Meeting Jesus in another culture

Before Esther Aguilar began her Bolivian adventure, she asked God for one thing: to teach her in a deeper sense the commandment where Jesus says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. (…) A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22 37-39).” 

Although she had grown up hearing this commonly used verse, Esther Aguilar was ready to be challenged to understand what it meant to love others from a different culture and to meet Jesus in a new part of the world. 

Through YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network), a joint service program through Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference, God placed her in Samuelito, a daycare for children in Bolivia.  

Before working at Samuelito, Esther Aguilar had never worked with children before. She recalls those first days as an education and healthcare assistant, trying to navigate children’s screams coming from multiple directions and learning how to change a diaper for the first time. “I remember the first time putting it on backwards!” But instead of shutting down, she remembered the verse she was asking to be transformed by. She thought, “How should I react better in this moment and what can I do about it?” 

Although Esther Aguilar came from Honduras, another Spanish speaking-country, she still found that adapting her language was key in relating and caring for vulnerable children.  

“We’re all Latinos-as and share cultural things at a minimum level,” she says. “But I’ve had to adapt my language even here. I’ve had to adapt my way of speaking to children of different ages. Like different ways to call their attention or to correct their speech. Understanding and communicating with each child differently is a way of empathizing with them.”  

During her time with YAMEN (August 2022 to July 2023), Esther Aguilar learned to love each child as an individual. It was a test of patience, but she strove to create a safe space where they could freely express their range of emotions within a day. 

Esther Aguilar plays with children at Samuelito, a daycare run through Mennonite churches in Bolivia and supported by Mennonite Central Committee through the YAMEN program. 

Another way she practiced ‘loving thy neighbour’ was by becoming part of the fabric of a new Mennonite church community, Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana – Sinai.  

At first, she was afraid to get involved with a new church. She remembers feeling out of her comfort zone and vulnerable to attend church camps by herself for the first time. But looking back, she feels joy about this part of her experience because it’s taught her that the kingdom of God reaches far past her home church, Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Santa Rosa de Copan, in Honduras.  

Esther Aguilar’s new workplace, home and church community were avenues of deeper cultural connection and a place to practice living out the day-to-day messiness of loving her new neighbours, children’s screams and all.  

“When I began to embrace this culture, I started to feel a bit more ownership and began to understand what it’s like in other people’s shoes in the context of Bolivia,” she says.  

“I have learned to love the Lord in another church, in a different home and have learned to love myself.” 

—A Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee joint release by Rachel Watson, communications and program support facilitator for Mennonite Central Committee in Bolivia. 

The Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN) program is a joint program between Mennonite World Conference and  Mennonite Central Committee. It places emphasis on expanding the fellowship between churches in the Anabaptist tradition and developing young leaders around the globe. Participants spend one year in a  cross-cultural assignment  starting in August and ending the following July.  

YAMEN 2023-2024 participants 

Name  Country of origin  Country of placement  Home church   
*indicates MWC member church  
Anita Ekka  India  Nigeria  Gilgal Mennonite Church – Hadmor* 
Arni Paidjo  Indonesia  Bolivia Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia / GKMI Salatiga* 
Brian Adeti  Ghana  Cambodia  Mennonite Church of Ghana* 
Dinna Ngungi  Tanzania  Cambodia  Mennonite Church - Mwanza*
Eldrhat Mugisa  Uganda Burundi St. Paul’s Cathedral Church - South Rwenzori Diocese 
Emmaculate Pulei  Kenya Cambodia The Holy Revival Harvest Church 
Hector Calix Dueñas  Honduras Colombia Iglesia Evangelica Menonita* 
Holi Deo  Bangladesh  Kenya St. Stephen’s Church, Boruajani
Jesús Cobilla Otero  Colombia Honduras Iglesia Cristiana Encuentro de Renovacion Pan de Vida – Comunidad Menonita* 
Karen Saenger Echeverria  Paraguay Kenya Shalom Christian Church* 
Kim Pam  Nigeria Rwanda  Church of Christ in Nations LCC 
Kunthea Thith   Cambodia Bolivia Lighthouse Christian Assembly  
Leslie Meja   Kenya Bangladesh  Presbyterian Church of East Africa Kimuka Church 
Luyando Munangobe   Zambia  India Ndola Main Brethren in Christ Church* 
Martinho Muchanga  Mozambique  Chad Mozambique Christian United Church 
Mary Matute Castro  Honduras Ireland Iglesia Menonita Manantial de Vida* 
Mathias Wiebe  Paraguay Bolivia Iglesia Hermanos Menonita Neuland* 
Michel Moreno Avila  Bolivia Guatemala Principe de Paz Evangelical Mennonite Church* 
Nelson Wani  South Sudan Cambodia  Christ Embassy Mia Sabah – Juba 
Pintu Majhi  India Uganda Brethren in Christ Church – Judabali* 
Pola Halder  Bangladesh  Chad Christ the King Church 
Prantosh Boidya  Bangladesh  India Saint Joseph Church 
Shady Palencia Olivares  Colombia Honduras Menonite Church Celebra* 
Tabita Cazatinova  Indonesia Nigeria GITJ Tompomulyo*