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MWC Reflects Rich Diversity of Anabaptist Witness

(Blog entry written for the Anabaptist Witness journal blog)

I arrived at Harrisburg 2015 at the end of my two-year term in Ecuador as a mission worker, traveling straight to Pennsylvania before going to my home area. This meant enjoying the event with other colleagues or leaders I worked with in Ecuador (Ecuadorian, Chilean, Colombian, and US American), as I transition to life back in the United States. When we led a workshop entitled “Serving Refugees in Ecuador,” about the ministry of the Quito Mennonite Church, it certainly didn’t feel like I was leaving direct involvement in that work.

As my first experience of Mennonite World Conference I did not know what to expect or whom I might be able to see. In spite of more than 7500 attendees, it was relatively easy to run into folks. I felt blessed to be in a place where I could both see old friends and meet new friends from so many parts of the world. It was extraordinary to be able to see familiar faces from home, college, seminary, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, and Ecuador all in one place. The conference did well at giving one a taste of the multicultural flavor of Anabaptist followers of Christ.

This was especially true of the music during the assembly sessions, which represented styles from the continents represented. All continents offered memorable songs, though the music from Africa provided particularly contagious rhythm and spirit inside the arena filled with Anabaptists.

The event certainly served to strengthen relational ties between sisters and brothers from around the world. It also emboldens delegates from around the world to encourage their congregations to claim an Anabaptist identity. Yet what an Anabaptist identity means in each corner of the globe is not a simple question. Anabaptists come from numerous cultures, have differing experiences of violence in their communities, and have differing economic realities and ways of relating to the natural world.

Faithful proclamation and incarnation of the gospel will look different in different contexts. Yet the variety of speakers and workshops demonstrates that, beyond contextual differences, Anabaptist communities embrace many different theologies, including different beliefs about salvation. I also heard affirmation of a holistic gospel from several speakers, a gospel that incarnates the love of Christ, addressing all aspects of human well being in this life.

Another question is how to respond to the tremendous social inequality between Anabaptists of different parts of the world, which simply reflects the social inequality of the world itself. I appreciated the public time of confession with which Kevin Ressler concluded his speech. This reminded me of our worship services in the congregations of Quito, where we have a time of silent confession and a time of spoken community confession. Kevin comes from Swiss-German as well as Suba and Luo (Tanzanian) background, but Kevin’s own public confession invited fellow US Americans to repent of the ways we have not examined our privilege and our usage of wealth. As a citizen of the host country, I feel shame at how many people my government excluded from this event because it would not grant visas, including twenty-five members of a thirty-person choir.

Our global Anabaptist witness must respond to an economic system that continues to produce disparity and environmental exploitation. We also live in a post-colonial world that still bears the marks of past western imperialism and racism. The challenge is to have an Anabaptist witness where all voices speaking from faithful Christian praxis are heard, regardless of race, country, social status, sex, or sexual orientation. These voices help us to see who the marginalized are in a particular context, those in whom we will find the presence of Christ.

Young Anabaptist Tigist Tesfaye Galagle from Ethiopia reflected on her journey toward claiming Anabaptist faith in the midst of doubt, at times wondering if it was simply the faith of white colonizers. Hippolyto Tshimanga recognized the reasons for calling for a moratorium on western mission in light of the western church’s complicity in colonial legacies, yet insisted that mission belongs to all churches. To be the church is to be in mission.

I hope all participants will be inspired toward the mission of proclaiming the love of Christ by living out the love of Christ in our respective communities. I imagine this will take as many forms as there are styles of music, so long as it is not built on the supposed superiority of any one group of human beings. This mission is for near and for far, and embraces the full experience and integrity of each human being. None is too small to count for God’s reign. As one of our songs eloquently states, “No journey too far, no distance too great…no creature too humble, no child too small for God to be seeking and find.”1

1. Colin Gibson, “Nothing is lost on the breath of God,” Hope Publishing Company, 1996.

Preparing to leave Ecuador

It is hard to believe that my time in Ecuador for my initial two-year commitment is drawing to a close. I will be returning to the States on July 19 in order to participate in the Mennonite World Conference, and in the following couple months I will speak in several churches in Iowa and Indiana, and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary about the ministry in Ecuador.

