Celebrating 70 years
June 11, 2018
March 15, 2018
La Convención de Iglesias Evangélicas Menonitas de P.R. celebrated their annual assembly in Pulguillas, Aibonito during March 15-17, 2018. During this time the leadership was celebrating 70 years of Mennonite presences in P.R. The Mennonite church in Pulguillas (which technically is part of the Coamo municipality) started in 1948. In 1943 the first Mennonites Conscientious Objectors (CO) were assigned for alternative service during World War II to serve in La Plata, Aibonito. Due to the war involvement of the U.S. in Europe it was not able to continue assisting the island under the U.S. program named PRRA (Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration). The U.S. Department of State decided to send to the U.S. territory CO’s to serve in areas of education, health, agriculture and recreation to do their Civil Public Service (CPS). Instead of going to serve in the war, these CO’s were sent to serve the poor.
These CO’s, also known as CPS workers, men and women alike, worked hard in 1944 transforming a tobacco barn storage into a rural hospital. The dedication of these CO Mennonite’s faith was witnessed by serving the rural poor in the center of the island. The oral tradition of the Puerto Ricans that met these “foreigners” told me that once the war was over the people asked them to “now stay and share your faith with us.” This they did gladly opening the first Mennonite church in La Plata, Aibonito in 1947.
Today the Mennonites in Puerto Rico are publically recognized by the Mennonite Hospital, which is located in downtown Aibonito and reaches out to five other hospitals located mostly on the western side of the island. The legacy also extends to the two Mennonite schools: Academia Betania in Pulguillas, Aibonito and Academia Menonita in Summit Hills, San Juan. Through these great institutions Mennonites have served thousands of people all around the island. I had the opportunity to teach in Academia Menonita from 1982-84 as the elementary Bible teacher and ninth grade health teacher. As I travel through the island and listen to the radio I can hear the announcements of the Mennonite Hospital and the Mennonite Health System, and I feel proud of being a Puerto Rican Mennonite.
Our Mennonites Churches on the island are still small and struggle financially with two different Conferences and 18 churches. The Aibonito area has the highest concentration of Puerto Rican Mennonites. I am from the Northeast side of the island, and in 1970 it was the new church planting frontier of the Aibonito Mennonites. Far away from the center of the island, traveling two hours from Aibonito to Arecibo is a distance that separates us in many ways beyond the geographic. Yet, both groups are learning to work together as we strive to respond to the damage Hurricane Maria left behind after September 20, 2017. Mennonite Disaster Service empowers all the Mennonite groups by equally sharing resources, repairing roofs and rebuilding those churches that were destroyed by the storm.
Seventy years is a lot of time. In it lays the promise for another 70 years of witnessing the God of Peace for a Puerto Rico in need for building community in communion. In this I believe, so help us God!!!