TRES LOMAS, Argentina (Mennonite Mission Network) -- Dawn Yoder Harms did not expect full benches for a mid-week prayer meeting.
“I was first of all amazed and, then, humbled that everyone listened so attentively, even though everything I said needed to be translated,” she said, reflecting on the sermon she preached in Tres Lomas, Argentina. Yoder Harms serves as co-pastor at Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church.
This was just one of the happy surprises that Yoder Harms encountered from Feb 8-19 when she joined four other members of Atlantic Coast Conference congregations to renew a partnership covenant with VEMZO congregations.
VEMZO (Vision Evangelística y Misionera de la Zona Oeste/Evangelistic and Missionary Vision of the Western Region) churches are part of the Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Argentina (Argentina Mennonite Church).
In the first partnership covenant, signed in 2003, ACC and VEMZO congregations pledged to share together in order to strengthen existing churches and develop new ones in Argentina and the United States.
Congregations in both countries are inspired by the growth that has occurred as they called each other to more faithfully follow Jesus and joyfully signed a second three-year covenant on Feb 16 in Carlos Casares, Argentina.
Omar Onischuk, president of the Argentina Mennonite Church and pastor of the Santa Rosa congregation, said that as he listened to reports from Argentina and the United States in the meetings that set the stage for the signing of the second covenant, he heard an increasing enthusiasm for mission in both countries springing from the partnership.
Daniel Oyanguren, VEMZO treasurer and pastor from Villegas, Argentina, said, “There are visible results. We have gone to people who hadn't known the gospel before. If this relationship were only about financial support, we wouldn’t be interested. We want to share our gifts and our experiences. This is a partnership of friendship in order to go forward following Christ. We are a team, a family.”
Romaine Erb, ACC coordinator for the partnership and member of Neffsville Mennonite Church, agreed with Oyanguren’s description of the transcontinental relationship.
“Our hope is that the partnership will grow as we experience both the giving and receiving that occur in a relationship where partners work together, side-by-side, exchanging ideas, encouraging and supporting each other in God’s kingdom work,” she said.
Yoder Harms said that her visit to Argentina helped her to see more clearly how much the church there has to teach North American Christians.
In her sermon, she listed some of the questions the members of Akron Mennonite Church face as they try to be faithful to Jesus’ teaching.
“How do we nurture meaningful relationships as our congregation grows in size? How do we make church something more than just one of the many options in our busy lives? Do we need God, when we lack nothing? How do we live as peace-makers when our nation is at war in so many parts of the world?” Yoder Harms asked.
She then named gifts she had seen lived out by members of the Argentine Mennonite Church; passion for faith that is truly central to people’s lives, churches that were actively seeking to live out their faith and share God’s love in their communities, and an openness to allowing themselves to be radically transformed.
“The most moving part of the [Tres Lomas] service came at the end when we, as North Americans, were invited to come forward. The congregation stood facing us, raising their hands to pray for us. I felt truly surrounded, deeply cared for and blessed,” Yoder Harms said.
Erb and Yoder Harms traveled to Argentina with Harry Jarrett of Neffsville Mennonite Church, Keith Stuckey of Forest Hills Mennonite Church and Bob Martin of Ridgeview Mennonite Church. This was the fifth annual partnership visit. Three ACC delegations have gone to Argentina and two VEMZO delegations have visited the United States.
The partnership has helped VEMZO churches establish two radio stations to broadcast Christian programming and to provide leadership training classes, meals for children and clothing banks. VEMZO church members meet in small groups and hold worship services in towns where no churches exist.
"[The VEMZO churches] pray and they pray some more," Erb said. "This trip has generated more excitement and interest [in the four ACC congregations participating in the partnership], so there will be specifics coming as we pray about and work ahead in the future of the partnership."
Yoder Harms was sure that she would return home exhausted from her trip.
“Mostly, I was energized and immensely grateful for perspectives gained in Argentina that are helping me see the world in new ways. For me personally, the experience was a powerful witness to God’s transforming presence in our world,” Yoder Harms said.