Brisas Nuevas (New Breezes): Cross-Cultural Communion in Honduras

By Sarah Bergen

On the last day of class we said these words to each other around the communion table, "Hermano, esto es el cuerpo de Cristo, partido por ti." (Brother, the body of Christ, broken for you.) The body of Christ was represented by tiny triangles of tortillas on a blue plate. And when we turned to our brothers and sisters, declaring the blood of Christ to be “poured out for you,” we offered the cup of orange juice that symbolized the blood of Christ. As we stood together, Central American and North American brothers and sisters, sharing the elements, I thanked God for the gift of communion – communion in the deepest sense of fellowship and brotherhood.

Cross-Cultural Encounter
Around the communion table there were six of us North Americans from MB Biblical Seminary, campus in Fresno, California and 16 Central Americans. We had been invited into fellowship with these Mennonite pastors and leaders from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, as members of a week-long class on Galatians taught by MBBS Professor Mark Baker for the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary (SEMILLA), which is based in Guatemala. We spent just over a week in Honduras. Our participation in their class was one element of our own course, Cross-Cultural Encounter, which is a requirement for all degree programs at MBBS. The course has traditionally taken students to Los Angeles and Fresno for a week in each location, employing site visits, community living, interviews, reading, and integrative writing to help students understand, appreciate, and develop vision for ministry in various cultural contexts. Associate Professor of Mission and Theology, Mark Baker, PhD, led this international Cross-Cultural Encounter class, drawing on his years of living and teaching in Honduras.

Since 1979, Mark and his family have lived and taught in Honduras for a total of about ten years. Over that time they have developed deep relationships and have friends they think of like family. This meant that everywhere we went there were stories to hear. Reflecting on this trip, Baker said, “Relational networks are central in Honduras and… I left Honduras deeply impressed with people’s hospitality, generosity and willingness to help.” We all found this to be true at various times during the week, whether it was a cup of coffee served to us, a bed sacrificed, special fruits served at breakfast, or a cell phone lent by a stranger.

Historias – Stories
Our second night in Honduras Mark met us at the home of Juan and Isidra Hernandez, where we listened to Juan’s stories of Flor del Campo, the colonia (part of town) where he lived. We heard of government corruption and the struggle of church members to work for good roads, clean water, schools, and peace in their colonia. We also heard Isidra’s story and learned of her desire to help her neighbors have food to eat and a home to live in. Both Juan and Isidra demonstrated the generous nature of the Gospel, to their neighbors and to us.

On Sunday morning, the congregation of Amor, Fe y Vida welcomed us as family; their relationship with Mark was strong, and their love and respect for him was reflected in our reception. The church served lunch downstairs after the service, and then a small group of us walked through the colonia, visiting the library and walking to the cliff by the river where we could see some of the poorest homes in Tegucigalpa, the city where we stayed. The library, while supported by the city, is a project that was started and is run by a committee of six people, four of whom are members of Amor, Fe y Vida. The homes we saw at the bottom of the gully had washed away in Hurricane Mitch (1998) and since been rebuilt. The perseverance of the people was evident, in the library project, the rebuilt homes in the ravine, and the occasional flourishing mango and banana trees we spotted in otherwise bare dirt yards.

The next day was the first day of our class on Gálatas (Galatians). We joined the SEMILLA students at El Centro Shalom, a Mennonite retreat center, in a room with buttery yellow walls and began by singing and praying together in Spanish. Mark prayed for brisas nuevas (new breezes) as we embarked on our study together. There were indeed new breezes blowing around and through us all week as we studied and discussed a holistic gospel, using the text of Galatians and Mark’s book, Religious No More. Mark conducted class bi-lingually, translating for himself and the students.

During the week, one Central American and one North American shared their personal story each day in class. Reflecting on this storytelling, Mark said, “when a North American talks of an abusive father, growing up in a single-parent home or struggles with alcoholism, I can sense the barriers falling down—the Central Americans feeling connection, thinking, 'Oh, they have had that experience too.’” This part of each day was an honor, to be invited into someone’s life through narrative. Steve Bomar, MA Theology student at MBBS, said that “hearing their stories and becoming a part of each other’s stories has changed all of us.”

Mark had arranged for us to skip one day of class in order to visit his friend Aguinaldo Sauceda, a farmer in Guinope, a rural area about two hours outside of Tegucigalpa. Aguinaldo met us as we stepped off the bus onto the rutted dirt road, at the end of the driveway that curved up the hill to his adobe house. We spent the afternoon walking over the hills where he farmed, visiting his fields, hearing about his farming methods, and his story. His respect for the earth and for all people was communicated in the way he talked about farming methods and his family. Aguinaldo has a passion for responsible use of the earth; he cultivates only land that is naturally clear of trees and he keeps his own seed from year to year. The bananas, avocados, coffee, passion fruit, yucca, pineapple, and other crops he grows are thriving in the rich soil he and his family fertilize organically. Aguinaldo’s life inspired us all, reminding us of our responsibility to all of God’s creation.

Same, Same, Only Different
Though we are different, I will carry with me the similarities between North America and Central America. We discovered common struggles, orientations, and visions. Each friend of Mark who shared their story with us and each student in our class on Galatians was walking in the way of Jesus. They are searching, as are most of us, for ways to read the Bible and let it transform their lives. They are trying to live faithfully and obediently in this time between the ages, hoping in the kingdom of God – both already and not yet.

Cathleen Lawler, MA Intercultural Missions student at MBBS, remarked in her journal, “It was a great week and will have a profound impact on my life. I understand Anabaptist theology better; the holistic approach to ministry is more tangible to me. It’s like hands and feet grew on the ‘body’ of ministry.”

We spent a week in communion with brothers and sisters in Central America, discovering the hands and feet of social justice, peace, simplicity, and love for neighbor that grow on the “body” of ministry. It is my hope that we would be able to carry this new breeze into our ministries in North America, bringing with us this message of a holistic gospel to our local churches! Ojala que podemos llevar esta brisa nueva, el mensaje del evangelio integral a nuestras iglesias!

Posted: July 10, 2008