The focus of the 112th Central District Conference convention can be summarized in two related words: “new” and “transition.” The theme of the 2022 annual gathering, held Nov. 3-5 in Owatonna, Minnesota, was “Transition: Moving forward,” with Joshua 1:8-9 as the key text.
“There has been much transition in our district the last couple of years—new churches joining the conference, a new updated constitution, a new district minister, new beginnings for some local churches, new pastors,” says the introductory page in the delegate booklet.
Many of the new things on this list were evident during the three-day event.
- The convention speakers were three young CDC pastors who are new to the district, and their sermons dealt with times of transition for the children of Israel. Each speaker incorporated parts of their personal stories in their messages.
- Four-year-old Redemption Church hosted the 107 attendees in its “new” church home, a 130-plus-year-old church building in downtown Owatonna that the congregation had moved into this summer.
- New district minister, Daniel Rodriguez, and a new district chair, Lynn Schneider, guided the convention.
Jon Annin, who began serving as lead pastor of Stony Brook Church, Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021, spoke about fear in the opening address Thursday evening. Referencing Joshua 1:8-9, Annin noted that in these verses, “fear” is a verb, not a noun.
“Being a little fearful is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “Sometimes fear tells us we’re doing something important…. Fear as a noun is OK. The problem is when fear becomes a verb.”
Moving to the story in Numbers 13 of the 12 men Moses sent to explore Canaan, Annin noted four fears that pastors and leaders often deal with during a transition: fear of the mission, fear of the people they are leading, fear of the giants in the land and fear of being alone.
In his Friday morning message, Christian Kohs, pastor of the host church challenged attendees to “look back to see all God has done.”
“We forget it was God who blessed us in the beginning of our faith,” said Kohs. “It doesn’t strengthen our faith if we don’t remember how God has proven himself.”
Working his way through Deuteronomy 8, Kohs encouraged listeners to remember and be thankful for God’s Word that feeds his children, to be faithful to God’s Word, to work together and to remember that success can be dangerous.
In the closing message Saturday morning, Aaron Garza, who this summer became the lead pastor at Bethesda Church in Huron, South Dakota, spoke from Joshua 1. Telling his story of moving from California to South Dakota, Garza talked about God’s guidance and faithfulness. He emphasized that Joshua could be faithful because of God’s promises.
Garza focused on the command in Joshua 1:6-7 to be “strong and very courageous” and gave two applications. He encouraged his listeners to hold fast to the “glorious doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement” and spoke of the importance of addressing theological differences and agreeing on “first-order” convictions.
He also emphasized the importance of being strong and courageous in one’s character. “The young need the wisdom of the older leaders,” he said, encouraging older leaders to end their ministry well.
Garza’s words of encouragement to seasoned leaders provided a transition to the recognition of Rick Eshbaugh and Dan Strutz, “two people who have paved the way for us,” said CDC chair Schneider. Eshbaugh and Strutz were presented with plaques recognizing their service as district ministers.
Eshbaugh served as the CDC minister for almost 10 years, resigning in May 2022 to become the director of financial discipleship at MB Foundation. Strutz served from Sept. 2019 to November 2022 as a part-time district minister.
Eshbaugh’s resignation prompted a series of decisions by the CDC Executive Board, Schneider had explained in an earlier business session. The board determined that going forward the 1/8-time administrative assistant would become a half-time position and that the part-time district minister position would be discontinued. Rhonda Swiers, Callaway, Minnesota, was introduced as the new administrative assistant.
Rodriguez was officially introduced Friday morning as the new CDC minister. In his inaugural report, Rodriguez described new initiatives focused on the CDC mission statement adopted in 2021 as part of the new CDC constitution. According to the mission statement, the CDC exists to “strengthen our church leaders/pastors; plant new churches; renew existing churches and give biblical training and clarity on what it means to be a theologically conservative evangelical Anabaptist network of churches on mission.”
Rodriguez announced that Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. everyone in the CDC is invited to attend a prayer meeting on Zoom. He also introduced a devotional and prayer journal that he is encouraging all CDC pastors to use. Both activities are intended to strengthen CDC churches and pastors.
Rodriguez also announced plans to provide CDC pastors who do not have formal training with classes via Zoom on preaching, theology, hermeneutics and biblical languages. Classes will be offered in several languages.
Earlier Friday morning, Rodriguez called all CDC pastors and spouses to the stage for a photo and prayer. Delegates were invited to extend their arms as Stephen Humber, Multiply Midwest regional mobilizer, prayed for the pastors and spouses.
