In this issue, we have examples of how members of the Anabaptist Mennonite family are making a place for children in their local churches around the world.
We are Iglesia Cristiana Menonita el Perú (Mennonite church of Peru). We are a faith community located in Iquitos, a mid-sized city in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, along the banks of the Amazon River. There, in the midst of the tropical heat and humidity, we have worked for the past 10 years with boys and girls living in poverty and neglect.
It all began in the hearts of David and Cecy Moreno, missionaries from Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (Mennonite church of Colombia). They began a children’s ministry with girls and boys on the street. Meetings were held on Saturdays to share the Word of God and something to eat. The children began to invite their friends, and soon there were also teenagers and youth attending.
Through Bible study and discipleship, God’s love began to work in their hearts to such an extent that they began to change their bad habits and become a testimony to their families. Some adults drew near as a result, looking for counselling, and this was how we began family groups in small houses. The children’s families viewed David and Cecy as their pastors.
Later, we began to meet together in one place and our faith community was established in February 2012 with the accompaniment of the Mennonite church of Colombia.
As churches, we often forget the important role that boys and girls play in evangelism in our communities. We believe that all we have to do is meet on Sundays and entertain them with some activity.
However, in spite of all the difficult circumstances that they are going through, children have the ability to understand Christ’s message without prejudice and with a pure heart. They are agents of forgiveness and reconciliation in the midst of violence in their homes. This is a transforming act that reveals the love of God. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Our work at Iquitos Mennonite church is strongly focused on the boys and girls. Our faith community has come to understand that it is not just the pastor’s responsibility, but something in which we are all involved.
Our Lord Jesus has called us to make disciples, and what better than to do that among those who have their whole life ahead of them? Some of the members of our church take an active role as teachers and leaders while others help with the food so that 350 children can continue to receive lunch each week.
As the youth grow up, we teach them and start integrating them into the leadership team. They lead worship, songs and sacred dance. Some participate in music classes, others help serve the food, and still others have started to teach the smaller children. Their own testimonies are of great help to the younger boys and girls who can relate to them and feel encouraged through them.
From our experience, we have come to understand that adolescents are very important in the ministry of the church. They are at a difficult age because they no longer identify with children, but they are not yet youth either. They often stray from God for this reason.
It is important that the church provide spaces in which teenagers can serve. They are going to make mistakes. Some days they behave like children, and they constantly struggle against laziness. Even so, we should accompany them and have faith that God has a purpose for them right now, in spite of their inexperience. That will build their faith and allow them to grow “like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not whither. In all that they do, they prosper” (Psalm 1:3).
The boys and girls are the future of our churches, but they are the present too. Just like adults, they need quality time in which we listen to them, encourage them, worship the Lord together, teach them to pray and give them the significance that they deserve as citizens of the kingdom of God. “Children are like wet cement, whatever falls on them makes an impression,” Haim Ginott (clinical psychologist and parent educator).
—Submitted by Juan Carlos Moreno, youth pastor at Iglesia Cristiana Menonita del Perú.
Click here to see photos and a video in Spanish
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2019.