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Cab Connections

   
 


Elias Pantoja and his taxi.

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September 28, 2007
- Titus Guenther

SANTIAGO, Chile — After attending a weeklong conference of the Southern Cone Countries Latin Mennonite churches in Uruguay, Karen and I are “coming down” from all the excitement.  We emerge from the Santiago airport attempting to locate an airporter van, a convenient and economic means for getting to the Methodist guesthouse where we have a reservation for a two-day layover before our return to Canada.  But an eager taxi driver dogs us.  “I’ll take you for the same price as the airporter and you don’t have to crowd in with others,” he insists.  “I have to head back to the city anyway.”

We finally relent.  When we reach his car, we notice it is not a common cab, but a classier vehicle used for well-to-do tourists. Our driver, it turns out, is the taxi service coordinator of tours for business people at Chile’s international airport.

He is an incessant talker.  When he drops the word “evangelical” in reference to himself, I become attentive.    Having formerly taught church history in Chile’s inter-Protestant seminary, I wonder if he is one of the country’s nearly two million Pentecostal Christians. When he proceeds to call himself a Baptist, my ears really perk up.  Does he know the Baptist convention’s leadership, Freddy Paredes – or Omar Cortés, I ask?

 “Omar baptized me in the Fourth Baptist Church,” he replies.  Bingo!

Imagine: among the thousands of taxi drivers in this city of five million plus, we are being pursued by a “disciple” of Omar Cortés, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker in Chile!

During my previous life in Chile, I had become friends with Omar.  By providing a reference letter, I had helped him connect with MC Canada via First Mennonite Church Vancouver when he came with family to do graduate studies at Regent College.  And Karen and I had just spent a week at the Southern Cone conference with Omar.

As we share this with our driver, he volunteers his identity card, which says: Elías Pantoja Cid, Chief of Traffic (for Taxis).

We now think it only fair to tell Elías that we are Mennonites. But Elías says he has only a “vague idea” of who Mennonites are. We point out significant commonalities of Mennonites and Baptists and mention to him that the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile has begun conversations with MC Canada about setting up an Anabaptist Peace Theology Resource Centre for church leaders.  Omar is playing a vital role in this initiative.

Elías Pantoja quickly warms to the idea. “The proposal of collaboration between the Baptist Union of Chile and Mennonite Church Canada would be greatly helpful and advance our projects and activities,” he says.

A half hour later, we arrive at the Methodist Centre. After paying our “moderate” taxi fare we take leave with a Chilean-style embrace from our erstwhile pushy taxi driver, Elías Pantoja Cid, an (Ana)Baptist brother in Christ!

Without his persistence, we could have easily missed the connection.

*Titus Guenther, professor of Theology and Missions at Canadian Mennonite University, spent four months (August 21 to December 22, 2006) in Chile as part of his sabbatical teaching Anabaptist theology to Evangelical-Protestant seminary students and visiting Anabaptist-Mennonite churches there. He was also on special assignment for MC Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network.

Sidebar:

Tim Froese, Executive Director of MC Canada’s International Ministry, learned on a recent trip to Chile that the Seminary and Conference leadership of Chile’s Union of Baptist Churches (UBACH) are actively seeking to reclaim and redefine their Anabaptist identity.  Since the 1930s, Chile’s 500 or so Baptist churches, with 35,000 baptized members and roughly 100,000 attendees, have primarily identified themselves with the Southern Baptist Convention of the US.  Omar’s teaching ministry at the Baptist Seminary has been instrumental in igniting renewed interest in Anabaptist ecclesiology and practice – and in particular with Mennonite peace theology.  Conversations are now underway – with UBACH taking the lead – to affiliate more intentionally with the Anabaptist community in Latin America and beyond.