NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — Mennonite Mission Network partners in Ecuador and Peru are transforming financial aid into the "loaves and fishes" of groceries and rent assistance for their members suffering from impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of $4,000 is empowering Mennonite churches in Iquitos, Peru, and the Quito Mennonite Church in Ecuador to care for some of the "multitudes" who earn a living day-to-day and now must stay home. On Mar. 24, Mission Network's Executive Cabinet earmarked a total of $20,000 in emergency aid to help its global partners. The first requests came from Latin America, and as needs are identified, the mission agency will send aid to other regions as well.
Of the aid sent to Latin America, Mennonite churches in Iquitos received $1,900, said Linda Shelly, director for Latin America. The other $2,100 was sent to Quito Mennonite Church in Ecuador. Church leaders from Quito and Iquitos have sent messages of gratitude to Mission Network for the aid reaching those struck by lack of work, food, and rent money.
"We send our deep gratitude for this permanent solidarity with our church and for having your ears and hearts open before the [voices] of so many people who are suffering most from this humanitarian crisis," wrote Quito church leaders Patricia Miranda and Alexandra Meneses. "We believe that when as a church we show the love of God in concrete gestures, we are being visible signs of hope, justice, comfort, compassion, and social transformation, which are precisely the values that Jesus, whom we follow, taught us."
Peter Wigginton and his spouse, Delicia Bravo, Ecuador partnership coordinators for Mission Network, recently reported to Shelly that relief aid was needed for refugees and Ecuadorian families who attend Quito Mennonite Church.
"There are many people in the Quito church that live day-to-day or work on the streets, and now they can't," Wigginton wrote. "So we are trying to think of creative ways to help them — especially families with kids who need food."
To date, the Quito Mennonite Church has helped 18 families. The pastoral team suggested planning $70 for rent and $50 for food for a month. That would be a total of $120 per family.
Alba Silva (left) from Quito Mennonite Church reaches out to share eggs with Colombians who came to Ecuador as refugees and became part of the church family. Other food shared includes rice, lentils, milk powder, quick oats, oil, chicken, sardines, and corn meal. Photo by Loren Hostetter.
Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer serve with Mission Network in Ecuador in both the Amazon rain forest and another province, where they are now. They wrote: "We made our first delivery of relief food to Jaimi and Maria's family. This is the large, extended family that lives near the road to Archidona. … Jane and I drove up to their house yesterday morning with two boxes of food. … We simply unloaded the food, waved goodbye, and drove away. We left a note on one of the boxes explaining that the food was a gift from Mennonite Mission Network to help them get through the crisis."
Pastor David Moreno is managing the aid effort in Iquitos, where he said many people are without food in their churches and ministries in the quarantined city. He asked for about $29 per family for 65 families. He said that more widespread shortages are expected in the city, which is only accessible by plane or by boat. A group from the church purchased food in bulk and delivered it this week to about 60 families.
Hearts remain abroad even as workers return home
Mission Network's international partners and long-term workers continue to minister in Latin America, while workers in Colombia and Guatemala with terms ending this summer returned home early due to COVID-19 realities when options became available Mar. 23.
Mark and DeeDee Landes, who served in La Mesa, Colombia, returned home to Hesston, Kansas. Sophie Miller, who served in the CASAS program of SEMILLA Latin American Anabaptist Seminary in Guatemala City, Guatemala, returned home to Goshen, Indiana. Loren and Rachel Johns, who served as host/hostess and professor at SEMILLA, returned home to Stuart, Florida.
The Landes couple with their three children came home two months ahead of their planned return at the end of May. Mark Landes shared some reflections regarding how the shuttering of their La Mesa community, ministry and church fueled their agonizing decision.
"In our heads, this was the right decision for our family, and we don't regret that," he wrote. "Our hearts, however, are still very much in La Mesa, Colombia. We had one full day to pack and arrange for our abrupt departure, so our goodbyes were limited. We didn't get to do any of our 'lasts' before leaving.
"It's clear we are hurting. Hurting because we were not ready to leave Colombia, and hurting for the people, places, and vulnerable situations we left behind as we returned. … We know so many don't have options like this, so we are also grateful that this kind of emergency return trip was even possible."
Miller, who was away from her placement when movement was suddenly curtailed in Guatemala, wrote in a recent e-mail: "… I left without my luggage, without saying goodbye to my host family, and within 48 hours of the decision being made. Hectic and chaos are two words that describe what I felt in those hours. But going forward to the next 48 hours, peace is abundant. I'm surrounded by familiarity instead of a million questions. Those questions still remain, but the knowledge of time and space to process them give me peace."
Living beyond Lent to Easter
Other international service workers who are remaining in Latin America are periodically updating reports of what life is like for them in our pandemic-shaped world. For example, Bekah York, who serves at the Colombia Anabaptist Seminary, shared COVID-19 reflections in her most recent newsletter.
"Even if we didn't individually give something up for Lent this year, I think it is safe to say that we are truly experiencing loss, darkness, grief and even fear, much like the disciples in John 20:19," she wrote. "Christ's passion starts with fear, trembling and trepidation, but the story does not stop there. The resurrection of our Lord and Savior occurs, and Jesus ushers in God's rightful reign over all of creation. … I am trying to strike a balance between living in the darkness of this time and holding onto gospel hope and truth. COVID-19 is not the end, and this, too, shall pass."