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|Mending a broken relationship|
LA TUNA, Uraguay — At a weeklong regional Hispanic Mennonite Church Conference in Uruguay, I witnessed a remarkable attempt at mending a broken relationship. The breakdown had taken two participating church groups from different countries completely by surprise.
The conference addressed the biblical-theological role of women in Latin American churches as full and equal players in the ministries of Christ’s new humanity, which provided a striking contrast to the machista or chauvinist nature of Latin American culture. In response to a well-received address from the keynote speaker, a visiting Anabaptist church group sang “secular” folk songs as part of an evening drama. These songs illustrated the Latin cultural context of male chauvinism and underscored the contrast between church and secular society. Despite the visiting group’s good intentions, a serious problem resulted. They used the host church’s instruments and sound system for their presentation without realizing the hosts had dedicated them through prayerful anointing exclusively for the praise and worship of the Most High. Consequently, the host church perceived the presentation as a serious affront.
The hosts made their concerns known the following morning. “We don’t know what to do. We slept badly struggling over this till 2:00 a.m.; our sound system needs cleansing and re-consecrating,” they said.
The visiting drama troupe, for its part, also felt misunderstood and insulted. They had only intended to give artistic expression to the prevailing cultural attitudes Christian churches in the Latin cultures are up against.
Both groups met to explain their views and feelings to each other. Seeing the deep convictions and honest intentions of each party created empathy and then sympathy. Gradually, the air was cleared. Tearful embraces and a closing prayer sealed the hoped-for reconciliation.
But for the spokesperson of the host group, confessions and prayer were not enough. Daily throughout the week, he approached one of the visitors saying; “I see it in your face that you are still offended. Please, forgive me.” How surprising to the visitor this was!
When we think about seeking to mend injured relationships, we tend to put the onus on the offending party rather than ourselves. The offender needs to admit or confess wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness, and should then watch his or her steps so as not to re-offend. Isn’t this the context out of which Peter asks Jesus: “‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’”
Jesus stretches this beyond human reason by saying to him, “‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times’” (Mt 18:21-22, NRS).
However, in our story, where the hurt was mutual and deep, Peter’s question might be rephrased as follows: “Lord, if I have offended a brother or sister of my church family, how many times must I go and ask for forgiveness for my offense? As many as seven times?”
Reflecting upon the spokesperson’s humble and repeated plea for forgiveness, the visitor confessed: “This has left a deep impression on me. Never before this experience have I shown this much care as to whether persons I had offended had forgiven me. This gives me much to think about.”
Several participants of this regional Hispanic Mennonite conference expressed excitement at the discovery during the week that despite the great diversity in faith practices among sister churches, there is even more that unites us under Jesus Christ, our one common Head.