NEWTON, Kan. (Mennonite Mission Network) - For Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network’s Director for Latin America, the flow of email messages from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and other countries after the earthquake in Chile, was clear evidence of how compassion and concern grow as church members get to know each other at regional events as well as larger events like the Mennonite World Conference assembly, held last July in Asunción, Paraguay.
The expressions of concern began minutes after an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile on Saturday, February 27, and continued in the days following.
At the same time messages began arriving from church partners in Chile. Mennonite Mission Network relates with several distinct groups of Anabaptists and Mennonites in Chile
: the Evangelical Mennonite Church with 900 members in 12 congregations; the Puerta del Rebaño
Anabaptist congregation in Concepción; the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Chile (UBACH), a large denomination of 35,000 members across the country; and through the Patagonia Mission Program in Argentina, an Anabaptist congregation established in Valdivia.
Communications received from all of the church groups indicated their concern for the people suffering in their country. Due to the breakdown of communication infrastructure in Chile it has been difficult for church partners to ascertain the extent of potential losses experienced by congregations in the hardest-hit zones. Initial reports suggest that the coastal town of Lota, about 30 km south of Concepción and the location of one Mennonite Church, has experienced significant damage from the quake and a resulting tsunami.
Omar Cortés Gaibur, Mennonite Mission Network International Partnership Associate who coordinates leadership training and congregational resourcing through the joint Baptist/Mennonite ministry of Cercapaz in Santiago is working diligently to assist his contacts.
Mónica Parada, a recipient of Mennonite Women USA theological education scholarships, and her husband Carlos Gallardo, who together pastor the Puerta del Rebaño congregation in Concepción, survived the earthquake, though no details have been received directly from them. This congregation and Mountain Community Mennonite Church in Palmer Lake, Colorado, have enjoyed exchange visits that started when Don and Jan Rheinheimer served as co-pastors. The Rheinheimers now serve with Mennonite Mission Network in Ecuador and recently visited Concepción.
Samuel Tripainao, from the Mennonite church in Santiago, was the first Chilean to contact Shelly from his home in the damaged but less hard-hit region of Santiago city. On Feb. 27, he wrote, “It is now 1:18 p.m. and the electrical power is slowly coming back. Water pressure has not been restored. The aftershocks are continuing . . . here in our church there is no news of injury, thanks to God. We were just startled. We have no contact with the other congregations but hope to have information shortly.”
Raquel Contreras, President of the Union of Baptist Churches in Chile (UBACH), was traveling in the United States at the time of the quake and heard that her family in Concepción survived, but has suffered significant damage to homes and buildings. In its ongoing ministries, UBACH is working to recover to its original vision of being an Anabaptist peace church and connected with Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada as a result.
Mennonite Mission Network’s work in Chile is in partnership with Mennonite Church Canada
, and in phone conferences together with Mennonite Central Committee
(MCC), plans are developing to support these partners in Chile in their recovery work. MCC has allocated $150,000 to relief efforts in Chile; some funds will be available for immediate responses, while most of the funding is planned for medium and long term assistance.Portions of this article were modified from a Mennonite Church Canada release by Dan Dyck