/continuum/minister-of-peace