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5 & 2 Multiplying for all

   
 


Ester and Omar Cortes-Gaibur bring news of their community development work in Chile during a visit to Mennonite Church Canada staff.


Omar (left) converses with a visitor to the 5 & 2 Multiplying for All community centre.

   
September 25, 2002

Winnipeg, Man.—Bible study and church community can lead to amazing things. For Ester and Omar Cortes-Gaibur, Witness workers in Santiago, Chile, it resulted in a shelter for abused women and a family violence prevention program.

The program they started, "5 & 2 multiplying for all," takes its name from the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. After intensive study of the Bible, Omar and Ester's church concluded that "the teachings of Jesus are not only to go to church, but also notice what is happening around you and your community."

Taking inspiration from Jesus' example of feeding the hungry, they requested a meeting with the municipal government. They told the mayor, "we are a church and we want to be a servant to our community. What can we do?"

The mayor pointed to the problem of family violence; "We don't have any good programs in this area." Omar said that 30 per cent of Chilean women suffer family violence. Further, 85 per cent of Chilean prison inmates suffered family violence in their childhood.

This endemic violence is "one of the things that the dictatorship has left us, and the global marketplace has produced," said Cortes-Gaibur.

To fund the project, the church opened a restaurant, the Bethlehem Inn, in 1997. The 16-bed House of Refuge opened in June 1999, able to house four families; each woman and any children may stay for three months, or longer if they participate in skills workshops to build independence. If needed, families can eat for free in the restaurant, and women can work at the restaurant to earn a small income.

Other programs offer shelter for only one night and offer room only for the mother; the children are either taken by other social agencies or remain with the father. In such cases the woman is leaves both her children and an angered husband behind.

Since its opening, 35 women and 75 children have stayed at the 5 & 2 shelter. "You have to get together with a strong community to develop a project like this," said Ester. Most of the shelter's staff are women, and they continue to work 14-our days even when money to pay salaries is not available.

Plans to expand the shelter have been stymied in the last few months. Conservative groups accuse the shelter of promoting divorce and threatening the "God-ordained," traditional patriarchal model of family. Omar suspects that these groups lobbied government to revoke previously approved funding. The church is pursuing alternate funding sources.

The project has inspired others to start similar centres, some with so few resources that they in turn have inspired Ester and Omar.

It has also gained the trust and confidence of the government, which asked the church to manage a Centre for Care and Prevention of Intra-family Violence prevention program for the whole northern district of Santiago.

This Centre, ten to twelve blocks removed from the House of Refuge, opened in August 2001 and has provided social, legal, psychological and spiritual care for 180 women, 80 children and 60 men. Its staff of 13 includes lawyers, social workers and psychologists.

The connections Omar and Ester made through these projects also led to a joint letter on family violence signed by all of Chile's religious communities, including Jewish and Islamic faiths—the only such document in Chile. The government printed a million copies of this letter and is distributing it widely.

This is all the more remarkable because the Church in Chile is extremely fragmented, with extreme distrust between denominations. Because of this context, the Cortes-Gaiburs, who grew up in the Baptist church and have now embraced Anabaptist theology, are promoting Anabaptism not as a new denomination but as something that crosses denominations.

Omar also teaches at a Baptist seminary, which allows him to teach Anabaptist and peace theology. Some of his students are "like a boy with a new toy" when they discover Anabaptism, said Omar.

The Cortes-Gaiburs, supported by Canadian and US Mennonites since 1996, are now Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers. Part of their support is also made possible through the Mennonite Mission Network. More information is available in the World of Witness prayer directory (available in churches or call 1-866-888-6785) and online at http://www.geocities.com/fiveandtwoxall/.