Gustavo Parajón, recipient of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Human Rights Award in 2006, and a former vice president of the BWA, died on March 13 in Managua, Nicaragua, of a heart attack. He was 75 years old.
A medical doctor and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, Parajón was a prominent figure in Nicaraguan evangelical and medical circles. The son of pastor and church planter Arturo Parajón, he graduated from Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States, and earned a Masters in Public Health from Harvard University in Massachusetts.
BWA General Secretary Neville Callam stated that “Gustavo was an exemplary leader among us” who had an outstanding “record of service in defense of justice and peace.” Callam said that the BWA has been “inspired by his commitment to serving the needy, healing the wounded and uniting Christians in the service of people in need.”
Parajón founded two organizations. PROVADENIC (Nicaragua Vaccination and Community Development Program), formed in 1967, was started in partnership with the Baptist Convention of Nicaragua, First Baptist Church of Managua, and First Baptist Church of Cleveland in the USA. It is a primary healthcare program that serves 25 rural communities by training local health promoters to treat and prevent common illnesses.
CEPAD (Nicaraguan Council of Evangelical Churches) was created in 1972 as an interdenominational relief organization to aid victims after an earthquake severely damaged Managua and other parts of the country, killing more than 10,000.The organization helped met the needs of approximately 250,000 persons, many of them homeless, during the civil disturbances of the 1980s. CEPAD has expanded its ministry and now serves approximately 45 member denominations and the broader population with emergency relief, development, and reconciliation programs.
During the Sandinista Revolution and the war in the 1980s, CEPAD was the intermediary between the evangelical churches and the government, and won the attention of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who appointed Parajón a member of the National Reconciliation Commission, together with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Managua.
This appointment led to misrepresentation in some circles that CEPAD was a communist organization working in tandem with the Soviet-backed government. As a result, CEPAD’s clinics became targets for attacks from Contra rebels who sought to overthrow the government, placing doctors, nurses and patients at risk. An intervention by Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary) professor and author, Ron Sider, who organized visits by conservative leaders from the USA to the sites served by the organization, helped to dispel the accusation. CEPAD continues its ministry of reconciliation.
Parajón received several other awards, including the Francisco Morazán medallion in October 2006 from the Central American Parliament; the Sesquicentennial Medallion as an Outstanding Citizen of Managua during Managua’s 150th anniversary in 2002; the Dahlberg Peace Award by American Baptist Churches USA in 1980; and a Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1981 from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, from where he had previously earned his bachelor’s degree in 1959.
In receiving the 2006 BWA Human Rights Award, Parajón, who served as a BWA vice president from 2005-2010, was recognized for his outstanding relief and developmental work, as well as his contribution to the evangelical movement and Baptist witness in his country.
General Secretary Callam declared that Parajón’s “dedication to reconciling people in situations of conflict has inspired us all. Gustavo has left us with a legacy of a loving and caring spirit which Baptists everywhere will seek to emulate.”
Parajón leaves wife Joan, daughters Marta Elena and Laura, and son David.
Funeral services were held March 15 in Managua.