An evening of prayer

I just “overheard” a Facebook conversation expressing dismay and amazement at those who schedule (church) events on the evening of the Super Bowl. Well, guilty as charged in this corner, but none of us in the small group that formed to plan a service of prayer and lament for the Mennonite women of Bolivia thought of it, frankly, and no offense was intended. None of us, obviously, are followers of football.

In spite of American football’s crowning event and the rather poor driving conditions in southern Manitoba, however, some 80 or so people gathered for the service last night at the Morrow Gospel Church.

Photo by Ray Dirks

It’s always hard to evaluate something you’re involved in yourself, and that’s not the purpose with this post anyway, except that I’d announced it here and want to say now that it happened, and say thank you too to local readers of this blog who attended. We prayed using stories, Scripture, and song, and lit candles to mark our petitions. The music was wonderful, both the congregational singing led by Christine Longhurst with pianist Sherry Toews, and instrumental music by Lilian Guenther (harp) and by Barb Hamilton (viola). In the middle of our litany of lament, Lilian sang, unaccompanied, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” — this just before a Lamentations text that includes “Pour out your heart like water before the Lord.” Music can do that for us; it pours like water.

A few lines from Leona Dueck Penner ‘s benediction sum up, I think, the “movement” that those who participate in prayer can experience.

One by one, in trembling hope,
we gathered here this evening to pray and to weep
for our sisters and also our brothers in Bolivia,
feeling helpless yet wanting to express our love and
compassion for them across the miles.

Through God’s grace, we leave now strengthened and renewed
through sorrow expressed and shared within the community of faith
in the name of Jesus who invited the sorrowful to find rest in him…. 

As for “movement” within the people for whom we prayed, that is likely beyond our means to determine. 

(Although it wasn’t the main aim of the evening, the offering raised for a women’s shelter that’s nearly completed in Pailon, Bolivia, under the auspices of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission, came to more than $ 2900.) 

Re. the specific situation around the sexual assaults, the most recent news I’ve seen — though it was more editorial commentary than hard facts —  was several weeks ago now, from the Kurze Nachrichten, a German newspaper in Mexico, saying that there was to be a hearing shortly of half a dozen men held in Cotoca, with the possibility they would be released for lack of concrete evidence. (No DNA testing has been done.) A number of men are being held in a different prison. The commentary includes [my translation] that “one is struck by the fact that those imprisoned in Cotoca are not well off… and one [wonders] whether money is playing a larger role than justice and truth… Bribe money is the boss; the law its obedient slave.” But, the article goes on to say, “Three uncontested truths remain: many women were used as objects, some are still being used, and only a few people are letting it trouble them much.”

For the people of Haiti

Last evening, at a gathering of the regional Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue (a group of six Mennonites and six Catholics which meets several times a year), John Long of the host parish led us in a prayer for the people of Haiti that he had adapted from Edward Hays’ Prayers for the Domestic Church (1979). It was deeply meaningful to gather up in prayer the many responses and emotions we feel as we try to absorb the news. John gladly gave me permission to share some excerpts here, from “Prayer upon Hearing of a Death.”

Blessed are You, Lord our God,
     who are the keeper of the Book of Life. 
This week we have learned of the death of many in Haiti
     and, as this type of news always does,
     it comes as a shock.
We know, Lord, that we all must die,
     and that You alone keep the dates of our death
     within Your Book of Life,
     but we still share the shock of death.
 That news carries with it the shadow of fear,
     for it is a reminder that, someday, we too shall die.
Today, then, we pray for all these
     who have passed through the doorway of death,
     and we pray for ourselves as well.
We remember in our prayer
     the members of the families
     who surely are lost in sorrow at this time.
Support them with Your Holy Spirit
     and grant them the courage to embrace this tragic mystery…. 

May we best remember these men,
     women, and children unknown to us
     by being grateful for life today
     and by loving You, our God,
     with all our heart, strength, and mind.
Lord, grant eternal rest to all who have died,
and divine consolation to all of the surviving families.

Blessed are You, Lord our God,
Keeper of the Book of Life. Amen.


What we want to do for the Mennonite women of Bolivia

Back in November, I wrote, here, about a file I’d opened while I was at the MB Herald but ran out of time to complete, on the sexual assault of numerous women in one of the conservative Mennonite colonies of Bolivia. I’m glad to report  that the story got written, nevertheless — a fine overview by assistant editor Karla Braun which appeared in the January issue. It picks up on what had seemed to Abe Warkentin, founder of Die Mennonitische Post and long-time advocate for the needs of Low German Mennonites, a “deafening” silence in the face of the situation, and his plea that it be more actively addressed.

It’s also evident from the article that there are divergent views about — and approaches to — conservative Mennonite groups by the various people who relate to them. These differences have their own long history, theological underpinnings, and ways of speaking, even “bad blood” between the parties at times, which the article doesn’t get into in any detail. I don’t intend to now either, except to say that these differences have clearly complicated Mennonite response to the story and perhaps accounted for much of the silence around it.

Recently, however, an inter-Mennonite committee formed here in Winnipeg to do one thing. We want to hold a service of prayer and lament for our Mennonite sisters in Bolivia who have been sexually assaulted. We recognize that any response one makes carries a bias and, regardless of diverse views on Old Colony life, this is ours: we want to express our love and compassion for, and solidarity with, these women, and to pray for healing and justice and hope in this situation.

I invite my readers in Manitoba to participate in this event, on February 7, and to let others know about it. Please see the Events page for more details, or the press release that follows from Abe Warkentin. We’re continuing to gather as much information as we can, although, as the release states, new information is difficult to confirm. Continue reading