“We enthusiastically celebrate that we are a Christo-centric borderless faith community, because as part of Mennonite World Conference, we fraternally unite with 107 Anabaptist and Mennonite [national churches and one international association] across 58 different countries in the world,” said Maykol Luis García Morelli, president of Asociación de Iglesias Cristianas Menonitas (Mennonite church) de Costa Rica, as he welcomed Mennonite World Conference leaders and local guests to the Renewal 2027 event, Justice on the Journey: Migration and the Anabaptist story, 6 April 2019 at Iglesia Vida Abundante in San Rafael de Heredia, Costa Rica.
Renewal 2027 is a 10-year series of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement. Each year, local churches host the event in a different region of the world.
Justice on the journey
“The Anapabtist tradition invites us to be faithful followers of Jesus and His Gospel, especially in the midst of global crises such as wars, destruction, violence and injustice… where many people must leave their homes and migrate. It is for this reason that on this occasion we are examining the theme ‘In pursuit of Justice’,’” Maykol Luis García Morelli said.
A worship band from Costa Rica and traditional folk dance opened the day of singing and worshipping together attended by around 450 people, including MWC officers, executive committee, lead staff, YABs Committee and visitors. Local church leader Cindy Alpizar hosted the event.
Latin American contributors Belinda Rodriguez and Jamie Prieto addressed the theological and historical context of the event.
Belinda Rodriguez related experiences of forced migration from Honduras, saying, “God requires love and obedience from His children. ‘When the foreigner lives among you in your land, country, city, etc., do not mistreat them...’”
“The teachings of Jesus, our Anabaptist – Mennonite experience of migration, and the songs of migrants, then, should lead us to take pastoral action,|” said Jaime Adrián Prieto Valladares, a Mennonite historian from Costa Rica, who organized his presentation around a poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade.
“How can we as Churches contribute in order to offer a better future to migrants and their children? Will it be possible for us to imitate and follow Jesus along the path of the migrants? Will we allow the Holy Spirit to move us so that we create and sing songs to migrant girls and boys that allow them to dream of peace?”
From each continental region, speakers shared a testimony of challenge and hope.
“I learned that to belong is a two-way street,” said Chief International Events Officer Liesa Unger, who moved to Germany from Siberia as a child. “Whether I belong or not does not only depend on the others who need to accept me, it also depends on me – whether or not I accept the invitation.”
“The story of migration is one that we all share as brothers and sisters in an eternal kingdom,” said YABs (Young AnaBaptists) North American representative Larissa Swartz. “Our spiritual identity is that of foreigners in a foreign land on a pilgrimage to reach our true home.”
“No matter what are the ways of the enemy, let us not forget that our God is the God of restoration,” said Executive Committee representative from India Paul Phinehas, who focused on the story of Joseph in Genesis to emphasize the role of family in God’s restoring process.
Zaida López of Costa Rica offered a challenge: “When we meet a migrant in our country do we think, how would I like to be treated if I were in their place? And rather than discriminate against them, we offer them a helping hand because they offer an opportunity to share the love of God.”
Praise and prayer
Today’s Costa Rican church leaders recognized elders who had an impact on church development in the country: Hugo Rodríguez; Orlando Carvajal; Martín Matamoros; Anabelle González; Sandra Campos; María Rodríguez (deceased); Isabel Soto de Guadalupe (deceased).
To close the event, participants gathered in groups with people they hadn’t met before to pray for Latin American countries with the greatest rate of forced migration.
On behalf of Samson Omondi, Executive Committee representative from Africa who was unable to attend, Rebecca Osiro shared examples of refugee response from Kenya Mennonite Church’s Eastleigh Fellowship Centre in Nairobi, a church and outreach centre in a high immigrant neighbourhood.
“Be intentional and keep your eyes open for refugees, immigrants and migrants during your daily routine,” Samson Omondi wrote. “Pray...[and] do not be surprised when God puts such opportunities in your path."
—Kristina Toews and Karla Braun, a Mennonite World Conference release