At Renewal 2027 – The Holy Spirit Transforming Us in Kisumu, Kenya, 21 April 2018, several people shared a testimony of experiencing the Spirit’s work changing people in the church. The columns in this section have been adapted from their presentations.
I remember the moment when my family arrived at the Mennonite church in Ibagué for the first time. Two brothers received us with a big hug as if they already knew us. Being greeted as though we were part of the family made us feel comfortable. So we went again the next Sunday, and the next.
Over the past 12 years, my family gradually became involved in the kitchen, as Sunday school teachers, in other ministries and even in leadership of the church.
This all happened because God sent a very special person to help us know the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
My parents were about to separate. Every night, there were loud arguments. My mother was thinking of leaving our home, but after a few weeks, my father found his courage and took action to restore the marriage.
At this painful time of family crisis, this Holy-Spirit-sent person invited us to church.
I clearly remember the Saturday night my father sent us to bed early because we would go to church the next day. “You are going to a church?!” I laughed.
My father lowered his head and repeated the command.
A place of acceptance
At church, I learned many things.
In Sunday school, they taught that we are all equally valued. “You are as important as the adults who are preaching.” This resonated a lot with me. In school, I felt rejected, maybe because of my low self-esteem. As a child of 11, hearing that I had the same value as others reinforced my decision to remain in the church.
Before attending church, I had dreamed of being in the air force. In Colombia, military service is mandatory for all young people when they reach the age of 18. I talked with my friends at school about our “duty” as citizens. But the more I knew Jesus, the more the Holy Spirit transformed those dreams.
So, when I heard about Conscientious Objection to compulsory military service for the first time at age 14, I was very moved by the position of the church on issues of violence and conflict.
Thanks to the work of Justapaz, I began to think more about conscientious objection. (JUSTAPAZ is an organization of the Mennonite church in Colombia that works on following Jesus Christ for a peaceful society with nonviolent actions).
Though it is not easy to be a conscientious objector, the support of my congregation strengthened my resolve. This challenge has brought my family, my church and the community together.
A place for leadership
The church has also given me the opportunity to participate in seminars on leadership, conscientious objection and Anabaptism.
The Holy Spirit has transformed my way of thinking as I volunteered in a project in Combeima, a very needy neighbourhood.
First, I went to help with the music before the Bible study. A year later, we had the idea of creating a music school so that the children could occupy their free time in a good way, different from their context, which includes a lot sex work, theft, and drugs.
We taught music on two broken guitars, a small keyboard (keyboard) and a homemade drum set.
In the teaching of music, I saw an opportunity for social transformation. Thanks to this experience I started studying music so that I could work professionally in projects like this.
In 2013, my classmates and I created a group called JARIS to make music for God and teach in vulnerable communities. Later, we won a grant from the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and the Colombian Ministry of Health to work on projects for the prevention of teenage pregnancies.
Now, we had four guitars in good condition, three keyboards and a real drums.
When that project came to an end, the church offered me other opportunities to serve.
We are always carrying out campaigns with people living on the streets, offering them a shower, clothing, food, a hairdressing day and a time to listen to their stories and share the love of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit moves us as a community to serve those who need it.
Today, I have the opportunity to be in international settings like this, learning and serving in another way. I’m honoured to work together with the YABs Committee to connect young people from all continents and to share service experiences that encourage others.
From these experiences, I have learned that it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to serve. It is the movement of the Spirit in our community that encourages us to leave the walls of our homes and churches to bring the love of God to those who need it – not only offering words of encouragement, but also examples and action.
As some brothers and sisters in my church say – this is “prayer-action” – Ora-acción / Oración – praying and acting for the needs of our communities and contexts.
—Oscar Suárez is the Latin America representative on the YABs Committee. He is a member of Iglesia Cristiana Menonita Ibague, Colombia.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier October 2018.