CUAUHTÉMOC, Mexico (Mennonite Mission Network) — Representatives of the six Mexican Mennonite conferences had met before for administrative work and business. The gathering in Cuauhtémoc August 3-8 was special for the fellowship.
For the first time since it formed in 1992, participants from member churches of the Iglesia Anabautista Menonita Unida de México (United Anabaptist Mennonite Church of Mexico), the legal religious association of six Mexican conferences, met to worship with one another and explore their identity together. Five of the six conferences sent representatives to the assembly which involved Hispanic and Germanic Mexicans, including people from congregations along the border that relate to both a Mexican conference and a Mennonite Church USA conference.
David Friesen, a Mexican Mennonite chaplain in Winkler, Manitoba, and Dennis Byler, who serves with Mennonite Mission Network in Burgos, Spain, with his wife, Connie, were the main speakers. Byler emphasized that Anabaptists must return to a focus on Jesus’ life and teachings as a primary model. Participants discussed how to live the life of Jesus in modern-day Mexico.
A significant portion of the assembly was small group discussion among Mennonites from different backgrounds and ethnicities. In one of the reports following the small group discussions, Leticia Portillo from the Seguidores de Cristo (Followers of Christ) church north of Mexico City said, “New Mennonites see the ethnic German Mennonites with their stability as an example, and they in turn also see things in us, like the freshness of our faith. Upon seeing these values reflected in the other we can each be more aware of things that seemed obvious and ordinary.”
Portillo said the gathering of Mennonites of Spanish and German descent allowed her to learn more about the way other Anabaptists approach community.
“They have learned since they were young certain principles that for us are newsworthy, or at least that haven’t been emphasized much in the churches, like life in community, love of work and mutual aid. This is attractive to us.”
Maria Bergen, a Mexican Mennonite of Germanic background who plants churches among Hispanic neighbors with her husband, Isaak, said learnings go both ways. Hispanic Mexican Mennonites, she said, often have more theological knowledge than many in German-speaking congregations, in part, perhaps, due to their process of choosing to join the church and their level of engagement.
“When they make a commitment, it is more radical. So many are first-generation Mennonites, while in the German-speaking churches people have generations of history in the church,” Bergen said.
While connections among Mexican Mennonites are important, Juan Jesús Garza of the Conferencia Cristiana Menonita Anabautista (Anabaptist Mennonite Christian Conference) said conferences in northern Mexico also find it beneficial to be in relationship with churches in the United States.
“I believe that a big advantage of pertaining to both South Central Conference of Mennonite Church USA and the Conferencia Cristiana Menonita Anabautista de la IAMUM is being able to have a more global vision of the role that we should fulfill as Anabaptist Mennonites,” Garza said. “I can see and feel the suffering of the migrant and I believe that we have a great task there. I can also see the arrogance and abuse of the other side, of those who have the power. Yet, nevertheless, I see that they also need to know Jesus Christ and be pastored by him. Being a part of both sides of the border, of both conferences, is to be in the middle and to be able to serve.”
Representatives from Franconia Mennonite conference also attended the assembly.
Participants also toured a local Mennonite museum, a community service funeral home started by Mennonite churches, a congregation that hosts a nutritious lunch program and a workshop for people with disabilities run by the Conferencia Menonita de México (Mennonite Conference of Mexico).
Participating conferences included:
- Conferencia Menonita de México (Mennonite Conference of Mexico), four German-speaking General Conference Mennonite churches based in the Chihuahua region.
- Conferencia Misionera Evangélica (Evangelical Missionary Conference), seven German-speaking congregations in the Chihuahua region started by both the Evangelical Mennonite Conference of Canada and the Evangelical Mennonite Missionary Conference of Canada.
- Conferencia Evangélica Misionera de México (Evangelical Missionary Conference of Mexico), 17 Spanish-speaking congregations started by North American mission agencies and German Mexican churches of the previous two groups.
- Conferencia Cristiana Menonita Anabautista (Anabaptist Mennonite Christian Conference), five South Central Mennonite Conference churches in Tamaulipas across the border from Brownsville, Texas, begun through mission efforts of South Texas congregations.
- Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (Conference of Anabaptist Mennonite Evangelical Churches of Mexico), 14 congregations in and around Mexico City.
The 10-member Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Menonitas del Noroeste de México (Conference of Evangelical Mennonite Churches in Northeast Mexico) in Sinaloa and Sonora states did not send representatives to the assembly this time.