The Sacred Listening Project is an ongoing project of Central District Conference, in which congregations hold a one-day event that provides an opportunity for congregants to share their stories about their church experience with one another and with representatives of the conference. These stories are intended to reflect how congregants and congregations have encountered transformation through the COVID-19 pandemic, welcoming/affirming LGBTQ+ siblings, and national issues dealing with justice, culture, power, creation care, immigration, and race.
by Sarah Werner
In March 2022, members from Central District Conference (CDC) visited Americus Mennonite Fellowship, as part of the Sacred Listening Project, and the story of Nashua “Nash” Chantal stood out as epitomizing the Mennonite imperative to live a life that works to bring love and justice to a hurting world. A while ago, Nash came to live in LaGrange, Georgia, to rest for a time, after having spent 18 months working in New Orleans, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
He quickly found Casa Alterna, an intentional community of solidarity with undocumentable immigrants, and became close friends with Anton Flores, one of its founders. He noticed that many of his Latino neighbors were struggling and started going door to door, meeting people and passing out flyers with information about the assistance available for them in the community. When families were getting robbed, he helped put stronger doors on their homes. He and the church also helped when families had material needs, like refrigerators or food, or assistance with home repair.
When he moved to Americus, he worked to build community in the same way, visiting neighbors and gauging needs. He reached out to GLARE, a Latino Christian organization in Atlanta, and started passing out flyers that had information about farmworker rights and phone numbers where they could seek help locally.
Nash said that even though these seem like small efforts, “Little things like that just start to matter after a while.”
He started visiting Latino churches, to learn more about the issues they were facing. With the assistance of the church, he was able to lend money to people who needed it and help people repair their homes. “When people aren’t being taken care of, the Mennonite church steps up and helps,” Nash said, and everyone in the church wants to get involved in this kind of work — adults and children alike — because it builds community with their neighbors. In Nash’s words, “you basically develop a big family, after a while.”
Nash had a rough start in life and ended up in prison when he was 19 years old. He said it was a lifechanging experience for him. He started helping other prisoners, mediating arguments between ethnic groups and even stopping riots. Nash said, “My prison experience taught me something about life. I’m sorry I did that horrible thing, but that’s why I became involved in the peace movement.” He realized that the U.S. government is involved in systematic killing through war, creating violence in other countries through programs like the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning — now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
“This is what I do. Because of the crime I did a long time ago, I gave my life to justice. The government is hurting lots of people. All we can do is walk beside them. I’m there for people. Any kind of injustice, I’m there.”
Nash said he sometimes feels helpless in the face of so much injustice, but he reiterated again and again that all he wants to do is make a difference for people in any way he can.
Nash thanks God for walking with him throughout his life and for giving him the chance to help people. He has taken in 10 people in the last 10y ears, to help them get out of bad situations, whether it be domestic violence or unemployment. “I take care of people in general. If I see something, I take care of it,” Nash said. He also reported that Americus Mennonite Fellowship has been like a lighthouse for the community. Church members intervene when migrants are arrested, and sometimes, the police release them without even impounding their vehicles. Most of all, Nash likes what he does because it makes him happy. “We’re all needed. Everyone is needed. You can make a difference in someone’s life so easily.”
Sarah Werner is an editor, writer and worship leader, living in Columbus, Ohio. She teaches theology and environmental justice courses at Pathways, an online seminary program affiliated with the United Church of Christ. She is a worship leader and youth sponsor at Columbus Mennonite Church and facilitates the Olentangy Wild Church.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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