Photos by Holly Blosser Yoder
West Union Mennonite Church, Parnell, Iowa
On a Friday morning at Quito Mennonite Church, the ground floor of the multi-story building is alive with activity. It is distribution day for the church’s “Proyecto con Personas Refugiadas” or Refugees Project. Parents, waiting to pick up “baskets of love” (food and essential supplies), watch their children at play in the entryway. Inside the big room that serves as the church sanctuary on Sundays, volunteers measure out portions of food bought in bulk. Next to them are trays of brown eggs, bags of fresh carrots, and sacks of oatmeal. Next to the drums in the area where the praise team usually leads music are colorful plastic bags already filled and ready. Inside, depending on the needs of the family for whom the bag was prepared, are brown sugar, meat tins, maize flour, rice, oil, milk powder and beans.
At tables set up in the center of the room, mothers and fathers with babies receive infant essentials—cloth diapers, diaper covers, and washcloths made from soft t-shirt material. A young couple watches as Delicia Bravo, a worker from Mission Network, demonstrates how to use this more frugal, eco-friendly alternative to disposables, folding the cloth diapers to fit inside the waterproof diaper cover. Some of the diaper covers had been completed just that morning, snaps affixed with a special tool. The diaper covers are made from an array of patterned fabric--scraps and discontinued patterns donated by a manufacturer—polka dots, stripes, snowflakes, tractors, and an outer-space design, cut and sewn with rows of snaps arranged to accommodate a growing baby’s bottom.
Down the hall is the project’s office. A peek inside reveals a stack of cotton blankets, which the project has paid refugee women to sew from bolts of blanket material--both the blankets and the work being a help to refugees who arrive with few possessions.
This scene at a distribution day last November highlights the growth of Quito Mennonite Church’s refugee project, which developed out of a compassionate ministry to refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Colombia, and which has matured over time. The capacity of the program has expanded, serving 7800 individuals in 2018, up from 800 in 2014. Families and individuals seeking refuge in Ecuador nowadays come from many places including Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, and Congo. With accumulated experience, funding assistance from MCC, and access to expertise and services through a network of agencies, the church continues to respond to refugee needs as an expression of faith.
Daniela Sanchez serves as the program coordinator along with Alexandra Meneses, who is also the psychologist for the project. Alba Silva provides logistical and administrative support. All three are also deeply involved in church leadership. Refugees, who often come to the project traumatized as well as in search of help with basic necessities, receive an invitation to spiritual and community support as they are welcomed to fellowship with the Quito Mennonite Church during their sojourns in Ecuador. During the weekend following this distribution day, refugees were among the church’s worshippers, on the praise team, and in the kitchen preparing meals and snacks.
Peter Wigginton of Mission Network who, with his wife Delicia, volunteer with the project, explained its role in the life of the church: “The refugee ministry is an integral part of the church, serving the needy and marginalized.” While acknowledging that the work “does take a toll on the spiritual and material gifts” of the small congregation, he said “it is seen as the essential demonstration of the church living out what it believes.”
Support in the form of prayer and helping hands from brothers and sisters in Central Plains Mennonite Conference and the larger church are appreciated. A work team from Central Plains Mennonite Conference led by Doyle Roth in early 2018 made building improvements. Young volunteers from Journey International, a Mission Network internship program, and YAMEN, an exchange program shared by Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference, contribute valued time and talent to the project. Project coordinator Daniela Sanchez recently shared a dream to train youth in the congregation—many of whom are themselves refugees—to provide services for the ministry. Might this be a role for a volunteer from MMN or CPMC to fill in cooperation with project leaders? As members of the Ecuador Partnership, we can rejoice in the maturing of this compassionate ministry, pray for the wellbeing of its workers and the people it serves and, as modelled by our Quito brothers and sisters, remain open to what it means to live out what we believe. What’s in your basket of love?