More than 100 delegates, ministry partners and guests gathered for the 113th Central District Conference convention at Renewal MB Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, Nov. 2-4, 2023.
District Minister Daniel Rodriguez introduced the theme of “Perseverance”, based on Hebrew 12:2, and he encouraged attendees to persevere in being the light of the world and making disciples.
Highlighting the three-day convention was the introduction of a new mentorship program. The convention also included worship and business sessions, prayer, workshops, a Church Planting and Renewal Banquet with testimonies and a time of remembrance for people who have died.
New district mentorship program
During the Church Planting and Renewal Banquet, Rodriguez introduced a new mentorship program to develop new pastors and church planters in the CDC.
The Central District will subsidize part of the program and will partner with the district Board of Faith and Life (BFL) and Church Planting and Renewal Committee. The BFL will assess the person’s character, strengths and weaknesses.
Through the program—$30,000 has been allotted for 2024—lead pastors will mentor young people for six months to one year. This could possibly be done in conjunction with USMB NextGen’s Leadership Pipeline, said NextGen Chair Kyle Goings after the convention.
At the conclusion of the Church Planting and Renewal Banquet, Rodriguez introduced Jude Johnson from Strawberry Lake Mennonite Church in Ogema, Minnesota, as the first participant in the mentorship program. Johnson is interested in being a worship pastor and will be mentored by Jon Annin at Stony Brook Church in Omaha, Nebraska.
Johnson, and Amber Davidson, also from Strawberry Lake, provided music for the church planting offering, having led worship for the Summer Youth Camp in July. Rodriguez had attended as camp pastor and asked them to sing at the convention. This was also where Rodriguez saw young leaders and had the desire to train them for pastoral ministry.
Johnson is part of the Strawberry Lake worship team. Pastor Justin Swiers said the congregation had struggled with worship for years until Johnson’s family started attending, and it was difficult to let Johnson go, but he recognized God needs him more than the church does.
Worship sessions focus on perseverance
Three speakers highlighted the convention’s worship sessions, which each focused-on perseverance and began with singing led by a team from Renewal MB and other area churches, including Bible Fellowship Church.
Tim Hall, pastor of Butterfield (Minn.) Community Bible Church, spoke during Thursday’s first session, saying he and his family are familiar with perseverance.
Hall’s wife, Mary, was put on hospice last summer. Miraculously, her numbers improved, allowing her to “graduate” from hospice with a chronic, instead of terminal, condition.
“God brought about a miracle,” Hall said. “We’ve had to persevere through years of pain, limitations, problems, hardships. We’re still going through it.”
Against the backdrop of his own experience, Hall read from James 1, saying that joy is different than happiness.
“Joy is not based in our circumstances, it is based in God almighty himself,” Hall said. “We look past our trial, and we make a choice to focus on Christ.”
Though not easy to rejoice in the face of suffering, Hall said believers can experience joy because trials have a purpose. Just as athletes train for a race, trials produce endurance as Christians run to receive an imperishable crown. Perseverance makes Christians more like Christ. Though our trials pale in comparison to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, they connect us to him.
“The trials we experience perfect our faith,” Hall said, concluding with the encouragement provided by the promise of eternal life.
During the second worship session Friday, Hunegnaw Bekele, pastor of Ethiopian Christian Fellowship in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, based his message on 1 Peter 5:6-10 in which Peter wrote to encourage persecuted believers through an unshakeable living hope in Jesus in the face of temporary suffering.
Bekele shared his story of enduring political turmoil and persecution in Ethiopia. His father and brother were tortured and another brother was imprisoned. Bekele escaped to a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, where he was introduced to Jesus, allowing him to find joy despite being separated from his family.
“I have nothing, but I have everything,” Bekele said. “That changed my life.”
Believers can rejoice in suffering, Bekele said, because Jesus was raised from the dead and the power of the Holy Spirit is in us.
“As Christians, it is important for us to consider our current difficulties in light of the future and the glory that will be revealed,” Bekele said. “Jesus is our example.”
Suffering is not always a setback, he said, adding that when Christians try to avoid suffering, we may miss God’s purpose. The world is motivated by convenience, and Christians tend to apply the same principle to the spiritual realm. But this “microwave mentality,” as Bekele called it, does not work. Patient waiting is required, he said, sharing the personal example of being separated from his wife for five years during their engagement before she was able to come from Kenya to join him in the U.S.
Perseverance requires humility, standing firm, faith, trust and determination, Bekele said, referencing the cloud of witnesses who kept the faith in the face of difficulty.
In the third worship session Saturday, Jon Fiester, pastor of Renewal MB Church, encouraged attendees to focus on running well, not fast.
He shared the story of launching Renewal in September 2019, then persevering in 2020 when their city-owned building closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Focusing on the text of Hebrews 12:1-4, which he said shows why Christians persevere, Fiester said Christians persevere because our role is significant, though we may never see it. The Father is painting a picture, and Christians are the paintbrush in his hand, Fiester said.
Perseverance requires fixation on Jesus. Like Peter, it’s easy to start sinking when we take our eyes off Jesus, Fiester said, adding that “ministry hijackers” that aren’t inherently evil can weigh us down.
Perseverance involves pain before the promise, Fiester said, adding that following Jesus isn’t for the faint of heart. There is no retirement in Scripture, he said.
