“We are here to walk together as churches so we can help each other follow Jesus,” says Arli Klassen, MWC regional representatives coordinator.
She gave that message as she visited the five Caribbean countries with MWC member churches in November 2023. An in-person visit creates space to develop a real relationship, with time for the conversations over coffee which don't occur in a Zoom meeting, she says.
Since Mariano Ramirez had to stepped down from the work due to health concerns, there has been no regional representative for the Caribbean. Shortly after the visit, William George Broughton, long-time pastor and church leader from Jamaica, was appointed as a new MWC representative for the Caribbean.
Local congregations graciously hosted the MWC coordinator from Canada. One memorable moment was lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Jamaica with 12 church leaders around a large round table, Arli Klassen says. Conversations stretched over four hours as each person shared about their life and ministry.
“To be able to connect is quite profound,” she says. To do it in the context of a Chinese restaurant in Jamaica is “part of our multicultural flavour,” she says with a smile.
The MWC member churches on the islands of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba range from three congregations with a total of 100 members to almost 100 congregations with nearly 5 000 members. Many of them continue to look to North America for training and support from the mission agnecy that helped birth, says Arli Klassen.
Although there are significantly different cultural factors on each island (e.g., some are English-speaking, others Spanish-speaking), she observes that island living provides a shared perspective based on isolation and small economies.
The need for Anabaptist-Mennonite training for pastors was shared across the islands, although churches in Cuba have made connections with SEMILLA seminary in Guatemala. Several of the islands have older pastors and overall lack of opportunity for young leaders. All are aware of their vulnerability in the face of the climate crisis.
“We try to encourage these MWC member churches to connect with each other and the wider MWC family, so they feel less isolated,” says Arli Klassen. “We have so much to learn from each other about deepening our understanding of who God is through different cultures.”