Chile hosts global family at 15th gathering of Southern Cone Anabaptists

Angostura de Paine, Chile – After a two-year delay caused by the massive earthquake of 2010, the traditional biannual gathering of the Mennonites of the Southern Cone took place in Chile for the first time, where about twenty congregations state their support to Anabaptism. The gathering was celebrated 23-27 January in the Salvation Army Campground, located in Angostura de Paine, 55 kilometres south of Santiago de Chile.

A hundred Anabaptists from Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil arrived there, plus dozens of members of other churches from several regions of Chile. They were joined by visitors from Central and North America and by the Officers of Mennonite World Conference (MWC).

The Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Chile (IEMCH), which became the 100th MWC member church in 2011, organized the event. With a dozen congregations throughout the country, the IEMCH reflects the missionary vocation of the Latin American Anabaptist churches. In a presentation during the gathering, Titus Guenther, Canadian professor of Paraguayan origin, drew attention to this missionary vocation that has allowed Latin American Anabaptist churches to quadruplicate their membership in the last 30 years. The Chilean Jorge Vallejos, a prolific church planter who lives in Canada and who in the 1980s initiated the connection between Canadian and Chilean churches that led to the establishment of the IEMCH, also attended this gathering.

Robert J. Suderman was invited for the main presentations dedicated to the topic “Encarnando ahora vistazos del futuro: Fundamentos bíblicos del Shalom” (Incarnating now glimpses of the future: Biblical foundations of Shalom). Former General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, Suderman worked with Mennonite churches in Latin America for a decade. Citing Ephesians 6:12, he noted that a Shalom church must understand the nature of the evil it faces: it is not a struggle against “flesh and blood”, but against “principalities and powers,” understanding the latter ones as oppressive ideologies that perpetuate injustice in our world. In this scenario, noted Suderman, “the fundamental vocation of a Shalom community is pedagogical.” This vocation becomes real through the practice of loving the enemies, which transforms each congregation in “the demonstrative argument of the Shalom Kingdom.”

A shocking example of this transforming practice was the one shared by pastor Alfred Klassen (Paraguay), who was assaulted and stabbed in his home in 2009. When one of his assailants turned himself in to justice, Klassen forgave him and was with him throughout the whole judicial process, which turned into a bond of friendship and trust between them.

MWC Officers Danisa Ndlovu (Zimbabwe) and Janet Plenert (Canada) shared experiences from a service of repentance and forgiveness that took place in Stuttgart, Germany in 2010 which marked the reconciliation of Lutherans and Mennonites. Another reconciliation story was shared by Titus Guenther: the story of Christ of the Andes, a statue made of bronze cannons cast and placed on top of the Andes in 1904 to commemorate a peaceful solution to a border dispute between Chile and Argentina.

Other theological reflections were provided by pastors Mónica Parada and Carlos Gallardo, from Iglesia Anabautista-Menonita “Puerta del Rebaño” from the city of Concepción (Chile). Both called attention to making the commitment to a Mennonite peace start inside their own faith communities and their families. According to Gallardo, “the true following of Christ is found on equity, in building up a community in which we can look at each other face to face as equals”.

Especially invited by the network of Teólogas Anabautistas de Latinoamérica (Anabaptist Women Theologians of Latin America), was Mónica Parada who provided keys to unmask the symbolic violence that is exercised in the most subtle and everyday life, especially against women. She also traced an historical account through different views about women: although Jesus’ practice revealed in the Gospels makes clear the intrinsic dignity of women, many male theologians – from patristic to modern days – strove to keep women in a lower status. They constructed an image of a woman as an incomplete and defective being, a “social and religious construct” that the church must begin to overcome for both men and women to achieve full life in God. “We should remove the stones from the rivers of living waters”, noted the pastor.

During the five days of this gathering, several moving testimonies were shared. In a session led by the Anabaptist Women Theologians of Latin America, Aurora Rinaldi (Argentina) and Valeria Alvarenga (Brazil) talked about the long road that led to the pastorate. Meanwhile, Freddy Barrón (Bolivia) narrated the ups and down he faced as a pastor’s child, as a way of calling attention to the risks and deprivations the pastoral family can go through if it does not receive proper care.

César García, General Secretary of MWC, and Rodrigo Pedroza, representative of the Young Anabaptists (YABs) network, presented the work of their organizations to strengthen the ties of the global Anabaptist family of faith.

The Southern Cone gathering was also an opportunity to share through praise and art. With typical costumes and instruments of the farmers of Central Chile, the group “Los del Huerto” sang and danced lively traditional music such as cuecas and guarachas. Also, the IEMCH youth presented a tour through images and typical dances of the different regions of continental Chile and Easter Island, and representatives from Argentina offered an evening of praise songs with Latin American rhythms and lyrics that exalted the commitment to peace and justice, and young Salomao Taumaturgo did the same with Brazilian music.

On the last day, filled with emotions, the attendees thanked the hospitality of IEMCH. “They took care of every single detail to make us feel well”, said Rubén Darino (Argentina). After sharing the Lord’s Supper and officially ending the gathering, IEMCH went to a swimming pool nearby to baptize three of its members, accompanied by Anabaptists of ten different countries: a visible demonstration of what was said by host pastor, Daniel Delgado: “Now we know that we are not alone, that we are part of an universal family”.

-Felipe Elgueta, with collaboration of Violeta Fonceca

Additional photo: Signing a banner of the Latin American Women Theologians Network. The banner will be taken to women's meetings in other countries this year. Photo by Janet Plenert.