In the meantime, a lot has happened since I last wrote! Most significantly Beth Swartzendruber and I got engaged on April 28. Beth came to Ecuador for a two week visit at the end of April, after almost 6 months of physical separation. Beth has been a major support as we have talked every day via Skype. We are excited about building a future together with God’s leading for us both, as we will soon join our lives to one another, when we get married in October in Iowa. While I will be saying goodbye to Ecuador for at least awhile, we are discerning returning to serve with the Quito Mennonite church as a couple.

As coordinator of the ProPaz program for leadership training, it was exciting to witness Jerrell and Jane Ross Richer’s class entitled Love of neighbor: Creation and Economic Justice. This was an intensive course with great participation for members of the Quito church and visiting Methodists. The course focused on several different indigenous communities with whom Jerrell and Jane have had personal encounter asking what it looks like to love these neighbors, who are marginalized by the industrialized society we participate in. We learned that there are different forms of capital, including environmental and social capital. Communities that lack financial capital may have other valuable types of “capital” that we lack in the United States.

We have also continued with a Bible workshop every month, with the same group of participants. The most recent topics were on an overview of the Old Testament, Genesis 1-12, and the Exodus event, as the program moves through the important moments the biblical story. The idea is for these monthly workshops to continue once a month even when I am not here, until finishing the year-long series. Thankfully Luis Tapia, pastor at the Quito church will be able to continue coordinating the ProPaz program after I leave.

My work in Calderón has continued fairly normally, though there continues to be changes in the families that are present in Calderon. Another family has returned to Colombia, so our numbers are even more reduced. I have enjoyed working with Maria Helena and learned much from her. With the church council of the Quito church, we recently decided to consider Calderón as a cell group rather than a church plant, recognizing that most of the families are not here long term. Our goal has been to accompany the families that are here, as long as they are here, inviting all to deeper faith and to be formed by Christ-like love. Since a number of us work with refugees families that may carry trauma from experiences of violence, Paul Stucky and Nathan Toews came from MCC Colombia to offer a needed retreat for a few days in April. We had a similar retreat right when I arrived, and this time second time I had the benefit of bringing experiences of working with families with stress or trauma.

A recent highlight for me was receiving the Ditzler family here in Calderón. They have been life-long friends. Paquita is from Ecuador, but this is their first visit to Ecuador as a family in quite a few years.

Esforzándonos por ser iglesia

Pasan rápido los meses aún cuando la iglesia en Ecuador sigue en la misma labor.

La meta principal de esta labor es ser una comunidad de fe que sea una señal del reino de Dios que Jesús anunció, donde cada persona puede compartir libremente los dones que Dios le ha dado para apoyarnos unos a otros. Somos muy imperfectos, pero esperamos que los cultos, el ministerio con familias refugiadas, los talleres y los cursos todos sirvan para ese fin.

Con la mayor parte de mi tiempo sigo con la obra nueva en Calderón. Esta semana despedimos a Esneda y a sus dos hijas, quienes viajan para Suecia. También le hemos dado la bienvenida a la familia de Marta y Moisés, quienes estuvieron acá en Calderón antes por un tiempo. También hay otra familia pequeña y una mujer soltera que han empezado a participar. Aunque apenas se puede decir que la iglesia de Calderón está “establecida,” mi llamado es ofrecer acompañamiento pastoral a las personas que Dios nos trae. Seguimos tanto con los cultos los domingos como el grupo familiar de los jueves. María Helena López ha regresado como coordinadora pastoral en Calderón junto conmigo y como una de las coordinadoras nacionales de la ICAME (iglesia nacional naciente).

