1970s church planting builds flourishing congregations today

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ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Two hundred feet from Tyler Doerksen’s host home is a small church whose doors are open to people of all ages and backgrounds. Since its planting, Emaús Mennonite Church, located in Mariano Roque Alonzo, Paraguay, has grown into a vibrant congregation with a flourishing ministry. The congregation hosts weekly worship services where all are welcome, offers programs for people of all ages in local plazas, and sponsors a young adult event each Saturday and Sunday night that includes soccer, volleyball and space for hanging out. Sunday’s gathering also includes a worship service.

The Emaús congregation was formed in the 1980s as a result of church planting efforts that included María and Secundino Molinas—Doerksen’s host parents for his year in Paraguay.

Doerksen, a Radical Journey participant from Bradshaw Mountain Christian Assembly in Prescott Valley, Ariz., and a 2008 graduate of Bethel College in Newton, Kan., attends young adult nights at the church, and, with church groups, teaches English to people in hopes that they will volunteer at Mennonite World Conference assembly in July 2009. Being able to speak English is also in high demand and a valuable skill to have.

A new philosophy of service

Throughout the Radical Journey program, participants like Tyler Doerksen are mentored by host families, like the Molinases, and partner with a local congregation in ministry. This relationship between local congregations and service participants illustrates well the philosophy of Mennonite Mission Network Christian service programs. In November, Christian service staff members met together to affirm a new statement of program philosophy that emphasizes that importance of joining with local missional Christian faith communities to create partnerships that are mutually beneficial. “We wanted to make this statement of what we’re really about. We want to partner with congregations who are actively involved in ministry in their communities and we want to find ways to partner with them and work alongside them and helping to find ways to carry out the ministries that they’ve committed themselves to,” said Del Hershberger, Mission Network director of Christian service.

Mennonite Mission Network philosophy of Christian service

Christian service programs join with local missional Christian faith communities creating mutually beneficial relationships.

  • Participants and the local community are expected to offer each other gifts of service and to receive gifts of insight and perspective as a mutual benefit. As Christian servants and learners, we work together to build bridges with people from different socio-economic, ethnic, faith and other backgrounds.
  • We commit to discovering how God is already at work by creating space to explore how one’s interests and gifts point to a “calling” from God in our lives.
  • We commit to holistic ministry in the lives of the participants and the community, where God’s shalom attends to social, physical and spiritual wholeness.
  • We commit to integrating these experiences to live as lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.

In Radical Journey, a Mennonite Mission Network program, young adults spend a year in teams focusing on cross cultural learning, service and formation. Teams spend 10 months serving alongside local churches in a variety of international locations, including Paraguay.

On a trip with the Molinas family to visit Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and to drop off a fellow Radical Journey participant, Doerksen learned from his host sister, Diana, that her parents had a hand in planting not only the Emmaus congregation, but churches in other regions as well.

“This realization helped form my perception of my host parents. Now I knew a larger part of their history and who they were and how they got involved with these churches,” said Doerksen.

In the 1970s, both María and Secundino were studying at Centro Evangélica Menonita de Teología Asunción (Asunción Evangelical Mennonite Center of Theology), a Mennonite seminary, when they were approached by the seminary director about participating in a church planting team.

With another pastor, the Molinases traveled to a number of cities throughout the country. In each city, they would rent a house with a large patio for community worship and to show a film about Jesus’ life. Time in each city began with praying and fasting. Then, they visited community members door-to-door, passing out slips and inviting them to attend services each night for two weeks. The team would spend anywhere from six months to two years in each location, depending on how long congregations needed direct support. During their time there, the Molinases would invite community members to follow Christ and would nurture new believers as they grew in their faith.

In the 1970s, the Molinases answered a call to serve. They talked about Jesus, and the church in Paraguay grew.

“We have seen the formation of new disciples and we have seen the Mennonite Church as a sort of catalysts for other gatherings in congregations in Paraguay as far as conferences and events. The Mennonite congregation is always involved in joint denominational church activities and as a mediator between others,” said María Molinas.

Today, Secundino Molinas is a pastor at the Emaús church and María Molinas is a lay leader who helps with many congregational ministries. According to Doerksen, the Molinas household is always busy.

“My host family is involved with lots of personal care. Not a day goes by without a person coming to talk to them, to ask advice or to work out a problem,” says Doerksen. “The house also serves as a hangout point for everybody.”

The family has welcomed Doerksen and helped him engage with ministries at Emaús. He considers himself a regular member of the congregation and attends worship on Sundays, young adult fellowships, and social activities with church groups.

“The church connection with Emaús has been something stable in a year of unfamiliarity,” said Doerksen. “I’m impressed with the church’s stability and its outreach in the local community.”

Other members of the Radical Journey team in Paraguay are Scott Bergen of Sterling Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Craig and Krista Mast of East Goshen (Ind.) Mennonite Church, and Rebecca Willms of Niagara United Mennonite Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Dorothea Toews of Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg, was part of the team for part of the year. Mennonite Church Canada Witness is a partner agency for the Paraguay team.

Contributed by Hannah Heinzekehr

[Mennonite Mission Network]