Three Mennonite conferences in Ecuador gathered for a retreat outside the capital city of Quito, May 20-22. Through educational games, worship, meals, and prayer together, the approximately 90 participants from Quito, Riobamba, and cities along the coast reflected on the theme of Ephesians 4:3-6, "one body, and one spirit."
Representatives of the three conferences —Iglesia Cristiana Anabautista Menonita de Ecuador (ICAME), Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Ecuador (ICME) and Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Ecuador (IEME) —have had few opportunities to meet together for support and fellowship in the past, due to separations in geography, history and culture.
Despite these outward differences, the three groups blended together in fellowship during the weekend gathering. German Velásquez, a delegate from the missions committee of the Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (IMCOL), remarked that an observer would never know that this was an event made up of people from three separate conferences, the majority of whom were meeting each other for the first time.
Luz María Pomaquero of Iglesia Horeb (ICME), Riobamba, sang as a member of a Quichua women's choir at the retreat. Quichua are a diverse group of native South American people, and are the single largest Indigenous people group in the world. Pomaquero reflected, "I have felt very happy here. Yesterday we learned about communication in the midst of diversity. We must meet the challenge. But how? In unity. I like this.
The women’s choir from Iglesia Horeb (ICME), Riobamba, singing in the Quichua language. The church in Riobamba includes people who have come from different rural communities and each woman in the choir wears the clothing of her ancestral community. Video by Linda Shelly.
"I also like that we have had this love among my brothers and sisters from the coast and from the mountains, even from different cultures because in Christ we are one family … This morning I was talking with my sisters. What have we learned? There are times when we have not wanted to leave our chores, but we decided to come here, and now we return with much, much blessing."
Diego Noe Pusay Villarroel of Iglesia Columna de Verdad (ICME) highlighted "times of praising God together —including in the Quichua language, sermons, activities and workshops focused on Anabaptist unity and identity." He noted the "very short time" in which the group "managed to break down any barriers that existed."
Attendees join together in a large-scale game that encourages cooperation among participants to make sure that no balloon falls to the floor. Playing games together helped people from multiple conferences across Ecuador learn to know each other while illustrating important concepts. Video by Peter Wigginton.
As part of exploring the theme of Ephesians 4, workshop leaders led a series of games, highlighting the power of cooperation, and then reviewed Mennonite World Conference's (MWC) seven shared convictions. Reflecting on the implications for his church, Pusay Villarroel remarked, "The shared convictions described by the Mennonite World Conference…open the doors for us to identify ourselves with something much bigger than what we can imagine in our small cities hidden in the Andes."
Meals together in the center's dining hall and a 'cultural night' on Saturday evening complemented the schedule of workshops, prayer and Bible study. Ramón Guevarra, pastor of Iglesia Columna de Verdad, served as emcee for the cultural night. Afterwards, he commented, "I had a lot of fun last night. It was a blessing to be able to laugh and to share with everybody. The opportunity to get to know each other and to interact, we should never go without that. It gave me the opportunity to get to know more Mennonite brothers and sisters."
Ramón Guevarra of ICME presents an Ecuadorean scarf to German Velasquez of Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia in gratitude for his participation in the weekend gathering. Video by Peter Wigginton.
Ivonne Mendoza Mora of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Jesús el Buen Pastor (IEME) in Guayaquil said, "How much joy my heart feels, when we can have this type of gathering where we can fellowship, greet each other, hug each other and see so many familiar faces and also feel excited when meeting new people. I cannot help but be amazed to see how much love the Lord pours out for us, his children, through each reflection, the times of intercession and worship, and even in the times of relaxation."
Mendoza Mora was one of three speakers along with Guevarra and Alexandra Meneses, who represented each of the three conferences. Together, they brought the message at the final worship and communion service Sunday morning.
Participants spent some of their time together brainstorming ways the three conferences might cooperate in the future. "The 2016 earthquake and also the pandemic have been occasions in which the conferences have related and supported each other in the past," said Linda Shelly, regional administrator for Latin America with Mennonite Mission Network, who participated in the weekend event.
"Although the three Ecuadorian conferences each have a different history, and only two relate directly with the partnership including Central Plains Mennonite Conference (CPMC) and Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (IMCOL) along with Mission Network, this was a wonderful opportunity for the church conferences as well as the partnership to get to know each other better," Shelly explained.
Peter Wigginton helped to provide a relational link among the three groups. Wigginton and his wife, Delicia Bravo, serve with Mission Network as partnership coordinators in Ecuador. Through connecting Quito churches with Mennonite churches on the coast for relief efforts following the 2016 earthquake, Wigginton became acquainted with IEME pastors, and has been in touch with them ever since. Wigginton had also helped to organize a 2018 joint leadership event for the three groups on the theme of pastoral care.
One area of ministry that all three conferences share is the desire to plant more churches. The ICAME church in Quito receives many refugees, some of whom live in distant neighborhoods. One family in Pomasqui, a municipality north of Quito, asked to start a church in their neighborhood. Their children made a sign and welcome people to the service. Photo by Linda Shelly.
Describing the dynamics of the event, Alexandra Meneses, co-coordinator of the ICAME program Project for People who are Refugees and in Human Mobility, reflected, "All of us were included in a community space of learning and communion, wanting to discover more of the ties that unite us, of the challenges to achieve this much-desired unity, of the steps we have taken and of those that are still before us, of our strengths and weaknesses as Anabaptist churches, of our diversity as mestizo, indigenous, coastal, sierra, Quichua- and Spanish-speaking churches."
Doris Espinoza, a member of Iglesia Menonita de Quito and president of ICAME, said, "I thank God for the opportunity to participate in the gathering of churches. I believe it was a good time to share together, get to know each other a little more and to reflect. I hope that we can hold more gatherings with each other to continue building fraternal ties that allow us to work together on behalf of the Kingdom of God."
The three Ecuadorian conferences are set to host the Encuentro Andino (Andean gathering) in 2023, which will bring together Mennonite conferences from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.