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|News from Chile|
Relationships aid relief
June 17, 2010
Winnipeg, Man. — Although Mennonite Church Canada does not operate as a relief organization, its priority of forming a global church has nurtured relationships that played a vital role in bringing aid to Chile following a devastating series of earthquakes that began on February 27, 2010.
Titus Guenther, Associate Professor of Theology & Missions at
Canadian Mennonite University, has served as a Mennonite Church Canada
Witness Special Assignment Worker to Chile on a number of occasions.
He visited again from April 18 to 27, 2010 on special assignment with
Witness and Mennonite Mission Network to connect Mennonite Central Committee
(MCC) representatives César Flores (Bolivia) and Eduard Klassen
(Paraguay) with Chilean Anabaptist church leaders. Together, they discussed
potential MCC earthquake relief assistance.
As a result of these relationships, Mennonite Church Canada partners were able to provide MCC with valuable information for determining appropriate relief aid and distribution.
Guenther reported that although they witnessed great devastation during their tour of the affected region, in some areas much of the debris had already been cleared away.
“We saw some fishing boats and shipping containers in odd places
kilometres inland, far from where they normally belong,” Guenther
said. “In one city 24 entire blocks of irreparably damaged buildings
had to be bulldozed leaving a flat open space. An estimated total
of 500,000 buildings will need to be demolished before rebuilding can
happen. Whole settlements of temporary wood structures are being set
up for families who lost everything. Amidst this situation, we heard
stories of persons whose homes had collapsed or been swept away going
to worse hit areas in order to offer what assistance they could.”
Even smaller Mennonite churches operating in situations of chronic poverty were able to provide immediate responses, Guenther said. They sent truckloads of goods that were shared beyond Mennonite circles with the coal-mining town of Lota, about 500 km. south of Santiago. Still others, like the Puerta del Rebaño congregation of Concepción, provided free medical and pastoral counsel. One Mennonite congregation in Santiago sent a youth group to an orphanage near the earthquake epicentre bearing toys and treats.
The presence of Guenther, Flores and Klassen has encouraged churches in their efforts.
“Just your coming and being with us already changes things for us,” said Pastor Mónica Parada of the Puerta del Rebaño congregation of Concepción. “Things are somehow different as a result of your visit.”
UBACH’s president, Raquel Contreras, visited Baptist congregations in the most affected provinces prior to Guenther’s visit. She said that their plan was to first restore homes before the winter rains, and then repair damaged church buildings.
Despite the cooperation and quick response, Guenther reported that churches are aware of the long and arduous road ahead. Work continues on restoring services such as electricity, water and garbage removal, as well as bridge and road repair.
“We invited all sister churches to fill out reconstruction project forms in order to apply for Mennonite Central Committee’s relief funds” he said.
“We are grateful to God that many lives were spared and physical injury was minimal despite the devastation to whole communities and congregations,” said Tim Froese, Mennonite Church Canada’s Mission Partnership Facilitator for Latin America. “It was inspiring to see aid facilitated by multiple church relationships in the affected area, the depth of experience and availability of Titus in Chile, and the collaboration, resources and expertise of MCC working together. When church partners respond to emergency situations as they did in Chile, we see a fine example of what it means to be the global church.”
MCC has committed $150,000 for earthquake relief. MCC does not have program or personnel in Chile, so these funds are expected to be channeled through churches, identified by colleague Anabaptist organizations including Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Mission Network. The funds will predominantly be used for building and furnishing houses and trauma programs.
Mennonite Church Canada is accepting donations.