For the first time in more than a decade, Anabaptist church leaders from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela gathered together, 9–12 November 2018, in La Cumbre, Valle, Colombia.
They studied the Bible, sang in community, and listened to each other around the theme "The Church as an Agent of Hope in the Socio-Political Context of Latin America." José Rutilio Rivas, member of the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Mission Commission, preached in the opening session.
“Once again we learned that to follow Jesus has to do with our daily lives: with our needs, and also with the needs of others,” said Santiago Espitia from Iglesia Hermandad en Cristo (Brethren in Christ church) in Colombia.
Through teaching sessions, workshops and group discussions, the participants analyzed their current realities which include refugees and displaced people, corruption, natural disaster and political crises, divisions and polarization, economic challenges and violence; exploring the face of hope and the crucial role of church in a world that feels hopeless.
Ramon Guevara, from Iglesia Cristiana Menonita del Ecuador (Christian Mennonite church of Ecuador), was impacted by testimonies about the ways the Colombian churches work for peace in a society still affected by the 60-year civil war. “This meeting is life-changing,” he said.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis precipitated by political instability and economic collapse in Venezuela came up repeatedly. Leaders shared about how churches in Colombia and Ecuador are responding to Venezuelan refugees. Venezuelan participants shared how they are supporting those suffering in their communities from unemployment, food shortages and hyperinflation.
On the last evening of the gathering, leaders from the different countries discussed an Anabaptist response that makes faith visible by calling for peace and justice in the midst of rising tension and possible military intervention. All Andean Anabaptist Encounter attendees affirmed the document that emphasizes “the God-given dignity of all people, including Venezuelan migrants; the insistence on a non-violent solution to the crisis; and the responsibility of the Venezuelan state to respect and guarantee the rights of its citizens,” according to MCC representative for Colombia-Ecuador Elizabeth Miller.
Despite harsh realities, the source of hope remains in Jesus Christ, the leaders expressed repeated through the meetings. “When we put our hope in the political systems, whether it be right or left, we become hopeless.” said Erwin Mirabel, from Iglesias Evangélicas Menonitas de Oriente (Evangelical Mennonite churches of the East) in Venezuela.
Pablo Stucky, MWC regional representative for the Andean countries, closed the encounter by recounting signs of hope he had observed in his work connecting with churches. He highlighted how the different national churches work together in Colombia in children’s projects and through MCC, and that the three national churches in Ecuador met together for the first time. In Peru, churches shared with those affected by flooding and in Venezuela, neighbours who aren’t church members bring food to support the churches’ ministry to feed children in the neighbourhood.
The three MWC national member churches of Colombia (Iglesia Hermandad en Cristo, Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia and Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia) hosted and planned the event.
—a Mennonite World Conference release by Kristina Toews