Lo que más me encanta de este trabajo es ver la energía y la expresión de fe de los participantes en la iglesia. También es difícil a la vez saber responder pastoralmente a los problemas complejos en particular de las familias refugiadas.

Hemos podido iniciar el año con varias actividades de ProPaz. La primera fue un taller que yo dirigí sobre Entendiendo y transformando los conflictos. Lo bonito es que fue un grupo grande (21 personas). También este mes hicimos el primero de una serie de talleres bíblicos. La idea es seguir 12 meses con temas de conocimiento e interpretación bíblicos. La meta es que los participantes, algunos con pocos conocimientos de la Biblia, puedan aportar siempre que leamos y interpretemos la Biblia en conjunto como iglesia. Por último, estamos terminando un curso completo de ProPaz impartido por el pastor Luis Tapia titulado “Seamos iglesia.” El curso se trata del concepto anabautista de la iglesia, así como el discernimiento comunitario y el reparto igualitario de dones como parte del sacerdocio universal.

María Helena compartió un soneto con el grupo de Calderón escrito por un místico/a español/a anónimo/a. Nos llama a amar al Dios revelado en Jesús sin ningún recompensa ni castigo concreto.

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte
el cielo que me tienes prometido,
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.
Tú me mueves, Señor, muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido,
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido,
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.
Muéveme, en fin, tu amor, y en tal manera,
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.
No me tienes que dar porque te quiera,
pues aunque lo que espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.

Algunos motivos de oración:

  • Por sabiduría para todos los/las líderes para saber acompañar a las familias con problemáticas difíciles.
  • Por las familias que enfrentan soledad e incertidumbre para el futuro
  • Por la iglesia mientras busca llegar a ser un cuerpo en que cada uno/a sea valorado de manera igual y pueda compartir para la edificación de la comunidad
  • Por nuevos/as participantes para las Iglesias que puedan tanto recibir de lo que Dios hace en medio nuestro como compartir sus dones
  • Por la Iglesia Cristiana Anabautista Menonita del Ecuador (ICAME) que ahora tiene la personaría jurídica y tiene que cumplir con los requerimientos contables del gobierno

Striving to be the church

The months go by quickly even as the church in Ecuador continues the same work. The principal goal of this work is to be a faith community that is a sign of God’s reign that Jesus announced, where each person is able to freely share the gifts God has given him or her in order to build up one another. We are very imperfect but hope that worship services, ministry with refugee families, workshops, and courses work toward that end.

Most of my time continues with the church plant in Calderon, which this last week had to say good-bye to Esneda and her two daughters as they travel to Sweden. We have also welcomed the family of Marta and Moisés, who had been here last year in Calderon for a time. There are also another small family and a single woman who have begun to attend. While the Calderon church can hardly be said to be “established,” my call is to offer pastoral accompaniment to the persons that God has brought our way. We continue with both Sunday morning worship and “small group” on Thursdays. María Helena López has returned as pastoral coordinator in Calderón with me and as one of the national coordinators for the new Mennonite denomination.

What is most rewarding in this work is to experience the energy and expressions of faith of the participants in the church. At the same time, it is difficult to know how to respond pastorally to the great number of problems that particularly the refugee families have.

We have been able to start out the year with several ProPaz activities. The first of these was a workshop I led on Understanding and transforming conflicts. It was good to have a large group (21 people). We also this month had the first of a series of Bible workshops. The idea is to continue for 12 months covering topics that include basic Bible knowledge and how to interpret the Bible. The goal is for participants, some with little knowledge of the Bible, to feel able to contribute whenever we read and interpret the Bible together as a church. Finally, we are at the tail end of a complete ProPaz class taught by pastor Luis Tapia entitled, “Let’s be the church,” that discusses the Anabaptist understanding of church, including communal discernment and equal sharing of gifts as part of a universal priesthood.

