By Gerald Hildebrand, Pastor – McIvor Avenue M.B. Church, Winnipeg
The regional and national Colombian M.B. Church leaders gathered at the Jerusalem M.B. Church in Istmina, Chocó at the the time that our Canadian contingent visited Chocó. Istmina is the location of the oldest Mennonite Brethren church in Colombia, founded in 1946.
There appears to be a renewed commitment of the urban church leaders to walk more closely with the oft-forgotten Chocoan Christians. One Cali pastor commented that it was her personal desire to vitalize the relationship and engagement with our brothers and sisters.
Why is this so important?
It is evident that the Chocoan people feel marginalized – geographically, politically, socially, economically and religiously. They have experienced the terror of displacement, the environmental destruction of their lands and rivers through abusive resource extraction practices, the near absence of social services, the indignity of poverty and isolation from Christian sisters and brothers.
Yet, their churches are filled with hopeful, motivated people who love God and each other. Although most Chocoans have never have traveled outside of their immediate community, they long for a vital connection with the global church.
Some of the first missionaries to Colombia came from Saskatchewan Canada, yet the Chocoan churches have not experienced a visit from Canadian M.B. church leaders in some 20 years, even years before the last expatriate M.B. missionaries left Cali in 1998.
They lament this loss of relationship. We were humbled by the warm welcome we received and the keen interest they expressed in our lives.
It was late afternoon when I, together with two other team members, naively wandered down Istmina’s Main Street. Only a half block from our hotel, we set out to view the merchandise from wide assortment of small shops that crowded both sides of the narrow street.
Apparently we wandered too far, crossing the invisible line into territory that was unsafe for tall, pale foreigners. We had passed the first foot bridge and entered into a sector where the para-militaries were known to live.
Unaware to us, several M.B. Church members spotted us and they sounded the alert through their Christian network. The appearance of our camera only heightened their discomfort. In their concern for our safety and well-being, they contacted a Jerusalem M.B. Church member, who works in the neighbourhood. He quickly located us and, without alarm, casually escorted us back into safer territory.
We are often naively unaware of the danger we may be in when we wander in isolation from relationships with our global sisters and brothers. They desire relationship with us, but in our independence we are ignorant of the protective presence they afford. Suffering people are often more aware of the need for connection with the global community of believers.
We also need our global sisters and brothers to help us understand what it means to be devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We can’t do this alone. We are part of their Christian family, as they are of ours.