EMM President Nelson Okanya and EMM Board Chair Brian Martin share a laugh together while listening to a translation of an Amor Viviente worship service. Photo by Javier Soler.
Churches in Honduras and Guatemala recently impressed visitors from Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) as growing and thriving even though they minister in challenging contexts of violence and poverty. EMM leaders connected with Central American church leaders Sept. 20-27, 2014.
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.
While traveling in Guatemala City, the EMM delegation visited a church in one of the city’s neighborhoods that is gated in because of rampant gang violence. Visitors are required to leave their identity cards with officials at the gate in case they don’t come out alive and would need to be identified.
Pastors in Guatemala City told EMM leaders that they feel called to minister in their communities despite the threat of violence.
“While traveling in some 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 EMM Board Chair Brian Martin.
“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!” Martin is also lead pastor at Weaverland Mennonite Church in East Earl, Pa.
The EMM delegation, made up of President Nelson Okanya, Board Chair Brian Martin, Pioneering Coach Steve Shank, and Church Revitalization Coach Antonio Ulloa, visited several mission partners. They 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!” said Okanya. “Many of the churches we visited are charismatic, self-owning, self-sustaining, and are actively making disciples and mentoring them in their faith.”
One of the partners visited, Amor Viviente, is an Anabaptist denomination based in Honduras. One of the fastest growing Anabaptist groups in the country, Amor Viviente has 42 churches within 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 that is involved in healthcare and education. Many K’ekchi’ face discrimination in the health system because of their indigenous heritage, but FUNDAMENO has provided access to quality, affordable healthcare without discrimination. Funds from Europe supplement the funds the church has available, and FUNDAMENO has grown to be considered one of the premier health systems in Guatemala.
Throughout the trip the EMM team noted creativity in matters of financial sustainability. When they visited SEMILLA, an Anabaptist seminary near Guatemala City, they saw a strong training program for pastors and church leaders. In addition, local administrators have devised a system of offering services to both local and international churches, enhancing the school’s sustainability.
SEMILLA also manages Emaus House, a facility that provides lodging, meals, and meeting space for groups of up to 50 people who are traveling in the area. The seminary also administers CASAS, a program of intensive language study and intercultural studies, which attracts students from North American Mennonite colleges, creating exposure to a larger audience than only local church leaders.
“I continue to reflect on how EMM can work with our mission partners to develop long-term sustainable programs right from the beginning,” said Okanya. “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.”