María Helena shared a poem with the Calderón group written anonymously by a Spanish mystic that calls us to love the God revealed in Jesus without any concrete reward or punishment:

I am not moved, my God, to love you
By the Heaven you have promised me.
Nor I am moved by Hell so fearful
To cease therefore to offend you.
You move me, Lord. I am moved seeing you
Nailed to a cross and scorned.
I am moved seeing your wounded body.
I am moved by your insults and your death.
I am moved, in a word, by your love, and in such a way,
That though there were no Heaven, I would love you.
And though there were no Hell, I would fear you.
You need give me naught for me to love you.
For though I hoped not for that which I hope,
By the very same love, I would love you.

 Some prayer requests to remember:

  • For wisdom for all leaders in knowing how to accompany families with unique sets of problems
  • For families that deal with loneliness and uncertainty for the future
  • For the church as it seeks to move more toward being a body where everyone is equally valued and has something to share for the community to be built up
  • For new participants to the churches who have gifts to share and will receive from what God is doing here
  • For the new legalized Anabaptist Mennonite Christian Church of Ecuador (ICAME) as we figure out how to do accounting as the government requires

Terminando el año

Si voy mucho tiempo sin actualizar este blog es porque he tenido bastante que me mantiene ocupado. Uno de los cambios más notables es que varias familias de la obra nueva de Calderón se han ido del Ecuador. Leider y David están en Phoenix, Arizona. Oscar y Katerine con sus dos hijas ahora están en Nova Scotia. Por último, Giovana y Humberto con sus tres hijos Julián, Santiago y Mariana partieron para Florida. Con cada familia que se fue tuvimos una despedida con un grupo más pequeño de la iglesia de Calderón.

Hay algunas familias nuevas que tienen interés en participar, colombianas y ecuatorianas, pero hay mucha incertidumbre. Me deja con un vacío tener que despedirme de algunas de las personas con las que me he relacionado más en este año. María Helena ha regresado a Colombia para pasar la navidad allá, pero estará aquí de nuevo en enero. Uno de sus papeles será seguir con la iglesia de Calderón, así que juntos tendremos que trabajar para invitar la participación de más familias, incluyendo a familias ecuatorianas. Una familia nueva ha visitado pero también podrían partir para otro país pronto. Como hemos sido mayormente de familias colombianas, la iglesia ha asumido la identidad de ser una comunidad de apoyo para familias refugiadas.

Tuve una buena visita a Iowa (y brevemente en Indiana) a finales de octubre para ver a Beth y a mi familia. Pocos días después de venir di un taller sobre estilos de conflicto y la transformación de conflictos en una capacitación de misioneros metodistas. A mediados de noviembre tuvimos la reunión de la Conciedad con representantes de la conferencia Central Plains (entre ellos Dave Boshart quien era mi pastor), la iglesia menonita de Colombia y la Red menonita de misión. Fue bonito tener la compañía de Brady Peters quien trabaja con la Red y se quedó en mi apartamento.

Después de las reuniones, se quedó Patricia Urueña para dar un curso de ProPaz sobre Teología y género. La gente se pone muy ocupada en diciembre, así que ProPaz seguirá con más cursos y talleres el próximo año.

Será emocionante recibir a mi familia para la navidad; vienen mis padres, tres hermanas y un cuñado y mi abuelo. Llegarán el 22 y estarán aquí una semana. Esta última semana he tenido la compañía de Sheldon, el perrito que la familia de Giovana y Humberto cuidaban antes de salir para EEUU. Estoy buscando un hogar más permanente para él.

Pueden ver fotos haciendo clic donde dice “Photos/fotos.”

Algunos motivos de oración:

  • Orar que lleguen familias adicionales a la iglesia de Calderón
  • Orar por las familias que se están estableciendo en nuevos países con una nueva cultura e idioma.
  • Orar por María Helena López y la familia Ross Richer que preparan venir al Ecuador en enero.
  • Orar que las iglesias menonitas de Ecuador tengan sabiduría y convicción para juntos vivir fielmente de para que se vislumbre el reino de Dios, incluso en nuestras relaciones económicas.

