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Building a bridge across borders

1.11. 2016 Written By: Neal Anderson

Photo: After enjoying tamales together, members of the Buen Pastor congregation and Mountain States Mennonite Conference delegation began exchanging songs. Sara Delgado Pineda, coordinator of social activities, and Georgina Tellez Gayosso, co-treasurer, share humorous lyrics with Deb Schaffer of MSMC. Photo provided by Linda Shelly. 

Eight members of the Mountain States Mennonite Conference traveled to Mexico City in late autumn to begin building bonds between MSMC and the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México, better known as CIEAMM.

Earlier this year, Fernando Perez Ventura and Rebeca G. Torres were part of a group of CIEAMM leaders who had initiated contact with the North American conferences in Mennonite Church USA with a letter. They later traveled to the United States and visited Colorado, New Mexico and the Mennonite World Conference in Pennsylvania. Out of their trip, and with the backing of their colleagues and expressed interest from MSMC, came the proposal and an invitation to Colorado and New Mexico Mennonites to initiate a fraternal relationship and visit several churches in Mexico City.

Nick and Ronda King of Carlsbad (New Mexico) Mennonite Church led the group during the 10-day trip, and drew on half a decade representing Mennonite Central Committee U.S. as country representatives in the capital city to reestablish connections with the congregations of CIEAMM and forge new relationships.

Trip participants included Deb Schaffer of First Mennonite of Denver; Nelda Thelin of Emmanuel

Evelyn, Diana and Fernanda Olmos with Neal Anderson and Deb Schaffer. Photo provided by Linda Shelly.

Evelyn, Diana and Fernanda Olmos with Neal Anderson and Deb Schaffer. Photo provided by Linda Shelly.

Mennonite Church, La Junta, Colo. (Thelin also serves on the MSMC leadership board); Anna and Ridley Gardner of Carlsbad; and Neal Anderson and Ken Gingerich of Albuquerque Mennonite Church. Mennonite Mission Network’s Linda Shelly, who heads up the organization’s Latin America programs, was on hand to offer guidance and support.

Learning about culture, history and food
Exploring the region in and around the federal district included visits to Teotihuacan (site of two pre-Aztec pyramids), the artistic and historic barrio of Coyoacan, El Palacio Nacional and its famed murals by Diego Rivera, and the ruins of the Templo Mayor and its museum near the Zocalo, the historic plaza of the capital. Day of the Dead customs also gave the delegation a taste of the colorful and multi-layered traditions celebrated there.

The warm hospitality extended by the Anabaptist congregations in Mexico City included many fellowship meals at the churches, as well as a home concert.

On the move
Based out of a Quaker-run hostel, the MSMC group navigated the city by metro, bus, train and foot to visit the many churches in the vast metropolitan area for worship and fellowship on two Sundays and during the week.

Adonai and Elizabeth learning violin with Luciana Maya. Photo provided by Linda Shelly.

Adonai and Elizabeth learning violin with Luciana Maya. Photo provided by Linda Shelly.

The experiences proved invaluable to learning about CIEAMM’s commitment to Anabaptism in an urban context. Many of the congregations’ services are led by younger people and female leaders, feature worship with contemporary music, and are held in working-class neighborhoods. Due to the nation’s economic realities, laws and history, the pastoral leaders also hold several jobs–nevertheless, they dedicate a large amount of their time to guiding their congregations. Efforts by the churches include offering day care and early childhood education, entrepreneurial endeavors and theological training and experience to their younger members.

Visits to the offices of Serapaz, a human rights organization, and Mennonite Central Committee deepened MSMC tour participants’ understanding of the region’s many socioeconomic issues, including immigration and human rights violations.

A daylong visit to Toluca, a city outside of Mexico City, highlighted how the middle-class members of a fellowship there are committed to helping the young residents of a lower-income area with music instruction, Bible lessons and art activities. This outreach is offered at a neighborhood center which also serves as their house of worship. The working members of the community there are also learning new ways to do their brick-making work with more sustainable techniques.

Discussion of how the two conferences will build an equal partnership included two meetings between

Mexican Mennonites and members of the Mountain States delegation enjoy a pot luck and time of fellowship and celebration together after worship with the Espartaco congregation in Mexico City at the end of a 10 day visit. Photo provided by Linda Shelly.

Mexican Mennonites and members of the Mountain States delegation enjoy a pot luck and time of fellowship and celebration together after worship with the Espartaco congregation in Mexico City at the end of a 10 day visit. Photo provided by Linda Shelly.

the North American delegation and the Mexico City church leaders at the beginning and end of the visit. Throughout the visit, the MSMC delegation thoughtfully reflected on how to best approach to cultivate the possibilities and maintain a spirit of equality and respect.

Future projects being considered include developing youth exchange visits, attending the annual CIEAMM retreat in September, and sponsoring Mexican pastors for service in MSMC congregations.

“It was truly an eye-opening and fantastic experience,” said Gingerich. “We look forward to seeing how our relationship (between CIEAMM and MSMC) can evolve and flourish.”

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