Between 125-130 pastors and delegates gathered for the 107th Central District Conference Convention and Leadership Summit at Henderson MB Church, Nov. 3-4, 2017.
Centering on a theme of “Holding Fast to the Treasure,” the event included worship and business sessions, workshops and round table discussions and a celebration banquet.
Luke Haidle, pastor of Henderson MB Church, opened the convention with prayer and highlighted the theme verse, 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
“The imagery of the jar is used to convey the beauty and the magnitude of the treasure,” Haidle said. “It is our duty and it is our privilege to share that treasure with others.”
CDC welcomes new churches
In a historic moment, the conference welcomed eight new churches into the CDC family in an emotional display of unity and humility.
Representatives from the new churches spoke during the first business session Friday. Later that afternoon, the eight churches were accepted into membership by unanimous vote.
District Minister Rick Eshbaugh introduced the new churches: three church plants and five churches from the former North Central Conference (NCC) of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA).
The NCC was established in 1920 with 10 churches in four states: Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Ten years ago, the NCC began a process of renewal and preparation that led to a partnership with churches in Argentina to plant churches. Three years ago, as a result of theological variance in interpretation of Scripture, the NCC passed a motion to begin the process of withdrawing membership from MC USA.
NCC recommends affiliation with Mennonite Brethren
Jesse Swiers, pastor of Lake Region Mennonite Church in Detroit Lakes, Minn., said a number of conferences extended invitations to the congregations—the Evana Network, the Conservative Mennonite Conference and Rick Eshbaugh, representing Mennonite Brethren and the CDC.
In June 2017, the conference voted to dissolve, leaving the churches to vote independently regarding their next steps. The conference board expressed their desire to stay together as churches and recommended the congregations join the CDC, Swiers said.
Swiers, former NCC moderator, acknowledged the struggle in the discernment process and expressed excitement to join the CDC family. Five churches have voted to join the CDC; three remain in discussion.
“God is renewing us, geographically, to work together,” Swiers said. “I look forward to being a pastor in the Central District.”
Four additional representatives spoke: John Kauffman, council chair at Exeland (Wisconsin) Mennonite Church; David Hochstetler, pastor of Sand Lake Chapel in Stone Lake, Wisconsin; and Eden Baer and John Swiers, representatives of Strawberry Lake Mennonite Church, Ogema, Minnesota, where Delmar Yoder is pastor.
All affirmed the decision to join the CDC family, expressing thanks for the warm welcome and anticipating a shared partnership moving forward.
Coalridge Mennonite Church in Dagmar, Mont., was unable to send a representative.
“We will be blessed to have them,” Eshbaugh said of the former NCC churches, also requesting grace for the three churches still in discussion. “It’s a big decision.”
Three church plants also made application to join the CDC.
Samuel Hailemariam is pastor of Grace International Church, an Ethiopian/Eritrean congregation in Indianapolis, Indiana, with an attendance of about 75. He said the church, which worships in English, Amharic and Tigrinya, is growing quickly and has had three baptisms in the past year and a half. The congregation is in need of a church building.
Apostle Claude Tambatamba spoke on behalf of New Jerusalem Temple, a Congolese church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The church was established June 28, 2015, and has more than 300 members, with church plants in Kenya and Uganda. The congregation is also in need of a building.
Church-planter Christian Kohs said Redemption Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, was birthed out of a Bible study he started with coworkers from Buffalo Wild Wings. The gathering consists of about 30 people, primarily non-Christians. He expressed excitement at the opportunity to pastor this group.
June Wiebe prayed on behalf of the new churches.
Later that afternoon, delegates held four acceptance of membership votes. The five former NCC churches, voted on as one group, were unanimously approved to join the CDC family, followed by a round of applause. All three church plants were individually welcomed into conference membership by unanimous vote.
Attendees sang the doxology, then gathered at the front to lay hands on the new members in an emotional time of prayer. They concluded by singing “God Answers Prayer.”
In other business, CDC treasurer Richard Walter gave a financial overview of the budget, noting that all funds are invested with MB Foundation.
Total operating expenses for 2016-17 were $425,352, while total revenue equaled $408,514, a loss for the year of $16,838. The ending operating balance for 2016-17 was -$22,202. The CDC has four funding streams used to balance its budget: offerings from churches and individuals, church loan repayments, the Legacy Endowment designated for church-planting expenses and the CDC Ministry Fund Endowment.
After a lengthy Saturday morning discussion pertaining to endowment policy, clarification of church planting and renewal and trustees expenses, a 2017-18 budget of $433,400 was voted on and unanimously passed for 2017-18, an increase of $7,100 from the 2016-17 budget.
Executive Board chair Lud Holm, who presided over the business sessions, reported that church giving is down a little and encouraged people to continue giving.
Additional District Ministries Council (DMC) reports were given. Acting vice chair of the Board of Trustees Richard Glanzer gave the trustee report, detailing three properties owned by the conference.
Coalt Robinson, chair of the Church Planting and Renewal Committee, said this year the committee will work more closely with C2C Network, and C2C US Director Scott Thomas will join the church planting board. Robinson expressed excitement about the contributions Thomas will bring.
Anthony Lind, representing the Central District Youth Committee, said around 150 youth are registered for the CDC youth conference to be held Nov. 9-12 in Inwood, Iowa.
Roy Burket, chair of the Board of Faith and Life, reported the board accepted the licensure and ordination of pastors into the Central District.