Closing out a year

Please trust that I haven’t forgotten you and that the long time without news is because there has been plenty to keep me busy. The most striking changes are that a number of families that attended the church plant in Calderón have left Ecuador. Leider and David are in Phoenix, Arizona. Oscar and Katerine with their two daughters are now in Nova Scotia. Most recently, Giovana and Humberto, with three young adult children Julián, Santiago, and Mariana left for Florida. With each family leaving we had a farewell celebration with the progressively smaller Calderon group.

There are a few new families that may be interested in participating, both Colombian and Ecuadorian, but there is still plenty of uncertainty. It leaves me with a sort of void saying goodbye to some of the primary people I have related to over the past year. Maria Helena has returned to Colombia for the holidays, but will be back in January. One of her roles will be to continue with the Calderon church, so together we will work to find a way to invite more families to participate, including Ecuadorian families. One new family has visited but may also depart for a new country before too long. Because we have primarily had Colombian families, the church has taken on the character of being a community of support for refugee families.

I had a good visit to Iowa (and very briefly in Indiana) at the end of October in order to see Beth and my family. Soon after returning I gave a workshop on conflict transformation and conflict styles at a Methodist missionary training. The middle week of November was the Partnership meetings, with the folks from Central Plains Mennonite Conference (including my former pastor Dave Boshart), the Colombian Mennonite Church, and the Mission Network. It was nice to have company as Brady Peters who works with MMN stayed at my apartment. Following the meetings, Patricia Urueña stayed longer to give a ProPaz course on Theology and Gender. December is a busy month for most people here so ProPaz will continue with more courses and workshops starting next year.

I am really excited to receive my family over the holidays: my parents, three sisters and brother-in-law, and my grandpa. They will arrive the 22nd and be here a week. This last week Sheldon has kept me company, a puppy that Giovana and Humberto’s family had been caring for before departing for the States. I am looking for a family to give him a permanent home.

You can see pictures clicking where it says “Photos/fotos.”

Some prayer requests you may want to remember:

  • Pray for additional families for the church in Calderon.
  • Pray for the families who are establishing themselves in new countries, with a new culture and language.
  • Pray for María Helena López and the Ross Richer family as they prepare to arrive to Ecuador in January.
  • Pray for wisdom and conviction for the Mennonite churches in Ecuador in order to faithfully live together in a way that provides a glimpse of God’s kingdom, including in our economic relationships.

Noticias más recientes

Mucho ha pasado durante los últimos meses, lo cual me da bastante para contar. Siempre sigo trabajando en dos áreas: ministerio pastoral en la obra nueva de Calderón que se reúne en mi casa y la coordinación de ProPaz, un programa de educación teológica.

La iglesia de Calderón sigue con una familia adicional y dos jóvenes solteros que ahora viven aquí. Nos alegra tener a Nicolás y a Victoria con nosotros en los cultos. Esta pareja ecuatoriana de la tercera edad ha participado activamente a pesar de los dolores. Seguimos con un culto de los domingos y grupo familiar o estudio bíblico los días jueves. Como colombianos en busca de refugio en Ecuador, muchas de las familias viven con situaciones precarias y es su confianza en Dios que les da las fuerzas. Se prestan a compartir sus dones y sus ideas y su fe vibrante.

Al menos durante cuatro meses tendré el apoyo de María Helena López. Ella llegó a finales de julio en el tiempo de la visita de César y Patricia. Es pastora y dirigente de ancianato jubilada de Bogotá y compartirá el liderazgo conmigo en Calderón. Será una ayuda grande para mí y me permitirá enfocar más energía en ProPaz. Aunque la iglesia es pequeña, tratamos de llevar un acompañamiento cercano con las familias que tienen muchas necesidades. 

