This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Hispanic group laments losses, charts new course

The Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church) board wants to restructure the organization to better support all Hispanic people throughout Mennonite Church USA.

At a meeting planned for Nov. 17-19 in Dallas, Texas, IMH members will discuss their vision and strategy for the next five years.

“We will be serving and walking with Mennonite Church USA, highlighting what unites us, highlighting the mission of God as a church,” said IMH interim moderator Sandra Montes-Martinez.

Members of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church) will gather Nov. 17-19 in Dallas, Texas, for a meeting to discuss their vision for the next five years. — Sandra Montes-Martinez/IMH
Members of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church) will gather Nov. 17-19 in Dallas, Texas, for a meeting to discuss their vision for the next five years. Pictured here are board members Martha Hernandez, Sandra Montes-Martinez, Madeline Maldonado, Yolanda and Lupe Aguilar. — Sandra Montes-Martinez/IMH

Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s decision in November 2015 to withdraw from MC USA meant significant changes for IMH.

“We lost our moderator and moderator-elect. We lost the Hispanic conference women’s coordinator,” Montes-Martinez said. “Basically, the leadership left with Lancaster.”

Montes-Martinez said about a third of IMH’s congregations belonged to Lancaster Conference. IMH currently has 66 member congregations.

“We are lamenting losing a third of our Hispanic congregations with the exiting of Lancaster Conference,” she said. “We are hurt. We want to respect that time of lament, but we want to look forward to serve the different Hispanic congregations at different levels.”

Representation for all

The proposed restructuring would reorganize IMH to work through the MC USA conference structure instead of by its current nine regions.

“What we see is a lot of disconnection going on in the conference with the Hispanic churches,” Montes-Martinez said. “We understand that sometimes there’s a disconnection between the Hispanic churches and their area conferences because there’s a language barrier, and the pastors are bivocational and can’t attend meetings. . . . We propose to work with each conference; that way we ensure we cover representation of the local congregations.”

The reorganization would also focus on representing all Hispanic people and ministries within MC USA, including those who are not part of a Spanish-speaking congregation.

“We want more of a network to bring in Hispanic people who are part of Anglo churches,” said Yvonne Diaz, IMH representative to the MC USA Executive Board. “We are serving all Latinos within Mennonite Church USA, not just those Latino congregations.”

Montes-Martinez said IMH wants to respect and support existing Hispanic ministries — such as small groups or pastors who minister to Hispanic people in English-speaking congregations — that may not be aware of what IMH has to offer them.

Clarifying vision

In addition to the reorganization, IMH will more clearly define its areas of focus.

“Since the last convention, we’ve gotten to be known as ‘the anti-LGBTQ group,’ ” Diaz said. “That is not what we’re about.”

Montes-Martinez said IMH affirms the MC USA Confession of Faith, and that they “don’t want to keep having that conversation.”

Diaz said IMH has traditionally focused on evangelism, church planting and immigration.

“Within some of our congregations, we have undocumented pastors or we have undocumented people,” she said, referring to people living in the country without legal permission. “Because both pastors and individuals within congregations are undocumented, they cannot travel. When we do have some kind of gathering, we have a limited amount of people who attend, because they’re undocumented.”

Diaz said IMH works with a variety of issues around immigration, from helping people get legal immigration status to promoting immigration reform.

Resources lacking

Another area of need is Spanish-language resources.

“One of the huge things that is missing within Mennonite Church USA is Anabaptist Sunday school material in Spanish,” Diaz said. “There have been some attempts to translate some of the material, but for us, translation is not the same as empowering Latinos to develop their own materials with an Anabaptist slant. . . . We’ve had to go elsewhere, to other denominations and groups, for written material.”

Montes-Martinez said IMH would also emphasize networking Hispanic people with resources from Mennonite schools and agencies.

IMH representatives will vote on the proposed structural changes at their assembly July 3-4 in Orlando, Fla. The time and location were chosen to make it easier for IMH participants to attend the MC USA convention.

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