As they traveled from Ecuador to Iowa and Minnesota in mid-July, Luis Tapia, Daniela Sánchez, Manuel Ronquillo, and Darwin Villacis wondered what they would find on the other end of their journey.
They knew they would reunite with some longtime friends from Central Plains Mennonite Conference with whom they had related in what is called the Ecuador Partnership. But what of the other people they would meet for the first time in congregations in Iowa and Minnesota?
Would members of Central Plains’ congregations identify with their challenges at Quito Mennonite Church and its ministries and church plants? And would they, as Ecuadorians, understand the challenges faced by rural and urban communities throughout the Midwest?
As the Ecuadorians met members of several congregations, it didn’t take long to forge new friendships, the Ecuadorians said at the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) gathering in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Their pre-MWC trip included visits to First Mennonite Church in Iowa City; Christ Community Church in Des Moines, Iowa; and Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis. They also visited several sites and individuals along their route, including an Amish bishop and a store that sold fair trade items from Ecuador.
“I was touched by how people at the congregations knew my name, even though I hadn’t been there before,” said Tapia, pastor of Quito Mennonite Church. “This partnership goes way beyond helping just for the sake of helping. People actually care about who we are and what we are doing in Quito.”
Sánchez, who helps to lead the peace education program, said, “What most touched me was relating with women who opened up their homes to us. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, I felt we bonded. These women inspired me through their hospitality, faith and ideas.”
Ronquillo saw Americans in a new light that cut through stereotypes.
“People in the global South think that because Americans have material wealth, they do not have any needs,” But I saw in a new way that this isn’t true. Americans struggle, too. Our mutual exchange is good, because it puts a face on people and humanizes the whole story.”
The benefits of the relationships flow in both directions, said David Boshart, executive conference minister of Central Plains Conference.
“Our relationship has changed the way we do church planting in Central Plains,” Boshart said. “It has made us more sensitive to the way we do evangelism. We are learning what it means to walk hand-in-hand with others, learning together as we go, rather than being the one with all the answers.
“This partnership has been one of the most transformative experiences our conference has ever had. Many of our congregations in Central Plains are 100 years old, or more, and this partnership has awakened that part of us that had gone to sleep.”
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