El programa de ProPaz continúa con talleres y cursos. Luis Tapia, pastor de la iglesia de Quito dirigió el taller más reciente sobre la Comunicación de la Palabra de Dios (que incluye sin limitarse a la predicación). Luis también terminó un curso de teología en perspectiva anabautista en junio y yo empecé un curso llamado el camino bíblico y teológico a la no violencia. Este curso mantendrá el enfoque en el compromiso no-violento, con la vista en el antiguo testamento, la vida de Jesús, la iglesia primitiva, los primeros anabautistas, las formas contemporáneas de la violencia y una espiritualidad de paz. Me gusta enseñar y preparar clases, aunque siempre es un desafío encontrar el tiempo adecuado.

Muchas otras cosas han pasado durante los últimos meses. A finales de junio tuve un descanso necesario con la visita de mi novia Beth. Ella pudo participar en el culto en Calderón y el grupo familiar de un jueves, además de pasar tiempo con Luis y su esposa Jennifer. También pudimos salir a pasear. Fuimos a un pueblo con bosque nublado y también a la playa. Fue un bonito tiempo para estar juntos. 

Yo además acompaño en los eventos de jóvenes. Tuvimos un paseo hace unas semanas en un campamento cristiano con piscina en el valle al sureste de Quito. En julio, toda la iglesia celebró el matrimonio de David Shenk y Eliana Tejedor. David ha trabajado en Ecuador con la Red Menonita de Misión durante cuatro años.

Confío en que Dios constantemente me enseña en todos aspectos de la vida, aún en medio de mucha ocupación. Gracias a los que me apoyan en muchas maneras.

Más fotos:

Most recent update letter

A lot has happened over the last number of months which gives me more to tell for this update. I continue working in two main areas: pastoral ministry with the church plant in Calderon that meets at my house and coordination of the ProPaz theological education program.

The church in Calderón continues with an additional family and two young men that have moved here. We are glad to still have Nicolas and Victoria worshiping with us. They are an elderly Ecuadorian couple that are active in the church in spite of aches and pains. We continue with worship services on Sundays and a Bible study or small-group meeting on Thursdays (at this point we are still one “small-group”). As Colombians seeking refuge in Ecuador, many of the families still live with precarious situations, and it is their trust in God that gives them strength. They are eager to share their gifts and ideas and have vibrant faith.

For at least four months I will have the support of María Helena López. María Helena arrived toward the end of July at the time of a visit from César and Patricia. She is a retired pastor and nursing home director from Bogotá, Colombia and is sharing leadership with me in Calderón. This will be of major help to me and will allow me to focus more energies in ProPaz. While the church is small, we try to have a close accompaniment with the families in their many needs.

The ProPaz program continues with workshops and courses. Luis Tapia, pastor at the Quito church led the most recent workshop was on Communicating the Word of God (which includes but is not limited to preaching). Luis also finished a course on theology in Anabaptist perspective in June and I just began a course called Biblical and Theological Path to Nonviolence. This course will maintain a focus on a commitment to nonviolence throughout, looking at the Old Testament, the life of Jesus, the early church, the early Anabaptists, contemporary forms of violence, and a spirituality of peace. I enjoy teaching and preparing for class, even if it is a challenge to find the time I would like to dedicate to preparation.

There have been many other happenings over the last couple of months. At the end of June, I had a needed break with the visit of my girlfriend Beth. She was able to participate in a Sunday service in Calderon and a Thursday small-group meeting, as well as spend time with Luis and his wife Jennifer. Of course we were also able to get away and do sight-seeing. We were able to have quality time together in a town with cloud forest and a town on the beach.

I also accompany the events we have with the young people.We had an outing a couple of weeks ago to a Christian campground in the valley southeast of Quito that had a pool. In July the whole church celebrated with David Shenk and Eliana Tejedor in their marriage. David has worked in Ecuador with MMN for almost four years.

I trust that God is constantly teaching me through all aspects of life, even when things get hectic. Thanks to those who support me in many ways.

More pictures: