Bogotá, Colombia – A 15th birthday celebration at their church, Casa de Oración, drew Ignacio and Liliana’s family out of their house in Manta, Ecuador, earlier than usual on 16 April, 2016, just before an earthquake struck. The 7.8 Richter scale tremor killed some 700 people and left more than 6,500 families homeless, including Ignacio and Liliana who stayed with his parents after the falling wall of the neighbour’s house damaged theirs.
Usually, Igancio, an audio-visual volunteer at the church, leaves before his wife and two children, but with the service starting earlier this Saturday evening, the family went together.
They were on the street when everything started to move. Ignacio’s younger son fell under the car and the wheels almost crushed his feet. The trembling lasted around a minute.
Many families like Ignacio and Liliana were left homeless, but they saw the hand of God represented in aid that arrived from MWC’s Deacon Fund, MCC, Rosedale Mennonite Mission and others.
On behalf of Mennonite World Conference’s Deacons Commission, Henk Stenvers (MWC Deacons Commission secretary) of the Netherlands, Ephraim Disi Mbewe (Brethren in Christ Church bishop) of Malawi and Oscar Suárez (YABs Latin America representative) of Colombia visited the cities of Manta and Portoviejo in the most affected region 25–29 January 2017 to hear stories like Ignacio and Liliana’s and to encourage members of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Ecuatoriana.
The Deacons Commission is responsible for the well being of the global communion; to walk along with member churches in their time of need, whether caused by natural disaster or oppressive government. The Deacons Commission arranges a visit to “put hands around the shoulders of the members and say: ‘We are with you during these trying times.’”
In Ecuador, the Mennonite church’s response is both spiritual and practical. Members of the churches in Guayaquil came to aid in searching for victims. Church members in Manta and Portoviejo formed circles of hope by giving food and water to families with the most immediate needs.
Pastor Juan Altamirano in Portoviejo told the Deacons about the makeshift camp for 2,800 people where some 200 people still await housing. Many thank God that the disaster occurred on the weekend when office towers had fewer workers inside, says Altamirano.
“There is a lot of repair work being done, but the extent of the damage is such that it will take a lot of time to get everything back to normal,” says Stenvers. “It is clear that the church community played and still plays an important role in the aftermath of this disaster, [providing] space for lament and supporting one another.”
“These families were able to see beyond the difficulties, …to see the hand of God, supporting them at every moment,” says Stenvers.
“They lost their homes,” says Suárez, “but with the support of the Anabaptist world family that gave economic, psychological and spiritual help, they are recovering from this tragedy.”
“We can count on our global extended family with God’s hand moving us in the problems.”
As part of the MWC Deacons visit to Latin America, Stenvers and Suárez also attended Cono Sur meetings. Mennonite church members from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay met 21–25 January 2017 in Buenos Aires. Themes included Anabaptist identity, training church leaders, the position of women and youth in the church, the celebration of 100 years of Anabaptist presence in Argentina, and presentations from agencies.
“The meetings were sometimes full of laughter and joy, sometimes emotional,” says Stenvers. “There was a strong feeling of community.”
“Sharing in simplicity in the abundant, in the laughter, in the sadness was an experience that enlarged my vision of my extended family in the world,” says Suárez.
Back in Ecuador, the encouragement and spiritual accompaniment from the global Anabaptist family helps the church in Ecuador “pick up the pieces together, knowing that nothing will separate them from the love of God which is in Christ,” says Disi.
And Ignacio? He has finishing rebuilding the house, larger and better organized than before the earthquake.
“If a member of the body suffers, all suffer; and if a member receives special attention, everyone else share your joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
—Mennonite World Conference release