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Reuniting intertwined spirits in Paraguay

   
 


North and South American indigenous church leaders gathered in Yalve Sanga, Paraguay to prepare for a gathering that will occur at Mennonite World Conference: Máximo Aranda, Manuel Mendoza, Norman Meade, Juan Ramos, Willis Busenitz, Cesar Mendoza and EstÈban Antonio.

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Children in Paraguay.

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February 27, 2009
- Lynda Hollinger-Janzen with Deborah Froese

ELKHART, Ind. — Nearly 30 Mennonites living and ministering in indigenous contexts in the United States and Canada are preparing to connect with kindred spirits in Paraguay. This group includes 12 Canadians travelling with Mennonite Church Canada’s Native Ministry.

Together they have accepted an invitation extended by three indigenous Paraguayan conferences in 2007 to visit their congregations and communities following Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly 15 in Asunción, Paraguay next July.

“We are eager to introduce you to our families, our congregations and our way of life,” the invitation reads. “We anticipate hearing about your walk with the Lord and also about traditions, your stories and your experiences within the Mennonite family of faith. We genuinely believe this interchange will be good for both of us.”

Nearly 1,000 indigenous Mennonites from the Paraguayan Chaco are also expected to attend Assembly 15 along with 10 representatives from Guatemala, Panama and Peru. Though indigenous people will gather from many nations, there is an underlying wonder at having a common identity and history.

Manitoban Norman Meade, Metis elder, lay pastor, and long-time friend of MC Canada Native Ministry travelled to Paraguay last November on behalf of MC Canada Native Ministry. With Willis Busenitz, pastor of White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby, Mont., Meade strove to deepen relationships that began at previous MWC meetings and to make travel arrangements that will strengthen connections among indigenous people.

“Our spirits are still intertwined. The spiritual connection was quickly felt,” said Meade.

To make the tour possible, MC Canada Native Ministry has been corresponding with MWC representatives and indigenous church leaders in Paraguay. By securing private donations and support from Canadian Women in Mission – a close partner of Mennonite Church Canada Witness, financial assistance is available to help cover travel expenses for Aboriginal Canadians.

Meade’s 15-year-old granddaughter, Sara, plans to join the July 12-28 tour. “I want to learn about the lifestyle of other indigenous people,” she said. “I am especially interested in learning about the spirituality and faith of other indigenous youth.”

The Indigenous Tour is a three-part venture that will begin with participation in the MWC Gathered sessions in the capital city, Asuncion. Two indigenous young adults, one from Canada and one from the U.S., will attend the Global Youth Summit gathering being held several days earlier as part of the MWC gathering.

The second phase of the Indigenous Tour involves the trip to the Chaco area of Paraguay after MWC as a response to the invitation issued by the Mennonite-related Paraguayan indigenous conference on August 4, 2007.

Phase three will bring the tour group to visit with indigenous congregations in the Chaco region of Argentina. Janet Plenert of Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Linda Shelly of Mennonite Mission Network will join the tour for phases two and three.

“This meeting will bring together indigenous hearts and spirits. We may come from different countries but we share the experience of being indigenous to the land. We are never to be separated in God,” Meade said.

The attending Native North American Mennonites will share indigenous music with their southern brothers and sisters. Some of it is contained in The Cheyenne Spiritual Songbook – a compilation of 100 original indigenous pieces and 60 hymns translated from English. In addition, the Canadian group hopes to share some Ojibwe and Cree songs.

Meade and Busenitz encountered a variety of church music styles on their November trip to Paraguay. Enlhet congregations sing a cappella in three or four-part harmony, while Nivacle Mennonites have adopted a Latin style accompanied by guitars, accordions and the Paraguayan harp.

“A cappella harmony is not indigenous to the Enlhet people, neither is Latin-style music indigenous to the Nivacle people. Maybe Native North Americans can give testimony to the way in which God's spirit gave Cheyenne Christians songs in their own music and words,” Busenitz said.

The two North American church leaders also look forward to introducing their tour group to another kind of worship experience when they travel across the border to neighbouring Argentina. In the Argentine Chaco, Christians incorporate their traditional music styles and cultural expressions into their worship services.

On their return to North America, tour participants will share with their home communities what they saw and learned in South America through reports, pictures and videos.