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Grafting tradition


Cecilia and Genaro Gonzales (far right, in black) connect with the children of Altona Bergthaler Mennonite Church.

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Cecilia and Genaro Gonzalez (left) with Altona Bergthaler secretary, Susan M. Dueck, on the porch of the Friesen Housebarn Interpretive Centre in the Neu Bergthal Heritage Village.  The Gonzalez say Canadian Mennonites enjoy a connection with their history that needs to be fostered among Mennonites in Colombia.

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January 22, 2010
- Deborah Froese

WINNIPEG, Manitoba —Cecilia and Genaro Gonzalez say they have discovered a treasure in the Mennonite Church in Canada – the treasure of tradition.

The pastor couple visited Altona Bergthaler Mennonite Church in October 2009 as representatives of Monte Santo Mennonite Church in Madrid. The congregations share a sister church relationship that has given each a clearer sense of what it means to be part of a larger theological family.

“The very deep roots that this [Anabaptist] tradition has here is something that is missing in Colombia,” said Cecilia Gonzalez through interpreter Robert J. Suderman, General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada. “Here, tradition is present in photo albums, in manuscripts, books, history, that we do not have access to.”

That sense of rootedness is something that the Monte Santo congregation is searching for.

Dan Kehler, pastor of Altona Bergthaler, said that his congregation enjoyed sharing their Mennonite heritage with the Gonzalezes. “It was hard to separate [our] theology and history because they are so closely tied,” he reflected.

Genaro mused, “It’s very important that we understand our relationship [with Altona Bergthaler] like the promise in the Bible where people are grafted into the trunk. Our people have received a lot of information via books and teaching, but to be grafted into the trunk of a church that has a tradition this long – it’s very important.”

“It’s kind of like going to the house of a grandparent or great-grandparent – or great-great-grandparent – where there is this history of faithfulness that is known and told,” Cecilia said. “It’s that richness that we benefit from. This means we draw together more as a [church] family.”

The Gonzalezes acknowledged that the challenge they face is finding an effective way to share this treasure with their Colombian congregation so that together they can experience the impact of this grafted heritage in their lives and in their faith.

The Monte Santo congregation has begun a new tradition of their own, Cecilia Gonzalez said. They light a candle during a special service as a symbol of their connection to Altona. During prayer, the candle allows them to make a direct connection with the light guiding both congregations.

Cecilia and Genaro Gonzalez say that their Colombian congregation is inspired by the knowledge that people in Canada are also praying for them.

Monte Santo Mennonite Church in Madrid, Colombia has  sister church relationships with two Canadian Mennonite congregations – Altona Bergthaler Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church of Kitchener, Ontario – who shared in bringing the Gonzalezes to Canada.