Nicaraguan Doctor, Aid Worker & Mediator
Gustavo Parajón was born in Nicaragua where his father was the founding pastor of the First Baptist Church of Managua. Young Gustavo would accompany his father on evangelistic trips into the rural areas where he witnessed the severe health needs of the poor campesinos. Those childhood experiences ignited a calling to become a doctor, leading him to medical school in the U.S. where he met his wife Joan.
Medical Aid & Pastoral Work in Nicaragua
In 1965 the Parajóns were commissioned as American Baptist missionaries to Nicaragua. Parajón worked at the Baptist Hospital in Managua as well as served as pastor for the church his father had founded. In addition, Gustavo founded PROVADENIC, a network of health clinics in the underserved rural areas. PROVADENIC trained local people to provide health care for common treatable illnesses as well as to teach prevention of those illnesses.
Earthquake Relief & Rise to National Prominence
Then in 1972 a massive earthquake devastated Nicaragua, especially the capital city of Managua. Over 10,000 people were killed, and many more injured and left homeless. Parajón mobilized the Protestant churches to form CEPAD (Evangelical Committee for Aid and Development) to coordinate and provide relief for the earthquake victims. CEPAD’s role as coordinator of the international disaster response brought Parajón into national prominence. As the immediate needs for relief diminished CEPAD continued to play a role of bringing together the faith communities for leadership training and the amelioration of poverty.
The Nicaraguan Revolution
The wars in Central America tore through Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The leftist Sandinista revolution toppled the dictatorship of Anastasio Samoza in 1979. Shortly thereafter with the support of newly-elected U.S. President Ronald Reagan, elements of Samoza’s old National Guard gathered together as a force known informally as
the Contras. The Contras launched a long war of attrition that often targeted civilians and the social infrastructure. PROVADENIC clinics were attacked, and health workers were assassinated.
A parallel war broke out in the eastern and southern parts of Nicaragua involving the indigenous people—the English-speaking Miskitos, Ramas, and Sumos as well as the Creoles. They felt marginalized by the Spanish-speaking central government and began an insurgency that kept its distance from the Contras but added to the strain on the Sandinista government and army.
Assisting in Mediation Between Warring Groups
Because of his willingness to work with the Sandinistas in meeting the needs of the Nicaraugan populace, Parajón was criticized by Christian conservatives in the U.S., and CEPAD was accused of being a Communist organization. But within Nicaragua he was noted as a person of integrity and compassion toward all people. In 1987 Parajón joined with a group of Nicaraguan Moravian Church leaders and the U.S. Mennonite John Paul Lederach to form a group that mediated between the Sandinista government and indigenous Contra groups in eastern Nicaragua. After an extensive process of going back and forth between the two sides and hosting a series of direct talks, they succeeded in establishing the first cease-fire. The success of this process stimulated the a more comprehensive initiative organized by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias to peacefully resolve all of the wars in Central America.
Following the establishment of the Peace Plan mediated by President Arias, Parajón was selected as a person-at-large trusted by all sides to be on the Nicaraguan National Reconciliation Commission, which also included Catholic Cardinal Obando y Bravo. He worked to establish local reconciliation commissions that aided in the demobilization of soldiers from both sides. The local commissions helped ex-combatants return to their home communities where they sometimes lived next to their former enemies. Parajón established the training procedures to equip the local reconciliation commissions for their work, often using the Bible as their only resource for how to find the ways to peace on the ground.
Recognition & Honors
Parajón’s peacemaking work resulted in honors from the American Baptist Churches, the Baptist World Alliance and the Central American Parliament, among others. When Parajón received the distinguished Francisco Morazán medallion from the Central American Parliament both Sandinistas and former Contras gathered to honor him for his reconciliation work. During Nicaragua’s 150th Anniversary celebration Dr. Parajón was presented the Sesquicentennial Medallion as an Outstanding Citizen of Managua He was a medical doctor who not only healed individual bodies but brought healing to the Nicaraguan society.