Editor's note: Eric and Kelly Frey Martin, who recently completed their three-year term of service with Mennonite Mission Network in Colombia, share how the experience shaped their lives and perspective on God's mission in the world.
They served in Colombia from January 2017 through October 2018 with Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia. They were based in Bogatá, but often traveled to the different regions where Mennonite churches were located. They returned home to the States this past November, after which they completed their term with North American Ministry on Jan. 31, 2020. They live in Goshen, Indiana, where they are continuing as members of Silverwood Mennonite Church where Eric previously served as youth pastor before going to Colombia.
Mission Network: What challenges are you facing in re-adjusting back to North American life?
Eric: It has been an adjustment to come back home. Of course, all the old landmarks were recognizable, but we came back with a new perspective on those "old" things. It has made us question why some things are done the way they are.
Kelly: We've both grown and changed in some ways, but so also have the people and places that we left. Coming back is disorienting in some ways as we embrace our "new" selves and let go of the "old."
Mission Network: What ministries and tasks were your responsibility in Colombia — both together and individually?
Eric: We were involved with the youth and young adult ministry of the Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia. on the national level. We organized and facilitated national gatherings and regional workshops focused on Christian and Anabaptist identity, justice, peace, conscientious objection, faith formation, spiritual practices, and Bible study. We also facilitated leadership development weekend retreats and launched an online learning program through Colombian Mennonite Seminary for youth and young adults. The program consisted of six topics: Introduction to the Bible, Anabaptist History, Anabaptist Identity, Hermeneutics, Ethics, and Peace and Justice.
We spent the first year traveling to different churches and asking members what kinds of ministries they wanted to see developed. And then we engaged many people in planning and executing our retreats and other ministries. There are many capable and gifted ministers in Colombia. We wanted to facilitate mutual partnerships. That's how we work best. I did most of the teaching of the online seminary classes, while Kelly did a lot of the planning. Kelly was also very integral in the beginning stages of planning for a Latin America-Caribbean Anabaptist youth gathering. It is planned for this July (2020) in Colombia for Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, and Mennonite Brethren participants.
Kelly: I worked with Oscar Suarez, a very capable young man, to make this gathering a reality. Oscar is part of the Young Anabaptists network of Mennonite World Conference. Though I am not there anymore, I have great trust in Oscar and others. In fact, I heard that in the first 24 hours after registration was put up online, 17 kids had signed up!
Mission Network: What was the most joyful aspects of your time in service?
Eric: We enjoyed the relationships that grew from seeing the world through a different perspective. We also witnessed the fruits of our labor in how the youth took new steps in their faith. We also learned many new things about ourselves and God and the world around us. When you are forced to see things in a different life in a foreign culture, and hearing others from another culture, it expands how you think about God and the world. We now also feel like we have another place to call home.
Kelly: In addition, Colombia is such a lovely and diverse country, and we deeply enjoyed exploring cultural and natural sites. A favorite for us was the city of Riohacha, where there is a small Mennonite church community. There is a ministry for elderly people who have no other options for being cared for and are one step away from being thrown out on the street. Close by is Tayrona National Park. It's where we camped out on the beach for self-care and relaxation. Those two experiences, as different as they are, show the beauty of the land and the beauty of caring we found in Colombia.
Eric: Colombia has its points of extreme beauty as well as extreme flaws. For example, the country's politics are extremely complicated and messy. But there is not a place in the country as well that is not just incredibly beautiful geographically as well as people who are beautiful relationally.
Mission Network: What were your biggest challenges?
Kelly: Trying to fit into a new culture and learning a new language.
Eric: When you are put in new situations, you find out things about yourself that are not the most pleasant, i.e., being tempted to put too much emphasis on my skills as a youth pastor. What quelled that temptation was not being able to speak or communicate as clearly as I wanted. For example, as a youth pastor in the States, it was easy to go into new situations and simply say what I wanted to say. But needing to communicate in Spanish made being in front of a group a lot less fluid, and I had to rely on others with greater Spanish capabilities. I had to learn that just because I can do something doesn't mean I am the best person to do it.
Mission Network: How did you use your creativity and originality to move God's work forward, both as a couple and individually?
Eric: Our assignment fit our gifts very well. I have a background in youth ministry and enjoyed doing some vision casting. I created topics for workshops, themes for camps, and structures to work within. Kelly is a great communicator and helped with communication needs in our joint ministry. Also, she stepped into a new ministry while in Colombia: ministering to young women and helping them to deal with sexual harassment and the negative effects of a machismo in a male-dominated culture.
Kelly: I had been a labor and delivery nurse before we went to Colombia, so I always had a passion for working with women. It was inspiring and invigorating to be in solidarity with other women as we searched together to speak up for ourselves and discover our own voices.
Eric: We facilitated discussions with youth leaders about healthy boundaries and sexual violence. We also led a workshop in each region on the concept of shalom — a full sense of peace and wholeness. We talked about the situation in Colombia with its many situations of armed conflict and systemic violence — machismo being one way of expressing a violent attitude.
Mission Network: Where did you sense God most at work during your three years of service?
Eric: We sensed God greatly in the support we felt from our friends and church family back home. Also, I sensed God in the youth we worked with and the leadership growth we saw in them, as well as in the ways they ministered to us. I also appreciated the way Kelly and I grew in our marital relationship. Having to live and work in new environments caused us to rely on each other in new ways. We also gained a new perspective by getting new glimpses of God's reign in the world. We saw a lot of beauty and a lot of pain, and sense that God was present in it all. God was present among the weak and marginalized and it was a privilege for us to witness this.
Kelly: I felt God at work in experiencing the interconnectedness we share with people around the world. We learned to know real people with real lives. We were able to share their load, and they, ours. It made me realize that even with all our differences, we all share similarities within the human condition.
Mission Network: What went into your decision to enter service, and your decision not to do another term?
Eric: We wanted to experience a different culture, to learn and to gain new perspective about God, the church, the world, and ourselves. We contemplated staying for another three-year term. But we felt that for the ministry to grow there, we needed to take a step away in order to let others thrive in their leadership roles.
Mission Network: hat are your current ministries in the States?
Kelly: I am working as a registered nurse and pregnancy care coordinator for Maple City Health Care in Goshen. It's a bilingual facility where all communication is conducted in both Spanish and English. Eric is finishing up his Master of Divinity studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, and is working part-time with Mission Network as recruiter.