Reuniting intertwined spirits in Paraguay
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ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite World Conference) -- Nearly 30 Mennonites living and ministering in indigenous contexts in the United States and Canada are preparing for a “glimpse of heaven.”
These North Americans have accepted the invitation extended by three indigenous Paraguayan conferences to visit their congregations and communities following Mennonite World Conference Assembly 15 in Asunción, Paraguay next July.
Nearly 1,000 indigenous Mennonites from the Paraguayan Chaco are expected to attend Assembly 15 along with the 30 North Americans and 10 representatives from Guatemala, Panama and Peru. Though indigenous people will gather from many nations, there is an underlying wonder at having a common identity and history.
“Our spirits are still intertwined. The spiritual connection was quickly felt,” said Norman Meade of the Metis and Ojibwe Nations and coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee’s Aboriginal Neighbours Program in Manitoba, Canada.
Meade traveled to Paraguay last November with Willis Busenitz, pastor of White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby, Mont., to deepen relationships that began at previous MWC meetings and to make travel arrangements that will strengthen connections among indigenous people.
Meade’s 15-year-old granddaughter, Sara, plans to join the July 14-27 tour. Six other youth and older participants from Oklahoma, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota and western Canada will share their experiences as First Nations people in areas that witnessed significant change through Mennonite immigration.
“I want to learn about the lifestyle of other indigenous people,” Sara Meade said. “I am especially interested in learning about the spirituality and faith of other indigenous youth.”
In looking forward to the larger July gathering in Asunción, Busenitz and Meade evoked images from the multicultural gathering portrayed in the biblical Revelation to John.
“This meeting will bring together indigenous hearts and spirits. We may come from different countries but we share the experience of being indigenous to the land. We are never to be separated in God,” Meade said.
Continuing to draw parallels from the worship scene in the seventh chapter of Revelation, music will play an important role, Busenitz said.
One of the gifts the North American Mennonites will share with their southern brothers and sisters will be indigenous music, some of which is contained in The Cheyenne Spiritual Songbook with 100 original indigenous compositions and 60 hymns translated from English.
Busenitz and Meade encountered different types of church music on their November trip to Paraguay. Enlhet congregations sing a cappella in three- or four-part harmony while Nivacle Mennonites have adopted a Latin style accompanied by guitars, accordions and the Paraguayan harp.
“A cappella harmony is not indigenous to the Enlhet people, neither is Latin-style music indigenous to the Nivacle people. Maybe Native North Americans can give testimony to the way in which God's spirit gave Cheyenne Christians songs in their own music and words,” Busenitz said.
The two North American church leaders also look forward to introducing their tour group to yet another kind of worship experience when they travel across the border to neighboring Argentina. In the Argentine Chaco, Mennonite Mission Network personnel walk alongside indigenous evangelical churches, sharing in Bible translation and distribution and mutual learning.
Busenitz meets regularly with the 10 tour participants from Montana for orientation to better understand what they may experience in Argentina and Paraguay.
Native Mennonite Ministries and MWC asked Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network director for Latin America, to help facilitate communication among the groups on two continents. She expects new understanding to emerge from the relationships that will grow out of the encounter.
“I anticipate that indigenous ways of accomplishing the work of the church, like training leaders, will pass from one group to another and take root,” Shelly said.
Mennonite Mission Network is also the steward of the Stella Devenpeck fund that was established in 2006 to be used for scholarships to provide academic and spiritual training for indigenous people. The decision to contribute toward the indigenous tour through the Devenpeck fund was made by Mission Network representatives in consultation with Native American Ministry and Native Ministry Canada leaders. Tour participants and their congregations will pay for travel expenses not covered by the Devenpeck fund.
On their return to North America, tour participants will share with their home communities what they saw and learned in South America. They plan to do this through reports, pictures and videos.
Contributed by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen