Excitement for the Anabaptist message is increasing in Venezuela, and the Mennonite seminary there is helping to teach people about Mennonite beliefs and values.
Support from the Seminario Biblico Menonita de Colombia (Colombia Mennonite Bible Seminary) and Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (Colombia Mennonite Church) have been important for the Venezuelan seminary. The Colombians have shared course materials and finances and have gone to Venezuela to help teach courses.
The Colombia Mennonite Church would like to increase and formalize its partnership with the Venezuelan churches. It has invited its partners from the Ecuador Partnership — Mennonite Church USA’s Central Plains Conference and Mennonite Mission Network — to join in this ministry.
This assistance to neighbors is a natural extension of the Colombian seminary’s purpose, said Zaraí Gonzalía, the seminary’s executive administrator.
The seminary’s “reason for existence is to accompany ministries,” she said.
In May, Gonzalía and Martha Lucía Gómez helped facilitate the first Sister Care workshop for women in Venezuela. Both women are co-coordinators of the Latin American Women Theologians Movement for the Andean region. MMN provided some funds for the workshop.
Originally, three Venezuelan women planned to go to a training workshop in Colombia, where they would learn how to facilitate a Sister Care workshop.
“Since only one woman was able to come, we thought, ‘Why not go there?’ ” Gonzalía said. “We wanted to spread the workshop and present the women’s movement to them.”
Venezuela and Colombia were once part of one nation created by Spain in the 16th century. For almost 300 years, the countries that are now Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela — along with parts of Brazil, Guyana and Peru — were all one territory that first was a kingdom and by the 1800s a country.
Context of polarization
Erwin Mirabal, a leader of the growing Mennonite churches in Venezuela, said Mennonites in Venezuela and Colombia have worked together since the 1980s.
Mirabal became committed to Anabaptist theology through a course he took as a youth. John Driver, a former MMN worker, presented the course in Colombia and invited Mennonites from Venezuela also. Now, Mirabal teaches some courses and encourages congregations to participate in them.
“In the Venezuelan context of polarization and violence, where every group tries to manipulate us with their slogans of ‘Revolution and Justice’ on one hand, and ‘Democracy and Liberty’ on the other, the message of the cross, of reconciliation with enemies and following Jesus should be proclaimed with all of our strength,” he said.
The connection between the Venezuelan churches and the Colombian churches didn’t stay strong, though, Mirabal said. In part this was because many leaders of the Anabaptist movement in Venezuela were Pentecostal and Assembly of God. They were still figuring out their relationship with Anabaptists.
Since the Colombian churches had continued to strengthen their ministries, including a mission committee and the seminary, they were prepared to bring their resources and classes to Venezuelan churches.
Mirabal explained that Alix Lozano, the coordinator of the Colombian seminary at the time, helped establish a seminary in 2001 on Isla Margarita, an island off the coast of Venezuela where these churches started. Classes stopped in 2004, but restarted in 2009, and there are now 82 students taking classes.
There are satellites in Maracay and Caracas, where new Mennonite congregations have developed.
Ways to support
As energy for Anabaptist theological education increases in Venezuela, the Colombian church and mission committee look for more ways to support their neighbors.
After the March 2013 Ecuador Partnership meeting, the partners traveled to Venezuela. These meetings led to the invitation from the Colombian and Venezuelan churches for MMN and Central Plains Conference to also partner in Venezuela.
“Beginning partnership is a journey,” wrote Don Kempf in a document stating the conference’s intent to accept the invitation. Kempf coordinates the Central Plains Conference Ecuador Partners in Mission. “We don’t know now exactly what it will look like. What we do know is that the Holy Spirit is working in exciting ways in Venezuela.”