Trinidad and Tobago church marks 40th anniversary

Virginia mission work led to five congregations on Caribbean islands

Nov 24, 2014 by and

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The Mennonite Church of Trinidad and Tobago marked its 40th anniversary Oct. 16-19 with celebrations at four of its five congregations.

People gather for one of the four events celebrating the Mennonite Church of Trinidad and Tobago’s 40th anniversary Oct. 16-19. — Loren Horst

People gather for one of the four events celebrating the Mennonite Church of Trinidad and Tobago’s 40th anniversary Oct. 16-19. — Loren Horst

The celebration was a time for Loren Horst to look back over MCTT’s 40-year history and realize how far it has come.

“This is amazing what God has been doing among the people on the small island of Trinidad, where literally hundreds of people have been influenced in the way of Jesus because of Mennonites,” Horst said.

He and his wife, Earlene, were Virginia Mennonite Missions workers in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1980s.

He said the event became a homecoming of all the people who have passed through or been influenced by the church. More than 300 people attended, including 26 from the U.S.

MCTT grew out of work by VMM, which commissioned a medical missionary and his family to serve on the twin Caribbean islands in 1971.

MCTT’s five congregations had 280 members in 2012.

God’s mighty acts

Events started with a service at Charlieville Mennonite Church that also celebrated the congregation’s 30th anniversary.

Deolal Ramdial, MCTT president, spoke as balloons and bubbles filled the sanctuary, symbolizing that God is in control of the church.

“We celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of God’s mighty acts and wonderful works in the ministry of MCTT for 40 years,” Ramdial said. “We celebrate this milestone because we want to preserve this history by making it known to all generations.”

Youth planned and led Friday evening’s event, held at Sangre Grande Mennonite Church. It included music, drama, sermons and worship.

Deolal Ramdial, left, president of the Mennonite Church of Trinidad and Tobago, presents a plaque to Aaron Kauffman, president of Virginia Mennonite Missions. — Loren Horst

Deolal Ramdial, left, president of the Mennonite Church of Trinidad and Tobago, presents a plaque to Aaron Kauffman, president of Virginia Mennonite Missions. — Loren Horst

Saturday was almost like a festival, according to Aaron Kauffman, president of Virginia Mennonite Missions, who attended the event with his wife and their four children.

“We had a blast,” he said.

The host church, Diego Martin Mennonite Church, cleared the pews out of the sanctuary. Churches and organizations, including VMM, had booths with historical information as well as balloons, games, face painting and food. The day included a game of Jeopardy!, a bouncy house, a recipe contest and presentations.

The weekend culminated with a Sunday morning worship and meal at Esperanza Mennonite Church. The service was led by Pastor Ramesh Jaimani.

The fifth congregation, Cha­guanas Mennonite Church, shares space with other ministries and wasn’t able to host an event but was represented at each.

Local leadership

VMM’s work in Trin­idad and Tobago began in 1969 after the president, Lloyd Weaver, and overseas secretary, Roy Kaiser, visited the islands and recognized a medical need.

VMM commissioned Richard Keeler, a doctor, and his wife, Martha. Rich­ard Keeler was invited by the government to head efforts to bring Hansen’s disease (leprosy) under control.

“Hansen’s disease is no longer a disease that really is feared by anyone there,” Horst said “That had to be an early success [of MCTT].”

In 1971, Paul and Evelyn Kratz became missionaries there, helping begin a Bible radio program. They started gathering for church with the Keelers and others began to join them. The first official Mennonite church service was in 1974.

Paul Kratz and Richard Keeler recorded video messages for the anniversary, played during the Sunday worship service.

Kauffman said the church and VMM’s relationship has moved from missionary to partners in mission. The church is led locally, and missionaries are no longer sent.

“I’m reminded that we need to be in it for the long haul even as we try not to stay at the center of things,” he said.

Horst and Kauffman both reported the joy of seeing how successfully MCTT has transitioned to local leadership.

“God is moving our church forward into local leadership,” Ramdial said. “I must emphasize how thankful we are to God for this work.”

That’s been an effort of VMM and locals from the beginning, Horst said.

“People there from the beginning were a part of leadership and in bringing all of this about,” Horst said. “This was as much an anniversary of their churches as it was a recognition of VMM.”

And it was fun, he said.

“Of course, you can’t go there without enjoying the beauty of the island, the warmth of the people and enjoying the delicious food.”


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