IOWA CITY, IOWA (Mennonite Mission Network) — On Mar. 6, just 10 days before Ecuador closed its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic, mission partners from Ecuador, Colombia and North America gathered in Quito to celebrate two anniversaries marking milestones in Mennonite ministry in Ecuador.
One anniversary marked 30 years of Mennonite Mission Network's presence in Ecuador. The other marked 20 years of the partnership formed for ministry in Ecuador that includes Mission Network, Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (IMCOL), and Central Plains Mennonite Conference (CPMC), an area conference of Mennonite Church USA.
A delegation of international visitors from Mission Network, Central Plains, and the Colombia Mennonite Church joined Ecuadorian partners in the anniversary celebrations and partnership meetings. Hosting the celebrations were two Ecuadorian conferences, Iglesia Cristiana Anabautista Menonita de Ecuador (ICAME), born directly through the partnership ministry; and Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Ecuador (ICME). ICME is a primarily indigenous conference with Anabaptist theological roots that began to take shape in the 1950s, and has developed more fully through the theological education ministry of the partnership.
The women's chorus of the Camino de Salvación church shared Kichwa hymns as part of the anniversary celebration. Ana Aguagallo (fourth from left) was invited to join them as a special honor before departing to study at Centro Evangélica Menonita de Teología Asunción (CEMTA) in Paraguay. Photo by Linda Shelly.
The anniversary worship service, "30 Years of Walking in the Anabaptist Faith in Ecuador," was held in the southern Quito ICME church, Camino de Salvación. The evening featured music representing the various cultures and worship styles of the Ecuadorian partner groups and an exchange of gifts. José Manuel Guamán, president of ICME, presented a brief history of their Anabaptist roots.
In an interview translated into English, Guamán said, "Today we have professional people in theological and biblical studies, as well as academic disciplines. This has been one of the great strengths of the Mennonites coming … to work with the indigenous churches. I see that in this 30-year process, God has made things that started small grow big. I am very grateful to God for this growth."
Stanley W. Green, executive director and CEO of Mission Network, preached from the post-resurrection story of Jesus' first appearance to his disciples, proclaiming peace and sending them out in the same way Jesus had been sent by God.
Expressing gratitude for fruitful partnership
During partnership meetings, Peter Stucky, pastor and long-term member of the Mennonite Church of Colombia Missions Committee, said that forming a partnership with Mission Network and Central Plains 20 years ago led IMCOL to recognize the need to organize themselves for effective mission work.
"We formed a missions committee, which now also supports ministry in Peru and Venezuela," Stucky said. "We started organizing an annual Missions Day for our churches. And in partnership with Mission Network two years ago, we sent Diana Cruz and Felipe Preciado to serve in Benin. Sending Colombian church members to serve in Ecuador has been very formative."
Linda Shelly, Mission Network's director for Latin America, observed that even though working together in a partnership can be complicated at times, "We certainly have seen the fruits as each partner brings distinct gifts that contribute together in helping to fulfill the vision of the churches in Ecuador." Shelly noted that a future edition of Mission Network's Missio Dei publication, to be co-authored by partnership co-coordinator Peter Wigginton and Julian Guamán of ICME, will further reflect on Anabaptism in Ecuador.
Alba Silva, a member of Iglesia Menonita de Quito for 15 years, said, "It's interesting to work together with other Mennonite churches, all of us working with the community on peace and reconciliation — Jesus is the center of our lives; that is most important."
German Velásquez, in his first visit to Ecuador as part of the IMCOL Missions Committee, said that it is encouraging to be able to share experiences that are helpful to others, and also to learn from churches in another context.
At the conclusion of Green's anniversary message, he offered a blessing for the future of the partnership ministries and concluded with a reference to concerns felt globally. "There is much in our world of which to be terrified — pandemic, xenophobia, racism, the falling stock market — but we will be walking with Jesus through death and resurrection, knowing that the peace of God triumphs, to be agents of healing and hope."
COVID-19 complicates return home
On Mar. 16, within days of the end of the partnership visit, Ecuador closed its borders to both foreign visitors and nationals returning to the country, resulting in airlines canceling flights. All partners made it safely home to their respective countries, the last members departing by chartered flight Mar. 23. Mission Network workers Jaden Hostetter, Delicia Bravo and Peter Wigginton, and Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer and their families are remaining in Ecuador during the health crisis.