104th CDC convention celebrates God’s new things
By Connie Faber
God’s desire to do new things was the theme of the 104th Central District Conference (CDC) convention held Nov. 6-8 in Minot, ND. As one would expect, guest speakers Sam Dick from MB Mission and Don Morris from Mission USA based their messages on the theme, taken from Isaiah 43. But “new things” also proved to be a common thread running through the financial decisions made by delegates Saturday afternoon.
Worship sessions, church planting banquet
Gift enhances ministry possibilities
A significant gift of $1.2 million from the Katy Glanzer estate made it possible for CDC leaders to recommend a budget of $386,000, a $122,000 increase over the previous year’s budget. The enhanced budget will make it possible for the CDC to do a number of new things:
- expand the Legacy Fund, an endowment intended to fund church planting,
- extend the subsidy for four churches—Stony Brook Church, Omaha, Neb.; Christ Community Church and Ethiopian Christian Fellowship, both of Sioux Falls, SD; and Sanctuary Fremont, Fremont, Neb.— supported by the CDC,
- eliminate interest on existing loans to CDC congregations and
- establish a $70,000 fund for a new church renewal and leadership development ministry under the direction of Church Planting and Renewal Board.
The income budget for the new fiscal year also includes an increase in church giving, a recommendation that delegates responded to both favorably and with concern. CDC congregations gave $153,949 to the CDC during the 2013-14 fiscal year and the 2014-15 fiscal year budget for church offerings is $175,000, a 14 percent increase.
Building on the generous attitude of the trustees, delegates designated $6,500, a $5,000 increase from the past year, for Lakota Gospel Church, Porcupine, SD. This church is one of a handful of congregations on the Oglala Lakota Native American reservation. Delegates increased CDC funding as a way to encourage the congregation and to begin developing additional church leadership.
The delegate’s desire to encourage this small congregation was fueled by the report from Roger Engbrecht, CDC director of ethnic ministries. Engbrecht said that Pastor Howard Whiteface reports that the majority of churches on the reservation have closed. The voice of evangelical Christians on the reservation is “quite small,” says Engbrecht in an email to the Christian Leader following the convention.
Not all of the new things discussed during the business sessions were cause for celebration. CDC leaders were plainly saddened to announce that Reality Church of La Vista, Neb., has withdrawn from the CDC.
“I just didn’t see this happening,” said an emotional John Langer, chair of the church planting and renewal committee.
Reality Church was born in 1997 when church planter Rod Anderson and a core group of individuals from the Papillion area and Millard Bible Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Millard, Neb., formed what would become Rolling Hills Church. The CDC financially supported the fledgling church, which in 2003 hosted the CDC convention at their newly constructed facility in Papillion. In 2005 the church had grown to over 300 members under the leadership of Brian Classen, and changed its name to Shadow Lake Community Church.
Lance Burch, who was called as lead pastor in 2011, is currently leading the congregation that has grown to more than 800. In 2013 the church changed its name to Reality Church and the next year it relocated to LaVista, Neb.
The congregation’s decision to become an autonomous church and to officially leave the Mennonite Brethren denomination has financial consequences that the convention delegates discussed at length.
In the end, delegates unanimously approved a recommendation that:
- Reality Church repay a $40,000 grant given to them in 2000. CDC bylaws state that any grants awarded to a church be repaid if that congregation leaves the district.
- the CDC take over payments on a piece of property that Reality Church had purchased several years ago in order to build a new facility. This would free the church to invest funds in paying back the grant and for future ministry.
In discussing this recommendation, delegates clearly wanted the conference to do what it could to encourage this congregation that so many had had a part in planting and nurturing. CDC leaders confirmed that they felt this action would best serve the ministry of Reality Church and would also help to foster a congenial relationship.
In addition to reports from the Trustee Committee and treasurer Rick Walter, delegates heard from the Executive Board, Board of Faith and Life, Youth Committee and the Church Planting and Renewal Committee. District minister Rick Eshbaugh and Ethnic Ministries director Roger Engbrecht also reported. Delegates affirmed nominees to the various CDC committees and boards.
Mennonite Brethren ministry representatives that gave updates included Don Morris of USMB, Jon Wiebe of MB Foundation, Ron Braun of Tabor College, Garry Prieb of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and Amy Sterk of Kindred Productions.
Sam Dick of MB Mission hosted a missions program during lunch on Friday that included a video interview with two MB Mission workers serving in a restricted area and personal testimonies from Sandy Fender, who serves in Thailand, and Paul and Sara Raugust, who will also serve in a restricted area.
Representatives from Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Disaster Service also reported.
Celebrating new Fremont church plant
The church planting banquet Friday evening emphasized the new things God is doing in the greater Omaha metro-area, specifically in Fremont, Neb., where banquet speaker Wes Wilmer and his wife, Michele, are planting a new USMB church. Sanctuary Freemont is a partnership between Stony Brook Church of Omaha, the CDC and Mission USA, the USMB church planting and renewal ministry.
“Doing something new is exciting,” said Wilmer, “but making something new happen involves risk and cost.”
As Wilmer shared his personal story, he highlighted the times his response to change has moved from “Yes, but…” to “but God….” He told of his conversion as a young professional in 1996, his decision to attend Bible college, moving to Omaha to join the faculty of Grace University and his reluctance to accept the invitation from Stony Brook pastor Chad Stoner to become a church planter.
Wilmer, who grew up in Fremont and left his hometown in 1996, told how God changed his and his wife’s reluctance to return to that community as church planters. He told of the people God has already brought to their Wednesday night gatherings. “Our desire is not just to plant a church but to plant the gospel,” said Wilmer.
