VALDIVIA, Chile (Mennonite Mission Network)—Veronica Parra wanted to follow her young son to church, but since she had been told that Christian women wore skirts and were supposed to be married to the men they lived with, she thought she would not be welcome. That was before she heard that “Jesus” had “moved into the neighborhood.”
This testimony was shared by three missionary women from Argentina, who themselves moved into Parra’s city of Valdivia, a port city of about 150,000 people, to break down social barriers through Bible studies.
Marlene Dorigoni, Wanda Sieber and Waleska Villa, members of the Mennonite Church in Choele Choel, Argentina, were sent to Valdivia 11 years ago by the Patagonia Missionary Project of the Argentina Mennonite Church, in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network and an Illinois-based mission group called Arm in Arm. Waleska returned to Argentina earlier this year, while Dorigoni and Sieber continue the ministry.
They discovered in Valdivia a hunger for Bible studies, both among people inside and outside of the church, as well as those from different classes. University students and professionals who had no interest in going to a more traditional church responded positively to an opportunity to study the Bible. The Bible studies led to conversions and baptisms, and the realization that they needed to create a church. This group formed an Anabaptist Mennonite church in 2001.
There are currently two Bible study groups from the church: one composed primarily of university students meeting on Thursday evenings, and the other a group of women from the San Pedro neighborhood with very little academic background. Dorigoni and Sieber said that the simple act of studying the Bible is breaking down the rigid class system that divides Chilean society and the church.
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(From left: Jose Vallejos, Gabriela Vallejos and Rosa Cartes) The Vallejos family has been part of the San Pedro neighborhood Bible study since its beginnings.
“The interesting thing about these two extremes is that both the people who come to the Thursday evening Bible study here and the people of San Pedro share the worship service together on Sunday with no regard to difference in class, which in Chile is a true miracle,” said Dorigoni.
She said the studies also show people who once thought they were outsiders that the gospel is for them.
Veronica Parra, a member from the San Pedro neighborhood, said she became interested in the Bible when a neighbor began taking her young son to church. Veronica would have liked to go, too, but she previously felt rejected by the church because she wasn’t married to the man she lived with, and she wore pants instead of a dress. She was excited when this church accepted her. The women’s group started meeting in her home, and soon her children’s father was ready to change his life as well. Even before he made a personal commitment, he enlarged their small living room so that more women could meet.
This group continues to be energized by reading the Bible, asking questions, and seeking answers together, including what it means to be Mennonite, and how faith and culture interact.
For Dorigoni, it all goes back to locally appropriate Bible studies.
“We see John 1:14, which says, ‘The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,’ as a model for our work,” Dorigoni said. “We firmly believe that every community, every region, every country should accept the challenge of producing Bible study materials tailored to fit the local need, as if it were a suit that a tailor produces, materials written by people working on the ground and not from a desk.”