The rule of ayni: reciprocal relationship

In Kichwa, there is a word, ayni, that describes the rule and practice of interdependence. 

“One does not exist unless the community exists,” says Julian Guamán. In the Kichwa worldview, that community includes all of creation, not just humans. Ayni dictates that as members of the community, humans have a responsibility to be in reciprocal relationship with every other member, including plants, animals, water and soil. 

Ayni has practical implications for how Kichwas live their lives and is an important part of Julian Guamán’s vision for the Anabaptist church. 

“The global Mennonite church can be a teacher for other churches,” Julian Guamán says. Many Christians talk about reconciliation in spiritual terms, but what sets Anabaptists apart in Julian Guamán’s eyes is that: “The reconciliation sought by Mennonite Christians also applies to creation.” 

Many indigenous people in Latin America are attracted to Anabaptism, Julian Guamán says, and he believes it’s because, “Mennonite theology coincides in many ways with elements of indigenous spirituality.” 

One shared element is an emphasis on living in community. 

“The Mennonite life is a cooperative life,” Julian Guamán says. Likewise, “The life of Kichwas is about living interdependently with others.” 

The second shared element is reconciliation. Mennonites are known for working toward reconciliation both within the church and throughout the world. Kichwas also practice reconciliation, Julian Guamán says, by “planting harmony and equilibrium and building bridges through dialogue.” 

Julian Guamán believes that creation care is a natural consequence of living by these two values. He shared an example of this playing out in the real world. 

Throughout the Andes mountains, mining for gold, lithium, copper and other metals required for technology is jeopardizing the health of land, water and people. 

With international mining companies moving into many regions, indigenous lands are some of the most well protected. “A lot of the páramo (alpine tundra) where the indigenous people live is still intact,” Julian Guamán says. 

Westerners might see the conservation efforts of indigenous communities as preserving resources – like water – for the future. But, that’s not how indigenous people think about it, he says. 

“I don’t think that’s the reason why we indigenous care,” says Julian Guamán, “but because we need to retain relationships with the place, the páramo. There, there is life. The páramo itself, the mountains, the hills, have a sacred dimension that we are part of.” 

What if the global Anabaptist church adopted the rule of ayni? 

“In a world with climate change, with environmental crises, with an economic system that destroys nature and exploits people,” Julian Guamán says, “we, as Mennonite churches, can be different, because Jesus Christ called us to love one another.” 

—Sierra Ross Richer is a member of Waterford Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana, USA. She is an intern with the Anabaptist Climate Collaborative (ACC). This story from the ACC’s Lent Climate Pollinator Series: Global Anabaptist Stories on Climate Change is reprinted with permission.  

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