We would like to thank everyone for their gracious prayers for this past while. It has been difficult for our entire family, but Ariana is doing much better, so this also means the rest of us are getting along better also.
I have been thinking of words to a song that I have been learning:
En ti confiaré
Tú promesa sigue en pie
Tú eres fiel
En tus manos estaré
Siempre has sido fiel
I will trust you
Your promise still stands
You are faithful
I will walk confidently
I will be in your hands
You have always been faithful
I would like to thank Bruce Yoder for the inspiration of the following topic along with Keith and Gretchen Kingsley and the entire Northern Chaco Mission Network team, including my parents.
At Mission Seminar last year Bruce Yoder shared about his work and about previous Mennonite Missionaries in West Africa. He shared a story in particular about an African Independent Church bishop who pushed Bruce on the history of the Mennonite Missionaries. You see the missionaries just supported the local church but never set up a Mennonite denomination. After many years the Bishop confronted Bruce by saying “Why did you never let us be a part of you?” He shares that this took him aback slightly. But then as he reflected on it he realized that even when Missionaries do not “impose” a denomination or particular way of worshipping or believing, the outsider is still “imposing” or being imperial by not offering those things.
I’d like to quote part of an article in the Mennonite that Keith wrote about 7 years ago. He mentions a “book by Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink from our own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People.” Then Keith goes on to say “When I finally read it, the book troubled me, though not because of its themes, which largely confirmed and nourished my Anabaptist faith.
Written nearly 30 years ago by a Peruvian priest, its point continues to be an important one, that the emerging spirituality among the poor of Latin America is life giving because they are “drinking from their own wells.” Furthermore, the author contends that this new spiritual dynamic holds out life, salvation even, to those of us who drink from other wells, other spiritual traditions.
The Mission Network in all of its years in Northern Argentina never created an Anabaptist church. The way my mother tells the story, Albert and Lois Buckwalter actually started off with a Mennonite church but things weren’t going so well, so they decided to take a more hands off approach walking alongside the indigenous churches. That model continued while my parents were in the Chaco and continues to this day.
A model with some similarities happened here in central Ecuador many years ago and out of this came a new Mennonite conference. Earlier this year the Mennonite Church of Ecuador (Iglesia Menonita de Ecuador or IME) was formed from about 8 indigenous and mestizo congregations from the Andean and Coastal region of the country. One of the longest serving pastors, Jose Manuel Guaman, tells a story of one of the first missionaries. In the 70s and 80s a Canadian Mennonite named Henry Klassen worked with Avant Ministries (formerly Gospel Missionary Union). He taught and served in a newly formed mission school and also planted many churches. Jose says that he was one of the first pastors that was ordained since he knew how to read. Henry Klassen wasn’t a pastor, he was a farmer. But to this day Jose Manuel remembers how Klassen ordained other indigenous pastors. “Like Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock and Felix Manz, none of them were pastors but they ordained each other.”
I have also become good friends with another leader in the new Mennonite conference, Julian Guaman. He is a scholar and a teacher. He is truly in love with Anabaptism and what it has in store for his church, his people and his country. He has fond memories of Henry Klassen although Julian only knew him when Julian was young. He appreciated the work that Klassen left behind, but always wondered why a Mennonite church or denomination was never formed. Later, when Jose Manuel Guaman was part of the Indigenous Evangelical Church Federation (now FEINE), he invited the Mission Board to support theological education. This is when Mauricio and Sarah Chenlo came to work in Ecuador. Julian was one of several Kichwa young adults that were able to study theology and eventually get scholarships to finish their studies at the Latin American Seminary in Costa Rica. He is still in contact with Mauricio and that is how I was able to get in touch with Julian. Later on when the Mission Network sent Cesar and Patricia to continue working with Theological Education, Julian worked with them several times giving classes. Eventually Cesar and Patricia’s work led them to decide to start a Mennonite church in the capital. Today we walk alongside this church.
Several weeks ago when Cesar and Patricia were here in Quito for the inauguration of the new church building Julian asked Cesar, “why did you never let us become a part of your new Mennonite church conference?”
Now when I invited Julian over to chat and have some tea, he beams that they have finally started their own Mennonite Conference. He is also excited because his daughter has been accepted at Goshen and he hopes that he can fundraise enough funds so that she will be able to attend.
Recently, at the end of a workshop that I was giving on Anabaptism using Palmer Becker’s booklets, Jose Manuel told me that finally the Mennonite Mission has come to our church. I thought, well the Mission has been here since you invited them in 1989, but I see how he feels this is special. They actually have a Mennonite church and we are happily participating with them.
Through all of this there are many who are drinking from each others wells: the Mennonites in Quito, and in Colombia (the Colombian Church is the mother church of the Quito Church) and the Canadians who sent Henry Klassen, (who apparently left an Anabaptist seed through much of Chimborazo province in the central Andes). The Evangelical Mennonite Conference on the Ecuadorian Coast and the Central Plains Mennonite Conference who first sent Mauricio and Sarah, and then supported Cesar and Patricia and now our family, the churches in the Chaco, and now also in the Ecuadorian Rainforest and in Indiana, are all drinking from each others wells. Here in Ecuador there is a well that is springing forth with new lively water, excited to share in their indigenous Anabaptist faith with the Anabaptist family they have just become a part of.
We all should trust God and know that God’s promise still stands and we can walk confidently, and embrace these new congregations as our own, knowing that God never failed us.