TEMUCO, Chile (Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Mennonite Mission Network) — While most anniversary celebrations tend to commemorate the past, the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile (UBACH) marked its 100th Anniversary by looking to the future with change in mind.
UBACH is on a journey of ‘rediscovering’ its Anabaptist roots and intentionally working to create an Anabaptist identity, with the facilitatory efforts of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Mission Network. The results could include a refuge for victims of violence and an Anabaptist resource center.
UBACH General Secretary Freddy Paredes said leadership is making an intentional theological shift, though it will take time for it to filter into local congregations. Paredes believes ongoing partnership with North American Mennonites will support and encourage growth of UBACH’s Anabaptist identity.
Wordplay - nearing peace
The Spanish acronym for Centro de Recursos Cristianos Anabautistas por la Paz (Anabaptist Christian Resource Center for Peace), CERCAPAZ, offers a clever play on words.
“CERCA” means “close or near.” The translation of “PAZ” is “peace.” CERCAPAZ can also be pronounced “SER CAPAZ,” with “SER” and “CAPAZ” meaning “to be” and “capable” respectively. Thus, peace is within UBACH’s proximity and capability.
“I see the hand of God working in this development process,” he wrote, through a translator. “The formation of this strategic alliance for the Kingdom of God, and its practical expression through CERCAPAZ (Centro de Recursos Cristianos Anabautistas por la Paz
), has meant a great personal satisfaction for me.”
Robert J. Suderman, general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada and Janet Plenert, executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Witness, traveled to Temuco in early January to lead workshops on Anabaptism, meet the leadership, and join in UBACH’s festivities. Delbert and Freida Erb, former mission workers now living in Argentina, represented Mission Network.
The Canadian contingent expected to find a few passionate leaders working to spread the new vision, but Suderman noted, “It was surprising to us that [the vision] was more profoundly rooted than we were anticipating.”
Some pastors are rebuilding their congregations based upon Anabaptism by rewriting constitutions, restructuring physical spaces and redefining their approaches to preaching and teaching.
According to Linda Shelly, Mission Network’s director for Latin America, the Baptists’ Anabaptist emphasis can encourage other Chilean groups with Anabaptist leanings. Chile’s geography leads to great distances between churches, but Baptist churches are found throughout the country. Baptist-led regional events could help other groups come together.
In a society where family violence is prevalent, Anabaptist peace theology offers hope for change. To facilitate that change, UBACH is encouraging the development of Sanctuaries of Peace, church-based refuges for victims of violence. Sanctuaries of Peace offer more than shelter from violence; they also address the causes of violence. Becoming a Sanctuary of Peace entails a one-year process of learning how to respond to violence and networking with appropriate existing agencies for support.
Plenert was struck by the ecumenical and collaborative aspects of Sanctuaries of Peace. She described what she encountered as “not just meetings and words, but examining a vision of mandate – what God wants for this community.” To implement this program, UBACH collaborates with other Protestant and Catholic churches, government and non-governmental organizations. This is particularly remarkable, Plenert said, because “Chile is a stratified society, which makes it difficult and unusual for churches to work together.”
Other aspects of Anabaptist theology, such as horizontal leadership, acceptance of women in ministry, and the potential for world-wide associations also hold appeal for UBACH as it embraces a new identity for its second century.
Omar Cortés Gaibur, who teaches theology in a relationship with Witness and Mission Network, has been instrumental in articulating a vision of Anabaptism among Baptist churches in Chile and in shaping a ministry partnership agreement around CERCAPAZ, an Anabaptist Christian resource center for peace. The initiative outlines concrete, practical ways for Chileans to embrace Anabaptist peace theology.
In a nation where systemic conflict has fueled societal and family violence, CERCAPAZ offers desperately needed tools and training for church workers and others.
Cortés Gaibur, the CERCAPAZ project coordinator, was introduced to Anabaptist theology in the early 1990s by Titus Guenther, an associate professor of theology and missions at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now Canadian Mennonite University) who at that time taught church history at the Evangelical Theological Community in Santiago (now the Faculty of Evangelical Theology). When they shared their perspectives on spirituality, Guenther’s reflection on Anabaptist peace theology struck a chord with Cortés Gaibur.
Although Cortés Gaibur expressed his longing for a Mennonite Church in Santiago, Guenther persuaded him to continue pastoring the Baptist church then under his care, where he could sow seeds of interest in Anabaptism.
Through Guenther’s connections, Cortés Gaibur traveled to Vancouver to study at Regent College. When he completed his studies in 1997, the Commission on Overseas Mission, a predecessor agency of Witness and Mission Network, supported his return to Chile, where he now is employed by UBACH. He immediately began developing programs to deal with violence.
With his wife, Ester, he created the program 5 & 2 Multiply for All, a shelter for abused women in Conchali, Santiago. In 2005 he helped to establish Sanctuaries of Peace.
Cortés Gaibur explained that some of the European immigrants who introduced the Baptist church to Chile arrived with an Anabaptist image of church, although the Southern Baptists with whom they developed a relationship encouraged growth in another direction. With rising membership and an increased desire to find its own identity, UBACH made a decision several years ago to move away from that particular theology and their connection with Southern Baptists. They sought a return to their roots.
Although Cortés Gaibur acknowledges UBACH’s spiritual heritage, he attributes the current rise of Anabaptism to visiting professors like Guenther who brought peace theology to Chile in the early 1990s.
“It’s a movement more than history,” he says.
Representing 35,000 members and 500 congregations, UBACH also influences the 100,000 Chileans who attend member church worship services regularly.
In 2007, Witness and Mission Network jointly financed more than half of the cost for production of 2,000 copies of "Radical Coexistence: Spirituality in the 21st Century" by John Driver through Eidiciones Kairós
. The balance of funding will be recuperated through book sales.