John Langer, chair of the Church Planting and Renewal Committee; Don Morris, Mission USA director; Rick Eshbaugh, CDC minister; and Roger Engbrecht, CDC director of ethnic ministries, gathered around Wilmer for a time of prayer following his presentation.
The banquet program also included a time of singing led by the worship team from Lincoln Hills Church, Sioux Falls, SD, an offering for Mennonite Disaster Service in appreciation for their help restoring Minot’s Bible Fellowship Church and a video testimony from Christ Community Church, also of Sioux Falls, SD.
Speakers talk of new things
Host pastor Duane Deckert told the 75 CDC convention delegates and guests that the convention theme verse from Isaiah 43:19—“Behold, I am doing a new thing!”—was the promise that guided the Bible Fellowship congregation following the 2011 flood that destroyed their church building.
“When we think of new things we think of stuff,” said Deckert Friday morning in a devotional that set the stage for the messages given that day by MB Mission’s Sam Dick. “But God’s new thing is in our hearts.”
Dick continued the theme of newness, saying, “Newness is God’s middle name.” In his first message Dick said God promises three things in Isaiah 43:
- a new identity rooted in God, our Creator, that provides a counter-cultural way of responding to the fears we face today. “I can’t find a religion in the world that has a God that calls you by name,” said Dick.
- a renewed community. Community is a gift from God that is sometimes taken for granted. “Hugs can only be delivered when we’re in the same room,” said Dick. “Sorry Facebook.”
- a new hope. “There is a time to remember the past,” said Dick, “but we also need to forget and move forward.”
For his afternoon message, Dick shifted to the story of Cornelius and Peter from Acts 10 and talked about God’s new mission. That mission, said Dick, is for everyone, and expanding God’s kingdom from the Jewish world to include Gentiles was God’s idea.
“People around the world are being prepared like Cornelius,” said Dick. He called the audience to respond to God’s call to join God on his mission. “It’s a commitment I’m giving my life to,” he said.
“In every generation, in some obscure place, God is doing something new, and that’s where we need to be,” said Dick.
Speaking Saturday morning, Don Morris, of Mission USA, began with a personal story that illustrated God’s promise to do new things and concluded with stories of the 11 church plant partnerships with which Mission USA is currently involved.
Partnerships, defined by Morris as working side by side toward a shared goal, is one of the ways in which God accomplishes new things. “I believe that we Mennonite Brethren are truly in a partnership with one another,” said Morris. “Family is such a huge part of who we are.”
Morris assured his audience that the national conference wants to serve their district conference, to have a partnership that involves giving and receiving. “The USC wants to work side by side with you,” said Morris, “to be a partner with you.”
John Effinger, worship pastor at Lincoln Hills Bible Church, Sioux Falls, SD, led worship times during the convention. Vocalists Audrey Fast of Lincoln Hills and Heather Deckert from Minot’s Bible Fellowship Church, as well as bass guitarist Evan Fast, Lincoln Hills, assisted Effinger.
Rick Eshbaugh led the Saturday morning memorial service that was followed by a communion service.
The convention format again included “nuggets,” personal testimonies in which speakers shared how God had worked in their own lives or the life of their congregation.
A concert by the unique entertainer “Mylo Hatzenbuhler,” a fictional farm boy and music superstar that lives on a fictional farm near Strasburg, ND with his fictional wife and family, opened the convention Thursday evening.
The concert featured songs and stories about life “on the farm” and “on the road” as well as Hatzenbuhler’s trademark use of fracture words and phrases. The audience soon realized that many of Hatzenbuhler’s “hits” were not exactly what they seemed. “Rock Around the Clock Tonight,” for example, was really a song about farm life entitled “Rock Around the Barn Tonight.”
The evening concluded with Clyde Bauman, Hatzenbuhler’s creator, performing sacred music as well as ballads, including several written by Dakota composers.
A special guest recognized by Minot pastor Duane Deckert that evening was Dave Demaree, a licensed North Dakota electrician who came out of retirement to manage the short-term volunteer electricians recruited by Mennonite Disaster Service following the 2011 flood.
Convention attendees could attend two of three workshops offered Friday afternoon. In a workshop on outreach, Heather Deckert, who works with Child Evangelism Fellowship in Minot, encouraged participants to consider sponsoring Bible clubs in their communities. Frank Lenihan, pastor of Lustre (Mont.) MB Church, led a workshop related to traveling in Israel that also discussed discipleship from a Jewish perspective. Lenihan serves on the national board of Bridges for Peace, a Christian ministry headquartered in Jerusalem that supports Israel and seeks to build relationships between Jews and Christians. Jon Wiebe and members of the MB Foundation staff spoke on developing a culture of generosity in the local church.
Todd and Kim Erickson were the respective speakers at the annual men’s and women’s convention luncheons; Todd is the North Dakota state director of Child Evangelism Fellowship. The couple, that has “five children on earth and one in heaven,” told how the death of their young son 10 years ago has impacted their faith journey.
Photo 1: Wes Wilmer, center, Sanctuary Fremont church planter, is surrounded by John Langer, Church Planting and Renewal Committee chair; Don Morris, hidden, Mission USA director; Rick Eshbaugh, hidden, CDC minister; and Roger Engbrechts, CDC Ethnic Ministries director, for a time of prayer for the Wilmers as they lead the newest CDC church plant.
Photo 2: Duane Deckert, right, Bible Fellowship Church pastor, prayers for speaker Sam Dick.
Photo 3: "Everyplace I go, I'm wanted someplace else," rock star Milo Hatzenbuhler told the crowd.
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