In his report, Eshbaugh affirmed the CDC’s focus on kingdom expansion, personally committing to invest in 10 lives in the coming year and challenging attendees to do the same. He gave an overview of his responsibilities, expressing excitement at the opportunity to work with churches and pastors, including with new pastors Jeff Blomquist of Cornerstone Community Church in Harvey, North Dakota; Jeff Turner of Christ Community Church, Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Dio Whiteface, new associate pastor at Lakota Gospel MB Church in Porcupine, South Dakota.
“I want to thank you all for allowing us to minister in this area,” he said. “We have had a delightful time this past year.”
District board elections were held prior to the adjournment of convention business Saturday.
Agencies give reports
Representatives from Mennonite Brethren and inter-Mennonite agencies gave reports during the second business session Friday.
- Aaron Myers, Heidi Schmidt and Paul Raugust spoke on behalf of MB Mission, highlighting a continued strong presence of short-term trips through ACTION and a new three-day missional training program.
- Jon Wiebe, president of MB Foundation, showed photographs of MB Foundation’s new headquarters in Hillsboro, Kansas, and discussed services provided by MB Foundation.
- Tabor College President Jules Glanzer shared the top 10 things that have happened at the Mennonite Brethren school in Hillsboro, Kansas. Peggy Goertzen, director of the Center for MB Studies at Tabor, said a goal of hers is to publish a history of the CDC.
- Tina Schrag, communications coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee’s Central States Region, shared about MCC’s work around the world.
- Dennis Ries, Region 3 assistant chair of Mennonite Disaster Service, shared that natural declared disasters are on the rise, and there is a greater need for volunteers.
- USMB National Director Don Morris highlighted the national conference’s focus on intentional disciple-making in the coming year, one of USMB’s three core commitments, which also include leadership development and church multiplication and evangelism. “We want to come alongside you and what you’re doing,” Morris said, highlighting LEAD Cohorts and LEAD One events. Morris clarified that the U.S. Conference is providing significant funds for church planting in the U.S. in partnership with C2C US.
Following a prayer for Rick Eshbaugh and his wife, Esther, Eshbaugh acknowledged he’s not doing the ministry alone and prayed a commissioning prayer over leaders in attendance: “We recognize that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”
Thomas serves as guest speaker
Scott Thomas, director of C2C US, gave a series of messages encouraging attendees that
believers are jars of clay victorious through Christ who, because of the power of God through Jesus, can face suffering and can be renewed in spirit by faith in a resurrected Christ.
Thomas said: “Lord, help me to hold tight to the treasure by being a vessel willing to be broken so that your light may shine more brightly in other’s lives. Help me to face the hardships of this life with courage in you. Renew my inner man every day.”
Throughout the convention, a team from Henderson MB Church led attendees in praise and worship through singing.
Educational opportunities a new feature
Constituting the Leadership Summit portion of the event, learning opportunities were offered in the form of workshops or round table discussions, which were new this year to allow opportunity for dialogue. Topics ranged from discipleship to mission to theological issues to social media.
Presenters were: Garvie Schmidt and Andy Shewey of MB Foundation; Daniel Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva, Omaha, Nebraska; Rick Eshbaugh, CDC district minister; Dan Strutz, pastor of Community Bible Church, Mountain Lake, Minnesota; Jon Fiester, associate pastor of Bible Fellowship Church, Rapid City, South Dakota; Frank Lenihan, pastor of Lustre (Montana) MB Church; Scott Thomas, director of C2C US; Aaron Myers, missions mobilizer for MB Mission; Coalt Robinson, pastor of Bethel MB Church, Yale, South Dakota; John Quiring of Henderson (Nebraska) MB Church; and Paul Raugust of MB Mission.
As an alternate option for non-delegates, Heidi Schmidt led a tour of the Henderson Mennonite Heritage Park.
Storytelling focus of evening program
Friday concluded with a celebration banquet and church-planting offering in an evening of storytelling.
Jeff Turner, new pastor of Christ Community Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, shared he is a recovering alcoholic and a large part of his ministry stems from attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He covets prayers for his new ministry.
First-time pastor Jeff Blomquist of Cornerstone Community Church in Harvey North Dakota, recently became a pastor after working for Mayo Clinic in the cardiology department for 18 years. He encouraged attendees that it’s never too old to get a fresh start.
John Fiester, associate pastor of Bible Fellowship Church, Rapid City, South Dakota, shared his desire to minister to an unreached people group in Rapid City. He will be going to the C2C assessment in December.
Daniel Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva in Omaha, Nebraska, told of his call to become a pastor, his ongoing education, a break-in and theft at the church and a church-planting effort in nearby Fremont led by Jose Sanchez, who also spoke.
A special offering was collected for Iglesia Agua Viva to replace what was stolen. Eshbaugh said $1,700 was collected, with more money still coming in. Giving above $1,500 went to Gospel Fellowship Church in Wolf Point, Montana, whose building burned in November 2014. Duane Nasner requested financial help from the CDC on behalf of Gospel Fellowship to fund construction.
The convention concluded Saturday with a time of communion and prayer.
Those representing the former NCC returned to the stage, and John Swiers gave an emotional plea for prayer, acknowledging that while they felt very warmly accepted by the CDC, it is difficult to go through the closure of their district.
In what Eshbaugh said was a “very meaningful” time, Henderson MB Church facilitated communion with four stations staffed with people who not only served the elements but also prayed for specific prayer requests, as is their normal practice at the church.
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.