AKRON, Pa. – Each Sunday during worship, members of Hyde Park Mennonite Church in Boise, Idaho, light a prayer lamp and think of their brothers and sisters at Iglesia de Dios, a church in the Colombian city of Puerto Asis.
“It is a moment when everybody pays attention,” said Linda Nafziger-Meiser, the church’s pastor.
The weekly ritual, which is mirrored at Iglesia de Dios, includes the sharing of any communication that the Colombian congregation sent to Hyde Park, its long-time “sister” church.
“It does give us such a sense of being connected to God and people who have become so very dear to us,” Nafziger-Meiser said.
The link is one of 12 active relationships between Colombian churches and ones in Canada and the United States. Justapaz, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner and a ministry of the Colombian Mennonite Church, facilitates the Sister Church program.
“Sister Church relationships help churches feel part of the global body of Christ. Many churches, especially in Colombia, feel alone in their work and struggle to make visible the Kingdom of God here on earth,” wrote Amanda Guldemond, an MCC worker from Waterloo, Ont, who lives in Bogota and serves as the Sister Church coordinator.
Hyde Park Mennonite has looked for ways to make a real connection with the Colombian church that has seen its pastor kidnapped and continues meeting under the threat of violence, Nafziger-Meiser said.
In addition to the weekly prayers and regular emails and letters, Hyde Park and Iglesia de Dios have exchanged gifts and even conducted joint services via speaker phone, which Nafziger-Meiser described as “crazy and frustrating and really quite wonderful.”
Alissa Bender, associate pastor of First Mennonite Church in Calgary, Alta., said its sister church, Iglesia Menonita de Berna, is included in monthly prayers and monthly emails. Bender says that while the relationship continues simply, it drives home the reality of the global church.
Children in the Pioneer Girls Club, grades one to six, at Bethany Mennonite Church in Virgil, Ont., have sent Valentine’s Day gifts to their counterparts at Comunidad Menonita de Pereira, and the two churches also exchange regular emails and prayer requests, wrote Siegelinde De Jong, who leads the sister church team at Bethany.
Bethany Mennonite also sponsored its sister church’s senior pastor, Martha Lucia Gomez, to attend the 2009 Mennonite World Conference (MWC) global assembly in Asuncion, Paraguay. De Jong wrote that Gomez was “bubbling over with joy and thankfulness” at the opportunity. A delegation to Colombia is planned next summer.
“Yes, we feel very blessed in this relationship with each other, and so does the Pereira Church, as we grow ever closer together as one in Christ,” De Jong wrote.
In all, three Canadian churches met with their Colombian “sisters” in Paraguay. For Josie Winterfeld of Stirling Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., the face-to-face meetings with members of Villas de Granada in Bogota crystallized the connection.
“I think the people that traveled from here just were so appreciative of being able to meet with them and felt like that was actually the most important part of the experience of world conference – meeting with our sister church,” Winterfeld said.
She said the relationship now includes at least monthly letters as well as exchanges of prayer requests.
“I think for our North American congregation, it is really important for us to have a sense of being a part of the global church,” said Winterfeld, the missions, peace and justice outreach worker at Stirling Mennonite Church.
Winterfeld added that her congregation has been especially impressed by the fervent attention of its Colombian sister church to shared prayer requests.
“They really take that very seriously. They’ve challenged us and encouraged us in that area,” she said.
German Barragan, a member of Villas de Granada in Bogota, wrote that with the partnership with Stirling Mennonite Church “it is great to know we are all part of the big family of God.”
“By keeping in touch and exchanging experiences more often, and maintaining communication to exchange ideas, needs and concerns, we can support each other, and strengthen the relationship between our communities,” Barragan wrote.
MCC worker Guldemond, who also attended the Paraguay global assembly, reported that Colombian sister church members said they “felt accompanied” and “loved” by their sister churches. And, even as attendees learned about the diversity of churches around the world, Guldemond said one Colombian pastor pointed out “there is something that unites us all, Jesus Christ.”
Several Colombian churches are on a waiting list for Canadian or U.S. sister church partners, Guldemond said. For information about how your church can become a sister church, contact her at email@example.com. To read more about the Sister Church program, log onto www.justapaz.org, and look for the sister church links.
Chad Umble is a freelance writer in Lancaster, Pa.