NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) ⸺ Cyberspace has become a holy place for Latin American Anabaptist women during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
In a series of Zoom online events, the members of the Movement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America (MTAL) have encouraged each other in activities ranging from sharing communion and prayer services to doing Tai Chi relaxation exercises.
MTAL had planned to release their annual Day of Prayer materials for groups to gather in May, said Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network's director for Latin America who works closely with MTAL. But leaders decided to postpone this initiative due to the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 crisis. The Central American MTAL regional gathering planned for August was also postponed.
Multiple WhatsApp groups help women stay connected. "Let's set our imaginations flying; let's be creative and do symbolic things where we have a living experience among ourselves and with the Lord," Rebeca González of Mexico wrote in a Mar. 29 WhatsApp group message. "Be encouraged! Let's go forward!"
As a creative alternative to the canceled gatherings, women in different countries plan Zoom online events in which women participate from throughout the region, Shelly said. An Apr. 2 Zoom event focused on self-care, talking about emotions and feelings, and doing Tai Chi together. Olga Piedrasanta of Guatemala explained the Tai Chi moves while Claudia Azurdia and Juliana Méndez modeled the exercises that help reduce stress and anxiety.
Thirty-three connections (some locales had more than one participant) were made on Zoom for an Apr. 9 communion service. Ruhama Pedroza led the service from Mexico with women from throughout the region, from Argentina to the United States.
Each woman made her own arrangements to celebrate the Lord's Supper at home, yet in communion with others across the region. Isabel Salamone sent this photo of her preparations.
The service received high praise from participants, including Cindy Alpizar of Costa Rica, who said, "We have accepted the challenge … to be a different church in these times, a church without walls, where everyone counts, where there is room for everyone, for all the gifts, where we are one body from North America to South America."
Angela Opimí, MTAL co-coordinator from Bolivia, said she was grateful to the Lord for a beautiful time of fellowship that transcended borders and united women in the Spirit of God. "The prayers in different languages and dialects moved me, and I felt the presence of God even when I did not understand what the sisters were saying," she said. "I felt very connected."
MTAL followed the communion service with a May 2 prayer service, led by Ofelia García from Mexico, coordinator of the MTAL Day of Prayer. About the same number of connections were made, and the service featured prayers offered for the cessation of the COVID-19 epidemic, the healing of those infected and provision for those affected, the authorities, professionals and workers in health care, the earth, and the leaders of Christian churches around the world.
Participants lit a candle in their homes to symbolize hope ⸺ hope that the service inspired, Marisol Arriaga said. "Because of, and in the midst of, this health situation, God is allowing us to have the mind of Christ and to rise from this reality to a better life," she said. "Let us keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, who is loving, merciful and powerful."
On May 16, MTAL sponsored an afternoon of praise and worship planned by the Day of Prayer team. Both women and men were able to sign up for a time slot to participate. Videos of the event are available here.
In addition to the Zoom events, Rebeca González formed six WhatsApp groups with a total of around 80 women interested in writing "My Diary in Search of Meaning." For two weeks she offered daily audio reflections and prompts for journaling. Women shared insights with their group.
Many participants in these six groups said that the journaling deeply ministered to them during an uncertain time. One such participant was Belinda Castro from Honduras. "There are moments when I feel fear upon hearing the growing number of contagious cases," she wrote. "Then by reading or hearing a word from the Lord, I feel comforted, my fear is removed, and I think positively with encouragement and hope. This morning when watering my garden, I observed that the flowers and bushes are still green, showing the beauty of God's creation despite this crisis. ... So, let us encourage ourselves in the Lord …"
In a May 18 interview, Mary Cano, MTAL co-coordinator from Honduras, said, "I am full of hope when I see how we infect each other with our good attitudes, transmitting a message of peace and courage in these times of chaos … We hope to be able to return to see each other again, renewed and transformed, with more strength and determination, and with much joy!"