by Steve Kriss, executive minister
I’m writing on my last night in Mexico City after celebrating the 60th anniversary of Mennonite churches here. Over the last months, we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with one another between conferences and reconnecting the strong cords that have, for years, tied our communities together across language, culture, and country.
It was humbling to stand in front of hundreds of Mexican Mennonites who had come to follow in the way of Christ through the hopeful actions of mission workers—men and women who had left the familiarity of Mennonite congregations in Pennsylvania to build community in the emerging neighborhoods of Mexico City. As we gathered at Iglesia de Christianas de Paz, I offered a greeting from 1 Corinthians, a reminder that different people have different roles but God brings forth fruit. Together we are building God’s community.
But in the midst of that gathering, I was struck most by how going across the boundary to Mexico had changed our conference. Early stories suggest that Franconia Conference leaders had been waiting for an opening to send international workers. With a letter of invitation from a woman in Mexico, and after some discernment between various Mennonite mission organizations, Franconia Conference took the lead in Mexico.
I believe these actions 60 years ago enlarged our hearts and understandings of the world and our connections within it. Young leaders left familiar community for impactful service and leadership; they learned new foods, spoke Spanish, and tried to understand what essentials should be shared in a new cultural context. Our understanding of what it meant to be Mennonite had to change.
And the church in Mexico grew – and is still growing. The CIEAMM network represents our historic connection, but new connections — the Red de Iglesias Missioneras International led by Kirk Hanger; Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida, where long-term mission workers Bob and Bonnie Stevenson remain; and Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, pastored by Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortes from Iglesia de Christianas de Paz — are ongoing parts of our shared witness. Along with the Bible translation work of Claude Good that ensured the availability of the Holy Text in the Triqui language, we have made significant contributions to the family of Christ’s followers in Mexico. The community that makes up these various networks is likely similarly sized to our current Franconia Conference membership.
As part of our visit, we visited the Torre LatinoAmericana in central Mexico City. I stared out from atop the 44-story building, built in the same era that our earliest mission workers arrived. I looked toward the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadeloupe, where the story of a visit from the Virgin Mary to a farm worker in the field would change the trajectory of faith toward Roman Catholicism.
This global city sprawls in every direction around the tower: Mexico City is the size of New York, with 20 million people in the metro area. There are Starbucks and Walmarts, as well as lots of traffic, and omnipresent cell phones.
I prayerfully wondered what the next years will hold for us together, recognizing each other as sibling communities, and honoring together the Good News of Christ’s peace as we celebrate the possibilities of a faith that crosses boundaries. This faith changes us in our giving and receiving and, ultimately, changes the world in ways that are both big and small.