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James and Margaret Goff Papers

Call Number: RG 170
Scope and Contents

The James and Margaret Goff Papers contain materials gathered and produced in the course of the Goffs' work, particularly in the areas of religious liberty and religious implications of social development in Latin America. The papers provide first-hand perspective on major shifts taking place in Protestant missions in the later 20th century, including the nationalization of Latin American churches and the rise of liberation theology. The collection is strong in documenting the Goffs' early career in Colombia (1947-1969), the pivotal period of their research assignment in Cuernavaca, Mexico (1969-1973), their work in Nicaragua (1981-1986) and their retirement activities (1986-2000). Material from their years in Peru (1973-1981) is scarce. James and Margaret Goff were fraternal workers (missionaries) serving under the United Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA after 1983), in Latin America (Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua) from 1947 to 1986. They served as interpreters of Latin American liberation theology to a Protestant Anglophone audience, translating and distributing important religious documents to church leaders in North America.

The Document Service partially preserved in Series I was a defining element of the second half of the Goffs' career as fraternal workers. Believing that the reports of missionaries in Latin America tended to reflect the political right exclusively, the Goffs began their translation and documentation service "to let the church in the English-speaking world hear from the Latin American Christian Left." They began the service in 1969, shortly before their departure from Colombia. Soon, they were selecting, translating when necessary, editing, mimeographing, and circulating these documents to a mailing list of several hundred people. The series also included, at times, original papers written or solicited by the Goffs specifically for the document service. In most cases the documents are accompanied by a cover letter by the Goffs.

The collection of the Goffs' mailings available in Series I is incomplete. It features materials produced during the Goffs' service in Cernavaca from 1969 to 1973, with one mailing from Nicaragua (concerning the 1984 election) and a few from New York (1988-1989), which consist primarily of relevant clippings from US periodicals rather than original Latin American material. Documents from the Goffs' periods in Peru are not available. There are apparently some gaps in the Mexico-era documents, although the service was not strictly monthly, so a skipped month does not necessarily represent a missing document.

The Writings and Translations of Series II are divided into five subseries: a) Writings by the Goffs; b) Writings by others, c) Occasional translations by the Goffs; d) Other publications by the Goffs; e) Publications by other documentation services.

The writings of the Goffs include both published and unpublished essays and reports. Longer works by the Goffs, including James' dissertation The Persecution of Protestant Christians in Colombia (1968), and In every person who hopes ... the Lord is born every day: a book of Latin American Faces and Places (1980) are available in the Library's cataloged collection.

The writings of others collected by the Goffs in the course of their work include essays and articles, and are representative of the type of materials that the Goffs circulated through their document service. Most are in English, but a few Spanish items are also included.

The "occasional" translations of the Goffs are those not apparently undertaken for the purpose of their Document Service. They include both English to Spanish and Spanish (or Portuguese) to English. Two of translations were undertaken by the Goffs' children under supervision of their parents; most of the rest are co-translated by James and Margaret.

While the Goffs' Document Service was the most prolonged manifestation of their aptitude for editing and publishing, it was not the only one. Their work in this area began with their editing of Colombian Clippings, the newsletter of the Presbyterian Church in Colombia. The press releases that James Goff issued as press secretary of CEDEC are noteworthy documents revealing the fruits of his research into religious persecution in Latin America. Finally, after their retirement, the Goffs co-founded and edited Friendship Findings, the newsletter of the Pomona Valley-Nicaragua Friendship Association from 1990 until James' death in 1994 (see memorial issue, September 1994), with Margaret continuing as solo editor for another year.

As publishers of their Church and Social Change Document Service, the Goffs were both purveyors and collectors of documentation on the social and rleigious climate of Latin America. Their received mailings and solicited documents from organizations and individuals writing on their themes of interest, and drew from these resources in compiling their mailings. The publications of other documentation services in Series II primarily represent the Goffs' period in Mexico. Of particular note are the publications of CIDOC and of ISAL, from which the Goffs often drew materials for their documentation service, and with which they worked closely.

The Goffs' Correspondence available in Series III is in many ways an extension of their professional writing life evidenced in Series I and II. Much as James Goff would attach a "Dear Friends" cover letter to a significant item and mail it to the 800 subscribers in his document service, he would circulate essays and clippings to smaller groups or to individuals when he believed they would be of interest. His letters to colleagues often exhibit the same detailed analysis as his writings for publication. His concern about social change in Latin America repeatedly prompted him to write to publications and religious and political leaders in the United States in an effort not only to educate them, but to convince them to change their policies toward Latin America. Correspondence can be found throughout this collection, not only in Series III; where correspondence is directly related to other items in the collection it has been kept with those items rather than isolated in this series.

Series IV, Sermons and Talks, includes notes and manuscripts form the public speaking of James Goff (with one talk by Margaret Goff in 1994). The majority of this series consists of notes (in Spanish and English) for sermons and prayers from James' ministry at several churches in Colombia (in some cases, order of service bulletins are also included.)

Series V, Activities, reflects the spectrum of ministries, studies, and projects that the Goffs undertook during their long career. This series includes, among other things, materials related to their involvement with the Presbyterian Mission in Colombia, the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, CEDEC (including the 1966-1967 Protestant censuses), the 1969 Crisis in the Nation Redeployment, LAD/LAWG conferences 1969-1973, WCCE "Encountras" 1971, and various activities from their retirement. Collected materials, correspondence, and notes from the research and activities of the Goffs appear in this series.

Among many items of interest in Series V is the extensive documentation of the conflict surrounding the 1971 Bogota seminar on "Mission and Development," which was denounced by CEDEC. This material highlights tensions that existed over the relationship between missionaries and local church leaders, and between Marxism and Christianity. (See also the Wilbur Kuhl correspondence in Series III for reactions to this conflict back in the United States.)

Series V, Activities, also includes documentation related to editorial projects undertaken by the Goffs, although in several cases the final documents are not available. In 1969-1970, James Goff reproduced and circulated evidence about human rights violations in Brazil on behalf of ISAL, which did not want its name associated with the project for fear of repercussions for its informants. The correspondence and some background documents about this project are preserved, although the mailings themselves do not seem to be extant. Similarly, this collection holds correspondence, minutes, background documents, and partial drafts for a white paper that James Goff edited for the UPCUSA Task Force on US-Cuba Relations in 1972, but the final document is not present here.

The Collected Materials of Series VI provide further evidence of the Goffs' life-long activitiy as collectors and disseminators of ideas and information. They include conference materials, organizational materials, newspaper and magazine clippings, and subject files amassed by the Groffs. Of particular note in the conference sub-series are the paeprs from the CICOP (Catholic Inter-American Cooperation Program) conferences from 1965, 1970, and 1971.

Series VII, Personal Items and Memorabilia, is a small collection of photographs and other miscellaneous biographical items. Included is a handwritten dictionary, in English, in James Goff's hand, from the 1950s.

Series VIII, added in 2010, includes resource materials related to Latin American countries and issues. These materials were formerly housed in a resource center established by the Goffs and by Davie and Joy Napier at the Pilgrim Place retirement community in California.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Goff family.

  1. I. Document Service
  2. II. Writings and Translations
  3. III. Correspondence
  4. IV. Sermons and Talks
  5. V. Activities
  6. VI. Collected Materials
  7. VII. Personal Items and Memorabilia
  8. VIII. Addendum - 2010
34 Linear Feet (94 boxes and 3 Oversize)
Related Names
Goff, James E., 1916-
Goff, Margaret, 1916-
Language of Materials