This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Indigenous believers in Ecuador seek Anabaptist identity

Clever Mashiant and Sofia Gualinga, Shuar indigenous leaders in Ecuador’s Amazon region, asked mission workers Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer, “How can we become Mennonites?”

The question arose after they read Mennonite Mission Network’s booklet, What Is an Anabaptist Christian? The material helped clarify Anabaptist principles they had learned about.

​Clever Mashiant, right, of the Shuar indigenous group in Ecuador, talks with Jerrell Ross Richer of Mennonite Mission Network. — Jane Ross Richer/MMN
​Clever Mashiant, right, of the Shuar indigenous group in Ecuador, talks with Jerrell Ross Richer of Mennonite Mission Network. — Jane Ross Richer/MMN

The Ross Richers, MMN service workers in the Ecua­dorian rain forest, shared their conversation with MMN’s Ecuador Partnership coordinator Peter Wigginton. He brought the interchange to the attention of Kichwa leaders of Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Ecua­dor (ICME, Ecuador Mennonite Christian Church).

This multicultural conference was formed in 2018 by leaders trained in an Ana­baptist theology through Ecuador ministries. ICME, which has a priority for church planting, held a Jan. 11 gathering in Shell/Puyo, Pastaza Province, with Amazonian leaders seeking Mennonite indigenous identity.

“ICME leaders José Manual Guamán and Julian Gua­mán affirmed their desire to walk with brothers and sisters from the Amazonian region in consolidating a strong Mennonite/Anabaptist identity among their leaders,” Wigginton said.

Julian Guamán, highland Kichwa leader, voiced this affirmation during the gathering through the metaphor of a table. He noted that all indigenous oral history, songs, food, dress and ancestral natural medicines symbolize the legs of this table.

The central pillar — symbolizing the indigenous worldview or religion — can be transformed by the message of Jesus Christ. Jesus becomes a new type of pillar supporting the table and its metaphorical legs.

Guamán explained that the principal pillar of the table is internal, and the rest are external.

“Often times, we focus on the external manifestations of culture, but the real work of transformation in Christ is internal,” Jane Ross Richer reflected. “And most of the external parts of the culture don’t need to change and should not be changed in order to follow Christ.”

Julian Guamán’s embrace of Christianity and traditional native culture is key to developing churches that are both Christ-centered and true to indigenous identity.

“I hope to help Julian and other leaders from the Chimborazo highlands learn to know more church leaders in the rain forest region,” Jerrell Ross Richer said. “We all have much to learn about following Christ in ways that are authentic to our own cultural contexts.”

Julian Guamán gave a presentation on the culture and development of the indigenous churches in Chimborazo. He said the seeds planted by early missionaries in the 1950s have grown into 600 indigenous congregations.

“While many of those early missionaries were Mennonite, they did not focus on planting churches with ‘Mennonite’ in their names,” Jerrell Ross Richer said. “It is only recently that the found­ers of the new ICME denomination are recognizing the importance of the Anabaptist theology brought by those first teachers and are claiming their identity as part of the global family of Mennonite churches.”

Given ICME’s priority on church planting, Wigginton and the Ross Richers felt it was pivotal to connect the Amazonian leaders with key ICME leaders.

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