By Laurie Oswald Robinson

During a Hoffnungsau Mennonite Church (HMC) 140th anniversary event, signs pointing the way to tours of the historic Immigrant House site caused a stir that may have included stirrings of the Holy Spirit.

A local resident thought Mennonites may be housing Mexican youth crossing the border into the United States. That assumption was unfounded, said Cleo Koop, HMC pastor, during a recent interview. Nonetheless, the historical program and worship on July 20 at the site of the former houses built for the first Mennonite settlers to the Inman-Buhler area was not disconnected from immigration issues.

The service was one of several events hosted from January through July that linked the church’s past with its future hopes for providing a welcome to newcomers. In January Hoffnungsau began a three-year sister church relationship with the Hispanic congregation, Iglesia Camino de Santidad, in Liberal, Kansas.

“As an immigrant congregation of the 1800’s, we can relate to an immigrant congregation of the 21st century,” he said. “In some ways, we have similar histories of persecution, economic hardship and language barriers. This relationship connects us with the broader culture and today’s immigration issues as well as with the growing population shift from whites being the majority to a more pluralistic society.

“There are approximately 10 million undocumented people in our country. We need to understand what this means for us and how we relate to all this with some sense of compassion and help and ministry.”

Camino members are already experiencing this compassion, said Marlene Aquino, a youth leader at Camino, which celebrated its third anniversary in March. Some members of Hoffnungsau traveled to Liberal to join the anniversary celebration.

And 22 adults and children from Camino joined Hoffnungsau’s July 27 celebration worship service and stayed in local homes, Aquino said in a recent interview. A Hispanic young female dance troupe participated in the service. It piqued the interest of young girls in the Hoffnungsau congregation who want to learn more about worship dancing from their new Hispanic friends.

“We are from two very different congregations in different settings and cultures, and yet there are no boundaries stopping us from loving each other as brothers and sisters,” Aquino said. “Because of their history, they understand some of our feelings, and there is mutuality and warmth among us. They have been in our shoes, and therefore have a heart for what our people are going through.”

Completing the historical circle

About 140-plus years ago, the first Mennonite settlers faced similar hardships. German Mennonites from Russia came over the ocean on the Teutonia. They established Hoffnungsau in a valley meadow south of Inman and north of Buhler, where the current meetinghouse sits today. The German word Hoffnungsau combines deacon Johann Dueck’s words upon first seeing the chosen site: “Dies ist ja hier eine wahrhaftige Hoffnungs Au” or (This is a very pleasant view; it is like looking onto a Meadow of Hope).

This meadow of hope generated hope in God for the first members of the Hoffnungsau congregation and evoked the start of several other area congregations, Koop said. They include Bethel Mennonite Church, Buhler Mennonite Church, Inman Mennonite Church and Hebron Mennonite Church, which no longer exists. Since January, the congregations have reflected on their history in a series of events titled “A Hopeful View: Celebrating the Past, Faithfully Embracing the Future.”

“We examined our roots and foundation and the source of direction that people had in the past that included a focus on peacemaking, community, discipleship and scripture,” Koop said. “This reflection helps us know who we are today as well as where we want to go in the future. We are grappling with knowing how to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century, including embracing more diversity and varied worship styles. ”

The sister church relationship is helping the congregation to branch out beyond the traditional community into new horizons, said Bob Poulseen, chair of the congregation who birthed the idea of the sister church relationship.

In the next two-plus years, Hoffnungsau hopes to involve their sister church in its mission supper, MCC School Kit Drive and Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale. The church also hopes to assist the Hispanic congregation in its various missions, he said.

“We sensed this relationship could help us both deepen spiritually as well as broaden culturally,” Poulseen said. “Because of our sister church relationship with a congregation far beyond our immediate area, we are being stretched and perhaps better prepared in the future to relate to people who are disenfranchised in our own backyard of the counties of Harvey, Reno and McPherson.”