As we traveled dusty roads together, Luis Flores and I had much time to talk about current events, program planning and the challenges that we faced in our work together. Flores had left his secure position as a public-school teacher and regional coordinator for a nongovernmental organization in Choluteca to be the Honduran Mennonite director for Mennonite service work in the refugee camps along the Honduran/El Salvadoran border during the Salvadoran civil war in the early 1980s.
Flores, who died recently, was unassuming and patient but clear in how he lived his faith.
The times were critical and challenging not only for Central America in general but for the churches in discerning how they would respond. The Honduran Mennonite Church became heavily involved in working with refugees who had fled El Salvador to save their lives. The church placed numerous members in Mesa Grande, Colomoncagua and other camps to work in construction, develop sanitation systems and oversee maintenance. Their most important contribution may have been their sense of solidarity with a persecuted people.
Many churches followed a different path and bought into the national ideology of seeing these people from across the border as subversives. Flores frequently was questioned by Christians from other faith traditions: “Why do you people work with those subversives?”
I vividly recall his response: “Our spiritual ancestors were once refugees. We believe that God has brought these people to our doors and that we are called to welcome them and respond to their needs. Who knows, the day may come when someone else may need to reach out to us.”
During the turbulent early 1980s, other Central American Anabaptist leaders were exploring their Anabaptist roots and came to the firm conclusion they needed to develop their own leadership training program. They wanted their leaders to be formed in Anabaptist understandings of what it meant to follow Christ in their context.
As a result, SEMILLA Latin American Anabaptist Seminary was founded in 1984. Today SEMILLA has more than 700 students from Central America and beyond, and numerous students from other Christian denominations. In addition to church leadership training programs, its CASAS Spanish language learning program provides a life-changing opportunity for North American students and others interested in learning Spanish.
Many Central American sisters and brothers have endured much conflict, suffering and pain during the last several decades. Civil wars, narcotrafficking and general violence have not quelled their spirits nor their witness. But international relationships and solidarity may be as important as ever.
To strengthen relationships and foment solidarity, a SEMILLA learning tour is planned for Oct. 19-30. In addition to learning about programs and meeting staff, participants will learn about Central American history, culture and religious life.
Participants will meet with SEMILLA student groups and visit Anabaptist sisters and brothers in Guatemala City, Metapán, El Salvador and of the Kek’chi’ Mennonite Church in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.
What would it mean to share stories and faith across borders? What does it mean to be in solidarity with Anabaptist sisters and brothers whose nations’ history and experience has been interwoven with our own and who have often borne the brunt of the consequences? Who knows where such a journey of faith will take us and how God might work unexpectedly in our own ongoing process of conversion. My travels years ago on dusty roads with Luis Flores answered some of these questions for me.
A learning tour is not only an opportunity to take a step of faith across borders but into uncharted personal territory as well. It is an invitation to look more deeply and see more clearly in ways that Jesus calls us to see.
A diverse group of participants from across North America will enrich the learning experience. For more information on the learning tour, contact email@example.com or 574-612-8361.