Editor's Note: José Manuel Guamán, president of Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Ecuador (ICME), shared the story of his faith journey during Ecuador Partnership meetings Mar. 6. Thirty years ago, indigenous Christians invited Mennonites to begin partnership in Ecuador. In 1990, when Guamán had been president of FEINE, a nationwide indigenous organization, Mennonite Mission Network (a predecessor of Mennonite Board of Missions) responded to the invitation to work together at theological education.
IOWA CITY, IOWA (Mennonite Mission Network) — As José Manuel Guamán grew up in the indigenous Kichwa community of the Chimborazo region of Ecuador in the 1950s, the educational opportunities available to him were primarily those offered by the Catholic Church. At age 12, he taught the faith to others under the tutelage of Bishop of Riobamba Leonides Proaño.
Proaño, a leading liberation theologian, advocated for indigenous peoples' rights to land and water as an application of Jesus' teaching in Luke 4:18. Guamán and the other catechists read in the Bible about release for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. They understood those teachings to be the basis of the church's work at that time.
In the 1970s, Guamán began to learn from a new teacher, Henry Klassen, an evangelical missionary from North America. The first part of the Luke 4:18 passage — "The spirit of the Lord is upon me" — took on new significance for Guamán. Worshiping in the evangelical church and learning about conversion and transformation, he felt the Spirit's power more intimately in his life.
The revelation that the Spirit would enter and act in his life had been life-changing, propelling him to pastoral ministry. The Luke 4:18 passage that had been so important to his spiritual formation spoke to this calling as well: "He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor."
Recalling his spiritual development, Guamán observed that, "When we accepted Christ, we understood that our lives had been poor not only materially, but spiritually." Pointing again to the Luke 4 passage, he explained, "We have the responsibility to heal not only people's lives, but all of creation." He observed Klassen preaching the gospel in words and deeds. For example, Klassen increased literacy in the indigenous community and promoted education and health.
To Guamán, fighting injustice had once meant using violence. But after experiencing the indwelling of Christ, he sought to use peace to achieve justice. "When the Spirit is in our lives, we can understand the message of the Bible," he said. Years after the violent conflict between rich landowners and indigenous people, one of those landowners sought him out to offer to pay rent for a building used for ministry. They became friends and were reconciled.
As he matured in faith, Guamán recognized that Klassen brought a particular perspective to teaching and discipling followers of Jesus. Klassen explained to Guamán that his own understanding of the gospel came from his Mennonite faith. However, he had not come to Ecuador to start Mennonite churches. "It's better if you explore and then choose," Guamán remembered Klassen saying.
When Mennonite mission worker Mauricio Chenlo began to work with indigenous church leaders in the 1990s, "We understood that Henry had been giving us Anabaptist theology," Guamán said. Subsequent workers helped strengthen that understanding.
In 2018, ICME formed as a network of mostly indigenous churches. "Before, we were like sons and daughters without a last name," Guamán said. "We were just evangelicals, and now we are Mennonite — Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Ecuador."
Looking ahead, ICME leaders said they have a vision for its future and a plan to prepare for it. ICME members dream of a quality education system, a holistic institute that equips young people with theological training for ministry as well as commerce and agricultural production. Toward that vision, ICME is currently sending two young women to study theology in Paraguay with travel assistance from Mission Network.
"Today we want to focus on the challenges for the new generation such as technology and climate change," Guamán said. "We as Christians have responsibility to carry forward the work of Christ."