ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Mission Network) – Although Mennonite Mission Network does not operate as a relief organization, three decades of relationship-building in Chile laid foundations that helped local congregations provide a rapid response following February 27’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake. Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness introduced Mennonite Central Committee to Chilean church partners to collaborate in planning a longer-term disaster response.
MCC does not have program or personnel in Chile, so the $150,000 raised for earthquake relief is being channeled through churches, identified by colleague organizations, including Mennonite Mission Network and Witness.
Immediately following the quake and its aftermath that affected 80 percent of the country’s population, Chilean partner churches began assessing damages and planning aid operations. In April, Titus Guenther, professor at Canadian Mennonite University with service experience in Chile, returned to the country on special assignment with Mission Network and Witness to connect MCC representatives César Flores (Bolivia) and Eduard Klassen (Paraguay) with Chilean Anabaptist church leaders.
The ministry of Omar Cortés Gaibur, MMN international partnership associate, and Guenther’s leadership in IMPaCT (International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together – an annual event led by Mennonite Church Canada) brought three Chilean Anabaptist groups together – Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Chile (UBACH), the Evangelical Mennonite Church and the Puerta del Rebaño (Door of the Sheepfold) congregation in Concepción.
This international partnership provided MCC with information necessary for determining appropriate relief aid and distribution. As Mennonite partners toured the hardest-hit regions that included congregations of the three Chilean church bodies, Guenther reported great devastation that was already being cleared for reconstruction.
“We saw fishing boats and shipping containers kilometers inland, far from where they normally belong,” Guenther said.
In one city, although 500,000 buildings needed to be bulldozed before rebuilding could begin, temporary wood structures were already set up for families who lost everything.
“Amidst this situation, we heard stories of persons whose homes had collapsed or been swept away going to worse-hit areas in order to offer assistance,” Guenther said.
He also reported that small Mennonite churches, operating in situations of chronic poverty, were able to provide immediate responses by sending truckloads of necessities to the coal-mining town of Lota. The Puerta del Rebaño congregation provided free medical and pastoral counsel. A congregation in Santiago sent a youth group to an orphanage near the earthquake epicentre bearing toys and treats.
“In reality, God has shown us great mercy because very few people died,” said Carlos Gallardo, a Puerta del Rebaño pastor and IMPaCT participant.
The presence of Guenther, Flores and Klassen encouraged churches in their efforts.
“Just your coming and being with us already changes things for us,” said Mónica Parada, a Puerta del Rebaño pastor.
UBACH’s president, Raquel Contreras, visited Baptist congregations in the most affected provinces prior to Guenther’s visit. She said that UBACH’s plan was to first restore homes before the winter rains, and then repair damaged church buildings.
Despite the cooperation and quick response, Guenther reported that churches are aware of the long and arduous road ahead. Work continues on restoring services such as electricity, water and garbage removal, as well as bridge and road repair.
“We invited all sister churches to fill out reconstruction project forms in order to apply for Mennonite Central Committee’s relief funds” Guenther said.
These funds will predominantly be used for building and furnishing houses and trauma programs.
“We were encouraged when news came from each of the partner churches in Chile that although their churches experienced material loss, very few members were injured or killed,” noted Linda Shelly, Mission Network’s Latin America director. “They were able to provide some immediate responses to help others, even as they assessed their own situation. Prayers and material aid came quickly from within Latin America, and we were glad to be able to help develop connections within the global church and be a part of introducing MCC to potential partners for longer-term earthquake responses.”
Adapted from a Mennonite Church Canada release by Deb Froese