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Anabaptism a growing edge in Chile
Winnipeg, Man. – A door has opened for seminary students in Chile and their respective congregations, thanks to the teaching of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) professor Titus Guenther and the commitment of Mennonite Church Canada to the region.
Guenther, on a sabbatical from CMU, was visiting professor at the Evangelical Faculty of Theology (FET) in Chile from Aug. to Dec. 2006. His classes, Missiology and Radical Reformation theology, were received with much enthusiasm. “I believe this course has helped me to redefine more broadly and positively the concept of mission” wrote one student from Santiago. Guenther’s work also focused on relating to the emerging Anabaptist Mennonite churches in Chile. Guenther has previous teaching experience at FET when he moved with his family to live and teach in Chile from 1989-1994.
The opportunity – a special assignment from Mennonite Church Canada Witness that coincided with Guenther’s sabbatical – also allowed Guenther to connect with the Puerta del Rebaño congregation of Concepción, which claims its Anabaptist identity grew out of Guenther’s previous work in Chile. “Helping to make possible my more extended work and interaction [in Chile] all serves to further strengthen ties with MC Canada, MC USA, and other Mennonite bodies,” Guenther said.
The seminary has a 42-year history but its future is in doubt because of reduced funding from international sources. Meanwhile, the school is seeking recognition from Chile’s Department of Education. The seminary services students from a broad range of denominations ranging in age from about 20-60. Most of Guenther’s students at the Santiago campus represented the Christian Alliance and Missionary Church, while the other students in both Santiago and Concepción represented some 12 different faith families, including Puerta del Rebaño.
A major highlight for Guenther was the ability to relate to many of Chile’s emerging Anabaptist-Mennonite churches. “At issue are the half dozen Evangelical Mennonite congregations in the poorer sectors of Santiago, plus Puerta del Rebaño of Concepción with its twin Anabaptist congregation of Chiguayante near Concepción,” Guenther said.
Guenther visited pastors and congregations, occasionally preaching and teaching an Adult Sunday school class in Santiago as well as Concepción. He was also able to introduce and distribute printed and audiovisual materials among these churches, which opened windows for them to the wider Mennonite world. “It was remarkable how important it seemed to these church leaders to learn through these audiovisuals about the history and life of the Mennonite settlements and their mission work in the Paraguayan Chaco,” Guenther said.
Pedro Correa, the Dean at FET’s main campus, was especially grateful for the Spanish version of Walter Klaassen’s Anabaptism in Outline, which Guenther had provided for him during a previous visit. As a result of her friendship with Carlos and Mónica Gallardo, pastors of the Concepción congregation which Guenther has significantly influenced, Dora Canales, Rectora of the FET, felt inspired enough to say that she would like to join and pastor a Mennonite church.
To discover that seeds from his previous teaching are now growing, is both exhilarating and humbling for Guenther. “It indicates to me once more that God is able to use and prosper what we Christians offer up imperfectly and in simplicity.”
Guenther added that, “Students and pastors alike find illuminating that Mennonites/Anabaptists, if they are biblical, do not divide congregations into pastors/leaders and laypeople, do not separate the church’s mission work from the rest of what the church does.
Guenther’s students praised the work and vision of his materials and message. Guillermo Hernández, commented: “…thank you for both of your courses…this has been a great blessing and has obliged me to re-vision several things. May God continue to bless you in your ministry!”
The growing interest and enthusiasm in both courses inspires hope that these students will their knowledge back to their home churches in Chile. The new resources and information provided by Guenther will hopefully nudge these churches toward a broader view of discipleship.