QUITO, Ecuador (Mennonite Mission Network) - During a March visit to Ecuador, American and Colombian representatives of the Ecuador Partnership heard stories of violence, loss and redemption from beneficiaries of a ministry of the Quito Mennonite Church. Sitting in a large circle in the dining room where they have biweekly fellowship meals, Colombian refugees spoke about their experiences.
“For nearly 40 years, we lived with violence – bands of guerillas and vigilantes. When out walking, we didn’t know which groups we would encounter. We were frightened,” Pablo Ortiz* told his listeners, a group that included members of Central Plains Mennonite Conference, Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (Colombia Mennonite Church), and Mennonite Mission Network.
After decades of living in fear, and in order to protect their children from being forcibly inducted into military service, Ortiz and his wife, María Rosa*, left their 39-hectare family farm in rural Colombia.
“Eventually we crossed the border to Ecuador,” Ortiz said. “We came without anything.”
Other Colombian refugees shared accounts of trauma similar to that of the Ortiz family. They fled Colombia’s political and drug-related violence, only to encounter discrimination and suspicion in Ecuador where they were denied employment.
César Moya and Patricia Urueña, Colombian Mennonite church leaders initially sent by their church in 2000 to promote indigenous theological education in Ecuador, felt called to begin a new church where they could put in practice what they were teaching. A year later, the Quito Mennonite Church opened its doors. The young congregation quickly became aware of the desperate plight of fleeing families in their city and, with the joint sponsorship of the Episcopalian church, established the Colombian Refugee Project that provides a supportive community, temporary housing and educational workshops on trauma counseling, spiritual health, financial management, business administration, and home economics.
Mennonite Central Committee’s Colombia office made funds available for microfinance loans that have been an important source of income and dignity for the Colombians in Ecuador. One of those receiving a loan is Silvia de la Cruz*. She and her husband, Raúl*, have developed a small bakery in Quito using a microfinance loan.
“I left a lot of material goods behind to come to a place of security,” said Silvia de la Cruz. “Here, Ecuadorian and Colombian friends have helped us to recover everything we needed.”
“The bread is selling well,” she said. “We want to name it ‘The Bread of God’.”
As de la Cruz recalled the violence of her neighborhood in Colombia, where her children sometimes encountered dead bodies on their way to school, she said, “In Quito, my children sleep peacefully. I’d like to go back to Colombia, but I’m glad for the peace here.”
Pablo Ortiz’s words echoed those of de la Cruz, “We miss our families, our country, and our culture; however, we have found a family here, among people who feel for us.”
Because of Ecuador’s governmental restrictions, many refugees eventually move on to Argentina, Canada, Chile, Spain, Sweden, or the United States.
The Ecuador Partnership began about a decade ago when networks of relationship were established bringing together indigenous people in Ecuador, congregations from Mennonite Church USA’s Central Plains Conference, the Colombia Mennonite Church and Mennonite Mission Network.