South American Mennonite youth build friendships across borders
Cartagena, Chile – When talking about the sea and border problems between Chile and Bolivia, it is common to hear derogatory and xenophobic comments that mirror patriotic ideas, and which appeal to conflicts that have existed for more than a hundred years. The 19th-century War of the Pacific resulted in Bolivia becoming a landlocked nation and losing their seaport to Chile.
This situation is also promoted by the attitude of governments that, far from encouraging peace, make political use of it. As a consequence, we see a sense of hatred emerging toward the Bolivian people. This hatred takes control over the relations in which people enter in Chile, a country receiving an increasing number of immigrants.
As Chilean Mennonite youth leaders shared their experiences meeting other Mennonites at Mennonite World Conference Assembly in Paraguay and Southern Cone meetings in Bolivia, this led to the idea of organizing a camp to give Paraguayan and Bolivian youth the chance to visit the sea for the first time in their lives. Paraguay and Bolivia are both landlocked countries. With that idea in their hearts and minds, people worked in different ways for more than a year in order to achieve this objective which they called Proyecto A-Mar. In Spanish, the word “amar” means “to love,” and “a mar” means “to the sea.” This double meaning was fulfilled by hosting the retreat near the sea while focusing on the theme of love. As a tangible expression of love, Chilean youth raised funds to cover some of the costs for international participants.
Organizer Fabián Díaz, youth pastor at Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Chile (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Chile), was invited to participate in the Global Youth Summit (GYS) in July 2015. What he shared motivated participants from Colombia to join the retreat as well. Every night, the youth from different countries would share about their churches and cultures in creative ways.
“Through our lived experiences, we had the opportunity to make friendships with young adult brothers and sisters and pastors from different countries,” says Diaz. “There are such different realities even though we are from nearby countries; that is why we decided to travel and meet on location.”
Proyecto: A-Mar was finally carried out at Lyon’s School in Cartagena, Chile, 25–31 January 2016, with Mennonite youth coming from Bolivia, Paraguay and Colombia, as well as Linda Shelly from Mennonite Mission Network, and Chilean-Canadian pastor Jorge Vallejos, who assists the church in Chile.
Proyecto: A-Mar was a pleasant and unforgettable experience for the participants, not only because they achieved the goal they initially set, but also because love was the main theme throughout the whole camp, and that was reflected in the friendships and the multicultural environment individuals created, as well as in the empathy shown toward the different experiences and realities of each person.
“We have experienced the love that we have both for Chile and Bolivia, and it has been one of the best experiences that we have had,” said participant Gabriela Hurtado from Bolivia, “to see that neither of us have a border and no limits exist for God’s love.”
After seeing each other as brothers and sisters despite the borders that artificially divide us, and after forgiving each other for the harm produced in our hearts by a war that took place more than a hundred years ago, these Mennonite youth were able to worship God and fellowship with each other as one nation. Youth from the following MWC member churches participated in this reconciliation-building retreat:
- Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Chile (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Chile)
- Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Bolivia)
- Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (Christian Mennonite Church of Colombia)
- Convención Evangélica Menonita Paraguaya (Evangelical Mennonite Convention of Paraguay)
- Convención Evangélica de Iglesias Paraguayas Hermanos Menonitas (Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Churches Convention of Paraguay).
Learning to love the way God expects from us is the teaching and challenge received in hearts at Proyecto: A-Mar 2016.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7 NRSV)
Daniela Solis is a young adult from Evangelical Mennonite Church of Chile who participated in the Proyecto A-Mar retreat to build relationships between youth from South American countries that have a history of political hostility. A joint release of Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite World Conference.
Experiencing the sea on a boat. Photo: Einar Cavero, Bolivia. Photo: Linda Shelly
Click on the photo to see the high resolution version.