Twice during the weekend, Rodriguez invited delegates and guests to move out of their comfort zones. Thursday evening this involved holding hands in small groups and praying simultaneously as three individuals prayed from the front in Spanish, Amharic and English.
At the close of the Friday afternoon business session, Rodriguez asked attendees to take one or more invitation cards prepared by Redemption Church and to share the card with someone in the community during the 90-minute break before the evening banquet and program. He encouraged everyone to put into practice Jesus’ command to go and make disciples.
The convention showcased the Owatonna church plant and gave delegates a first-hand look at what their prayer and financial support has made possible. More than once, Redemption pastor Kohs expressed his appreciation for this support and reminded delegates that they are part of Redemption’s story.
During the Friday evening Church Planting and Renewal Banquet, delegates heard testimonies from three members of Redemption: Brenda, Stephanie and Tory. Brenda spoke of feeling at home the first time she visited Redemption Church and praised God for her five-year recovery anniversary. Stephanie, who was invited to Redemption by Brenda, said, “Jesus is in my heart now and before he was just in my head.” Tory’s story also included addiction and an invitation to visit Redemption. He is involved now in the life of the church and is “becoming the man I’ve wanted to be.”
Jon and Michele Fiester, church planters in Rapid City, South Dakota, told stories of the men, women and children they encounter working in the violent neighborhood where Renewal MB Church is located.
“Renewal is a safe, sacred place in the community,” Jon said.
Two years ago, the church remodeled and relocated to a former Chuck E. Cheese restaurant located near a large apartment complex. While the Fiesters knew the neighborhood was impacted by generational gang membership, violence and drugs, Jon noted the reality of ministry in such a situation is challenging.
He told of interacting with drug dealers as they walk through the neighborhood apartment complex and working with the complex manager to de-escalate potentially violent situations.
“Your God is fast, but he’s not faster than bullets,” Fiester said the apartment manager told him.
The Fiesters said working in the neighborhood is “really messy,” and that residents respond to their difficult circumstances with Native American practices like burning sage and holding sweats. “They are trying to fix things without Jesus,” Jon said.
The Renewal congregation will host the 2023 CDC convention.
Delegates also heard from Apostle Claude Tambatamba, who came to the United States seven years ago. In 2015, he planted New Jerusalem Temple, a congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in his and his wife’s one-bedroom apartment.
The fledgling church holds Friday night services for teens and a Saturday evening service that draws between 24 and 40 people. Sunday afternoon, from 1 to 5 p.m., the congregation gathers for worship in the building they share with Christ Community Church, another CDC congregation.
Tambatamba requested prayer for leaders for the future, a church building of their own and funds for a van to transport teens from their homes to the Friday evening services. He also asked for prayer in their efforts to learn the American culture.
“We need your help to learn the culture and how to reach people in this culture,” he said.
Five CDC congregations are part of the district’s renewal efforts, and Stony Brook’s Annin spoke of his congregation’s appreciation for the district’s financial assistance. Based on his experience, Annin offered six tips on church renewal, including taking help when it’s needed, working hard and being willing to change.
During business sessions, delegates voted to approve a 2022-23 budget of $419,400, down from actual expenses of $564,796 the previous fiscal year.
Delegates also elected new committee members, including Executive Board members Jessie Swiers as vice chair and Melissa Hanna as secretary replacing Helene Wedel who termed out of that position. All new and continuing committee members present were commissioned in a time of prayer led by Schneider and Rodriguez.
Business sessions included reports from the district minister, Faith and Life Committee, Youth Committee, Trustee Committee and the treasurer.
Two offerings were taken during the weekend. The church planting/renewal offering Friday evening was for a youth conference to be hosted by Grace Tabernacle Ministries, a congregation in Indianapolis, Indiana. A second offering that would fund the annual CDC budget was given Saturday.
Guest reports were given by representatives of Christian Leader, MB Foundation, Multiply, Mennonite Central Committee, Tabor College and USMB.
Attendees could choose to attend two of five Friday afternoon workshops:
- Progressive Christianity/apologetics presented by Christian Kohs.
- Church renewal presented by Daniel Rodriguez and former district minister Rick Eshbaugh who now works with MB Foundation.
- The USMB Confession of Faith led by Dan Strutz, former CDC district minister.
- Church planting led by Brian Harris, USMB church planting mobilizer.
- Retirement planning presented by MB Foundation staff.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and two grandchildren. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.