Today we heard stories from the Church in four different continents seeking to be faithful in working for peace and serving the needs around them. We also offered prayers in different languages represented in these continents.
This morning we are going to tell some stories of the Church and different ministries in four different continents around the world, Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. There will be two stories from each continent, followed by a prayer for that continent in English and also in a native language of that part of the world.
Africa (Pastor Tig)
First we will travel to the continent of Africa.
I met Peter and Christy at the Mennonite Convention in Cincinnati this past July. I mentioned them briefly when I reported from my experience at the convention and a workshop that they presented at.
Peter and Christy served in East Africa with their children for five years, where Peter worked at engaging in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and Christy worked as a maternity nurse.
Their work fits in with what we talked about last week regarding relating to Muslims; I think they are even involved with the PCCI that we learned about in the video.
Peter and Christy serve in Paris, France, jointly appointed with EMM and Mennonite Mission Network. They are preparing to work in French-speaking Africa, probably Benin or Chad, and are currently scholars-in-residence at the Paris Mennonite Center.
Peter is also a member at large of the Christian-Muslim Relations Team, encouraging churches and individuals through teaching, preaching, writing, and example, to build meaningful relationships with Muslims.
Now to the country of Nigeria. The Nigerian Anabaptist Peace Center is a place where people who have experienced trauma and loss as a result of religious violence can find help, health, and hope. It was founded by Nehemiah Chigoji, a Nigerian who is currently the pastor of a Mennonite Church in Southern California.
I also ran into Nemi at the convention, and rekindled a friendship that we had when I was pastor of a church in Arizona and we were part of the same area conference.
The NAPC exists to promote healing and reconciliation, and to bring encouragement and guidance to those affected by violence. They do this by:
Training young leaders in the Anabaptist perspective which leads to planting Anabaptist Peace Churches that emphasize the importance of becoming peacemakers.
Discipling young adults through sports as a means of teaching conflict resolution and bridge-building.
Serving God by serving others, including supporting widows and orphans of pastors who have been killed for their beliefs. Counseling, farming, food.
Show video: Peacemaking in Africa with Muslims and Christians 18:15-20:30 from Mennonite Church USA convention, Cincinnati, OH July 6-10, 2021.
Prayer for Africa: Quadri (Yoruba) Nyambura (Kenya)
God of peace, we pray for Peter and Christy as they learn French in Paris and as they prepare to go to West Africa next year to build bridges of friendship and understanding with Muslims, and also provide health care to pregnant women and new mothers and their children.
We also pray for the Anabaptist Peace Center and the people they are serving in Nigeria. God, we ask that you protect people from violence, that you provide healing and hope to the widows and orphans, and that you prepare the youth to live as peacemakers in their communities. AMEN.
Now we move to the continent of Asia. Today our stories will come from the countries of Myanmar and Indonesia.
In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, there was a military coup in February that displaced a democratically elected government. There were peaceful protests and general strikes, but the military began using live ammunition on the peaceful protesters.
More than 800 protesters have been killed by the military, including dozens of children. More than 5,800 more have been detained, with reports of torture being used on some. Both Christians and Rohingya Muslims have been targeted.
People continue to be harassed and some killed by military forces, and more people are being displaced. Houses have been raided and property has been destroyed. Many people have abandoned their villages, and are fleeing to the jungle where they are trying to survive under harsh conditions.
The violence and fear come on top of the pandemic, which has shut down many workplaces. There is not enough medical care to meet the needs of those who suffer from COVID-19.
Indonesia is a multireligious country which recognizes six religions officially. The largest is Islam with about 85% of the population. About 10% of the population is Christian. There are over 100,000 Mennonites and other Anabaptist Christians in Indonesia.
In 2022, Indonesia will host the Mennonite World Conference gathering. It will be held in the Injil Kerajaan, which in English means Holy Stadium. This stadium is already the location where a large Mennonite church meets.
And just recently, the Holy Stadium building has been converted into a large COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The Holy Stadium Mennonite Church is coordinating with the local government to vaccinate up to 8,000 people per day in a country where COVID-19 cases have been rising.
The vaccines are provided free from the government but the Holy Stadium church covers its facility costs, worker wages and provides lunches and snacks to staff and volunteers.
Timotius Tanutama is one of the founding pastors of the Holy Stadium church. As thousands of people pass through the church each day to be vaccinated he has said, “We accept them, we love them, and we try to minister to them.”
Prayer for Asia: (Hija Yu, Korean):
God, we pray for Christians and Rohingya Muslims who are being persecuted in Myanmar by a violent and unjust government. Protect these groups from harm, provide for their needs, bring peace and justice to Myanmar.
God we are grateful to see the Indonesian government and the Mennonite church working together to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the people of Indonesia. Make it possible for them to have all the supply of vaccines that they need, and remove any barriers that people have so they can get vaccinated. Amen.
Song: Ososo Come Now O Prince of Peace #391 VT
Now we move to Europe where we will hear stories from Ukraine and Germany,
The country of Ukraine contains a variety of Christian groups- the largest are Orthodox, followed by Greek Catholic, and then there are evangelical and several other smaller Christian churches.
Ukraine is facing many challenges as a country. The Russian government has staked a claim on Crimea, which is officially part of Ukraine. There are about 100,000 Russian troops stationed on the border with Ukraine. In regions that are being influenced by Russia, some protestant churches are being closed down.
Like many countries, Ukraine has experienced corruption in its government. Political parties have actually started recruiting in churches because they see committed Christians as people that can be trusted. As a result, many Christians, particularly from evangelical churches, have been elected to government positions.
