Showalter: Suffer and send: a Garifuna movement

Apr 23, 2018 by

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No one knows for sure how the Garifuna got here. Probably they emerged from a shipwrecked slave ship on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in the 1600s. Or maybe they traveled from Africa as early as the 1300s. On St. Vincent they intermarried with native Americans.

Richard Showalter


They were never enslaved in the New World. They fought off successive waves of European invaders until the British finally succeeded in conquering and deporting them in 1797. They put them on small boats, and the Garifuna drifted westward until they ended up on the Central American coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.

Some 300,000 Garifuna live today in Central America, but about 100,000 have emigrated to the United States.

About 70 years ago Mennonite missionaries planted a church among them in Honduras. In 1986, Celso Jaime opened the first Garifuna Mennonite congregation in New York City. Twenty years later, in 2006, that congregation sent Omar Guzman to plant a second church in the city — Manhattan Garifuna.

So far so good. But then comes the eye-opener. In the past 11 years, these Garifuna Mennonites have started 11 new churches — in Brooklyn, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles and Honduras — and now they’re headed to Spain, France and back to Africa. It appears they’re just getting started.

They are convinced Anabaptists, and they’re planting new churches in a simple, straight-forward way that catches the soul of traditional Mennonite witness.

New church planters are nurtured and trained inside the mother churches. They select young couples carefully for this work, then walk with them in all aspects of church leadership.

“We mentor them in the home congregation for six months to two years until they’re ready to go,” Guzman said. “This is intentional discipleship. These trainees are accountable to the pastor or pastors. We pray together, reach out together, and the trainee learns by doing.

“If the pastor is not preparing other leaders in this way, the movement of church planting will die when the pastor retires, and the congregation will go into maintenance mode.”

Then they send them out. Since the church planters will be bivocational, they look for work as soon as they move to their new place. The sending church pays their rent for the first six months and helps them in other ways as they can.

“We do not stop the movement for lack of funds,” Guzman said. “We understand that if we wait for all the money we need for the work, we will never send or go. But if we do, the blessing will follow, including whatever jobs and funds are needed.”

They pray and fast fervently. Every Sunday evening a band of intercessors prays at Manhattan Garifuna.

“We have three months of fasting each year,” said Guzman, “and a special time of prayer and fasting every month.”

Leaders from the mother churches visit the new church planters regularly.

“As senders, we travel continuously to visit and help these families, to define the strategy, to be well connected with them and to bring reports back,” Guzman said. “We do not abandon them until the new church has strength to become a mother church itself. This takes two to five years.”

Manhattan Garifuna sent out its first church planters when it had only 30 members, including children and young people, and scarcely any funds for sending.

“We’re still living on the edge,” Guzman said, “but we keep going, and God provides. We suffer and send.
“Today at Manhattan Garifuna, we have a seating capacity of 80 but a congregation of 120. The more we send, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more we have to send.”

Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.

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