ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) – Surrounded by the lush beauty of the Colombian highlands and with damp ground under their feet, Mennonite youth came, in record numbers, to their annual youth camp. Jan. 5-8, 90 young adults and leaders traveled to Cachipay, the birthplace of Iglesia Menonita de Colombia, IMCOL (Mennonite Church of Colombia), which began as a home and boarding school for children whose parents had leprosy. IMCOL now uses this property as a retreat center for meetings, assemblies and camps.
The three-day gathering was organized by youth and their leaders, IMCOL national committee members Diego Castor and Isaias Rodriguez, and Mennonite Mission Network workers Eric and Kelly Frey Martin. The youth and leaders who spearheaded the planning were Lilia Aranguren, Andrea Castro, Jesus Cobilla, Diana Cruz, Lilibeth Guzman, Felipe Preciado, Oscar Suarez, and Ayda Villalobos. Through careful planning together, and with the help of many others, they prepared registration logistics, worship, speakers, games and decorations.
The Colombian leaders began this work in 2017 with a smaller gathering of youth, reviving after 10 years the tradition of an annual youth camp. The Frey Martins joined their effort six months later, and together they chose "The Road to Emmaus" as the guiding theme for the 2018 camp. Through this lens, the leaders focused the teachings on the need for community, both global and local.
Linda Shelly, Mission Network's director for Latin America, remarked, "The annual youth retreat is part of the broader emphasis of IMCOL in developing more young leaders. We are pleased that they invited Mission Network to partner in this process by sending Eric and Kelly Frey Martin to form part of the youth leadership development team."
"The global church is our responsibility, and is also ready to support us," said Felipe Preciado, one of the camp's speakers from the Bogota-Soacha region of Colombia. "We are responsible for the church and where it is heading." Preciado was hopeful that the youth have the strength to advance the mission of the church, and not only change their country, but the world.
For Lilibeth Guzman, a youth from the Costa-Caribe region, participating in the camp was a unique experience for her. "I was on that road to Emmaus and needed to meet Jesus again to light up that fire a little more in my heart," Guzman said.
Oscar Suarez organized the worship. He carefully collaborated with youth from all the different regions of the church and together they chose music that reflected the different styles of those regions and Anabaptist theology.
The diversity in collaboration, however, even surpassed that within Colombia itself. The camp also united various church organizations in support of the effort. Colegio Americano Menno (American Menno College), IMCOL, Silverwood Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, Mennonite Mission Network, and Mennonite Central Committee all contributed financially to lower the costs so that more youth could participate.
"In the past, not as many youth were able to participate because of cost," said Kelly Frey Martin. She explained that in the future, IMCOL would like to have more Mennonite youth participating and open it up further to draw in youth who are not yet an active part of the church.
In the wider context of the Frey Martins' work, the youth camp is only the beginning. More recently, they organized a youth delegation at IMCOL's annual denominational gathering and will coordinate regional workshops in cooperation with Colegio Americano Menno. The workshops alongside the seminary offered courses are an effort to increase biblical and faith knowledge and are a continuation of the camp's foundational goal to raise up new leaders within the church.