The night of August 29, a fire raged through a Mennonite church building and five neighboring wooden houses on Isla Iquitos, Peru, a small island near the main island where the city of Iquitos is located. Neighbors attributed that the fire was likely caused by a candle that the caretaker of the church had left burning.
The next morning, Mennonite church leaders from Iquitos met with the five families who had lost their homes. Thirteen adults, 11 children and a three-day old baby were left homeless. Pastor David Moreno said that people were calm and accepting of what had happened. They had established trust with these families through the children's ministries, Moreno said. "And we shared food with 70 families during times of scarcity, due to COVID 19."
In this March 2020 photo, children filled the Mennonite church building on Isla Iquitos for their Saturday morning worship, Bible story, activities and lunch. The church building, with the house to its right and four others, was consumed by fire Sunday night, August 29. Photo by Linda Shelly.
The ministry team, the children and their families are feeling great loss from the fire. The church building was a simple wooden structure, built in early 2020 with labor provided by the local community and a team made up of Elena Satalaya's family and friends. Elena Satalaya and her husband, Freddy, serve in the Isla Iquitos church's ministries with children, youth and families.Yet, they say that the priority now is helping the families rebuild
People in three Iquitos Mennonite churches are mobilizing to help. "The youth went door to door, asking for food, clothes and anything people would give for the survivors of the fire," Moreno said. The local government also offered to help provide building supplies, but it will take much more. The priorities will be procuring building materials for the houses, kitchen supplies for cooking and assistance for small business, in cases where people lost their livelihood, such as one family's small corner store where they sold staples.
The Isla Iquitos church will host a united church service September 5, with people from the city churches joining the local congregation. The Saturday children's ministries will begin again soon, meeting wherever they are able. Some work will need to be done at the site of the church building, but the congregation won't wait for the building to be complete before resuming their life together.
In an August 30 Zoom call, Moreno and the Satalayas shared with Linda Shelly, Mission Network director for Latin America, that they found encouragement in Romans 8:28 (NRSV): "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God."
All present on the Zoom call agreed the fire wasn't God's will, yet through God's help, the families will have homes that meet their needs better than the ones they lost.
"God transforms and can do great and beautiful things, despite the difficulties and circumstances," Elena Satalaya said.
"All this unifies us, it makes us be together and eat together, seeing that we are brothers and sisters, sharing the little that we have," Freddy Satalaya said. "I believe the Lord will do something great with these families, and that they will become members of the church. They know the work we do, and I believe this will lead them to reflect and unite more."
Anyone who would like to help the church respond to priority needs can send contributions marked "Iquitos fire recovery" to Mennonite Mission Network.