Some evangelical leaders have been organizing yearly events that have led to the the formation of what’s known as the Conservative Movement. The movement is not directly involved with politics, but is working to introduce people to the teachings of Jesus, and encourage the disciplines of prayer and fasting so that people will experience spiritual transformation in their lives.
And though the Conservative Movement is an evangelical initiative, the vision is to expand it to include Orthodox and Catholic Christians as well.
The other European country that we want to focus on today is Germany. There is a group of independent churches in Germany who have connected with Mennonite World Conference, and their conference is called Bund evangelischer Freikirchen (Taufgesinnte Gemeinden),
This conference is made up of about 50 churches with a total of 12,000 members. It’s goal is to build strong ties between the congregations to do God’s Kingdom work in Germany.
Currently the Bund evangelischer Freikirchen is working hard to respond to the people and communities who were devasted by the recent flooding in western Germany. Many people lost their homes, some died in the floods and there are over 100 people who were still unaccounted for in the aftermath of the flooding.
The church conference is sending pastors and church volunteers to the area affected by the flooding to respond to the needs. They have set up camps for the children of flood victims, and also set up safe places for families to come together to support each other and work to have their needs taken care of.
Prayer for Europe: Luda Gerisimova (Russian)
God, we thank you for Christians in Ukraine, and the ways that they are working to bring your hope and peace to their country. For those who are in government positions, give them wisdom and courage to lead with justice and compassion. We pray that Christians of different churches will become more united and work together for the sake of your Kingdom.
We pray for the churches in Germany who are responding to the recent flood in that country. Give them strength as they carry out their work of helping people who have lost homes and loved ones from the flood. Amen.
Latin America (Tig)
Our last stop this morning is Latin America. Our first story is about Dr. Ela Castro, a young Mennonite woman from Honduras who recently spent a year serving in Guatemala with a program called YAMEN.
YAMEN sound like it could be a dish like Ramen, but YAMEN stands for Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network. YAMEN offers young adults from outside Canada and the USA an opportunity to leave what they know for a year to serve, grow and learn in an international placement. YAMEN is a joint program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference (MWC).
Ela Castro felt led by God to use her medical training and passion for service to go to Guatemala as a YAMEN volunteer and provide medical care to migrants at Casa del Migrante, which provides shelter, food and medical care to thousands of migrants passing through Guatemala, as well as to deported Guatemalans.
When she finished her YAMEN term in June 2020, she returned home to find her parents both sick with COVID-19. Her father passed away from the disease just weeks after her return.
While caring for her mother at home before deciding what her next step was, Ela Castro, her boyfriend and her sister also contracted COVID-19. They all recovered, but it was only months later that Hurricanes Iota and Eta struck Central America.
Ela Castro and her mother joined a group run by a local Mennonite church to offer medical attention and relief to those suffering from the impact of the storms.
Her time in YAMEN providing medical care in challenging environments had prepared her perfectly for such a time as this.
Castro also says her time in YAMEN also played a pivotal role for her faith formation and in planning what is next for her life.
Now we move down to South America and the country of Venezuela. Our congregation has been blessed in recent years to have Lisa Sullivan as part of our faith community when she is not in her longtime country of Venezuela.
Lisa is the founder of Conuco Colibri, which means Hummingbird Farm and is a community permaculture farm and retreat center in Venezuela’s Andes mountains. Lisa and her partner Ledys Navas teach Venezuelan music and coordinate a children’s food garden prgram.
I reached out to Lisa this past week to ask how the situation is in Venezuela and how she and her retreat center are doing. Here is an excerpt from Lisa’s email that I received just a few days ago:
The situation continued to be very difficult here for the vast majority. There is almost no gasoline available outside the capital, and this has an impact on prices of everything. Food prices are comparable to the US, but with that average salary between $1 and $3 a day it is a struggle to survive.
Currently the government and opposition are working towards an agreement that would lead to the United States removing the sanctions that are strangling the country. Recently the UN Human Rights committee denounced the US sanctions as having a devastating effect on the Venezuelan people.
We also ask for prayers that the government also respond to pleas for respect for basic human rights and that the authoritarianism and repression end. Over 10% of Venezuelans have migrated in search of food and work. They face enormous pressure and discrimination in so many different countries.
Meanwhile, I find such hope in the extraordinary ability of Venezuelans to show solidarity towards one another and to embrace the essence of life. There is such generosity, joy and gratitude among my neighbors, all of whom are extremely poor by economic standards, but so rich in other ways. They will be touched to know that others so far hold them in their hearts and pray for them.
Prayer: Let’s pray for Lisa and Venezuela and also for Dr. Ela Castro and Honduras.
God of peace and healing, we thank you for Dr. Ela Castro and the experience that she had serving migrants in Guatemala with YAMEN. Thanks also for how this experience prepared her to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in her home country of Honduras. And we pray that all the young adults who serve with YAMEN will have experiences that will transform their lives as it did Ela’s.
We also want to pray for the situation in Venezuela right now. Thank you for Lisa Sullivan and the lives that she and Ledys touch in their community through their retreat center. And thank you for the generosity and joy of the people of Venezuela in the midst of the difficult situation in that country.
We pray for the sanctions to be lifted, for and end to the repression, and that Lisa and others will come together to care for one another and be able to work for justice in Venezuela. AMEN.
Dios de la paz y la sanidad, te damos gracias por Dr. Ela Castro y su experiencia en Guatemala con YAMEN, y como esta experiencia la preparo para tratar a los con COVID-19 en Honduras.
Tambien oremos por Lisa Sullivan y la situacion en Venezuela en este momento. Gracias por la generosidad y el gozo de la gente en medio de esta situacion dificil. Oremos que las sanciones terminen, que haya paz y justicia. AMEN.