Faith shines amid Central America’s violence, poverty

EMM leaders visit growing Central American churches

Dec 8, 2014 by and

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Churches in Honduras and Guatemala are growing and thriving even in challenging contexts of violence and poverty, Eastern Mennonite Missions leaders observed Sept. 20-27.

EMM President Nelson Okanya holds a model of a ship the first EMM missionaries in Honduras used to travel up and down the Caribbean coast, while standing in front of the first Mennonite church in Honduras, established in Trujillo in 1950. — EMM

At Project MAMA, a community development and education program in Honduras, one of the workers had been attacked by several gang members. Yet as the worker interacted with EMM leaders, she began crying and lamenting that these gang members are now suffering in prison.

“This was very impactful for me,” said EMM President Nelson Okanya. “Talk about subversive! She was extending forgiveness to her enemies and having compassion on them when it would be so easy to not forgive.”

Project MAMA is run by the Honduran Mennonite Church in San Pedro Sula in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee.

In addition to Okanya, the delegation was made up of Brian Martin, EMM board chair; Steve Shank, pioneering coach; and Antonio Ulloa, church revitalization coach.

While traveling in Guatemala City, the delegation visited a church in one of the city’s neighborhoods that is gated because of rampant gang violence.

Visitors are required to leave identity cards with officials at the gate in case they don’t come out alive and need to be identified.

Pastors in Guatemala City told the EMM leaders they feel called to minister in their communities despite the threat of violence.

“While traveling in some of the darkest and most violent places in Central America, we continually found a thriving Mennonite church, shining brightly in the midst of spiritual darkness,” said Martin, who is also the lead pastor at Weaverland Mennonite Church in East Earl, Pa.

“Despite all opposition, the believers gave witness to perseverance and vitality with evangelistic zeal, which was deeply moving and profoundly challenging. I quickly transitioned from pastor to student.”

The group visited several mission partners and met with leaders of the Honduran Mennonite Church, Amor Viviente and Garifuna Mennonite Church in Honduras, and the Guatemala Mennonite Church and K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church in Guatemala.

“We got to see some very vibrant, authentic churches,” Okanya said. “Many of the churches we visited are charismatic, self-owning, self-sustaining and are actively making disciples and mentoring them in their faith.”

Amor Viviente, an Anabaptist denomination based in Honduras, is one of the fastest-growing Anabaptist groups in the country. It has 42 churches in Central America, 25 of which are new church plants in Honduras.

In Guatemala, the EMM leaders visited FUNDAMENO, a social program of the K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church. FUNDAMENO provides access to high-quality, affordable health care without the discrimination the K’ekchi’ face elsewhere because of their indigenous heritage. FUNDA­MENO is considered one of the premier health systems in Guatemala.

Fiscally creative

Throughout the trip the EMM team noted creativity in matters of financial sustainability.

At SEMILLA, an Anabaptist seminary near Guatemala City, they saw a strong training program for pastors and church leaders. Administrators have enhanced the school’s sustainability by offering services to both local and international churches.

SEMILLA also manages Emaus House, a facility with lodging, meals and meeting space for groups of up to 50 people.

The seminary administers CASAS, a program of intensive language and intercultural studies, which attracts North American Mennonite college students, widening the school’s exposure.

“I continue to reflect on how EMM can work with our mission partners to develop long-term sustainable programs right from the beginning,” Okanya said. “As our partners develop and grow in leadership, we want to let them lead, encouraging local leadership and creativity for the future of the church.”

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