Fiester said people often quit too early because no one likes the pain that accompanies perseverance. As an example, he said between 10 and 30 children come to Renewal throughout the day. While it is easy to get to know the kids, it takes much longer to meet their parents and can take years for a parent to attend church.
Fiester left people with the encouragement to be faithful and leave the results to God.
“It doesn’t matter how fast you run,” Fiester said. “It matters how well you run.”
Following Fiester’s message, the worship team led attendees in singing what Fiester described as Renewal’s theme song, “Battle Belongs” by Phil Wickham.
Budget discussions and other business
Attendees spent time in prayer around tables throughout the convention. Before moving into business, attendees offered prayers at their tables while Apostle Claude Tambatamba of New Jerusalem Temple in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, prayed in multiple languages. Attendees also prayed for each USMB district.
Delegates voted unanimously to affirm a 2023-2024 budget of $394,000, having recorded total expenses of $472,466 the previous year, which was $4,044 in the red.
Suzanna Strutz, member of the Trustee Committee, moderated a budget-based discussion with committee chairs.
The budget reflects a decrease in church support. About 43 percent of income in the proposed 2023-2024 budget comes from church offerings, or $170,000, down from the $184,000 budgeted in 2022-2023. Another 43 percent, or $160,000, is anticipated to come from interest income. The district limits funds taken from investments to 6 percent, Trustee Chair John Quiring said.
Also reflected in the budget is the BFL’s priority on the pastors’ and spouses retreat, budgeting $10,000 up from $4,000 in 2023, and a new $30,000 line item for the mentorship program.
Questions addressed include the discontinued budget item for the integrated immigrant coordinator, whose position has been dissolved, Rodriguez said, and financial accountability with the Youth Committee.
Later, discussion followed when Curtis White requested resumed conference funding for the Pine Ridge Gospel Church and the now-closed Porcupine Church on the Pine Ridge reservation. The District Ministry Council will meet in the spring and could incorporate the budget item for next year, Quiring said.
In other business:
- Delegates elected conference leaders in one unanimous vote, electing Lynn Schneider to a second term as executive board chair; John Langer and Stephen Stout to the Faith and Life Committee; Mike Andrews, Scott Crook and Mike Wall to the Church Planting and Renewal Committee with Wall filling deceased Daryl Toews’ position; John Quiring to the Trustee Committee, Amber Davidson to the Youth Committee and Justin Swiers to the Nominating Committee. Delegates also affirmed Tabor College board members.
- Schneider addressed questions and upcoming constitutional changes. In the coming year, the youth treasurer will report to the Trustee chair, and the Youth Committee chair will be invited to Executive Board meetings. The district constitution does not currently provide for the Executive Board to include the Youth Committee chair. It also speaks to a single unified treasury, though in reality including the Youth Treasury would be impractical.
- Delegates heard that the District Ministries Council (DMC) has appointed a task force to seek clarity for district credentialing policy and procedures in consultation with the U.S. Board of Faith and Life. The task force will address qualification requirements and eligibility for licensure and will report its findings at the DMC meeting in the spring.
- Rodriguez led in a time of remembrance for two individuals who have died, including Daryl Toews, of Lustre, Montana, and a member of the Church Planting and Renewal Committee, and June Wiebe, member of Bible Fellowship Church in Rapid City.
- Leadership Board Chair Luke Haidle provided an update on the search for the next national cirector as current National Director Don Morris intends to retire in August 2024. Haidle expressed appreciation for Morris’ service and spoke about the process of hiring a consultant to formulate a survey to gather information including demographics, perceived state of the U.S. conference, and wishes for the next national director. Haidle said the survey shows people want similar things in a national director and directed people to the USMB website to view the survey results and job description. Haidle requested prayer as numerous people in leadership positions are retiring.
- Attendees heard reports from conference boards and committees, including the Executive Board, district minister and administrative assistant Rhonda Swiers, Faith and Life Committee, Church Planting and Renewal Committee, Youth Committee, Trustee Committee and the treasurer. Rodriguez shared he has visited 37 of 39 CDC churches in his first year as district minister, and that continuing education classes are going well with more students than expected. The district hopes to offer more “Renewal and Missional Church” workshops. He also led a prayer requesting discernment for Multiply worker Sandra Fender during an upcoming trip to Thailand.
- Agency representatives gave reports: Tabor College, MB Foundation, Christian Leader, Multiply, USMB NextGen, Center for MB Studies and USMB. Schneider thanked Morris for his service and the group offered a round of applause.
Attendees drove south to sister MB church, Bible Fellowship Church, for lunch and two workshop blocks Friday.
Three workshops were offered twice, including “Local Churches – Hope of the World” by Multiply’s Bruce Enns and Stephen Humber, “Authority of Scripture” by Bethel MB pastor Coalt Robinson, and a “Gospel-Centered” discussion by former pastor Dan Strutz. Salem MB pastor Stuart Curry led two workshops pertaining to children’s ministry, including the Good News Club and engaging children in meaningful conversations.
Church Planting and Renewal Banquet
Friday’s banquet began with dinner and worship, then Jon Fiester introduced three local individuals who shared testimonies.
Retired pastor Ralph Supernaw moved to Rapid City with his wife, Lori, in April. Upon visiting Renewal, they knew they had found their church home.
“We’ve been encouraged by their emphasis on prayer,” Supernaw said, also mentioning Renewal’s partnership with other churches and initiatives like Trunk or Treat. “This church is determined to be part of God’s word to change this neighborhood.”
Supernaw said it’s a challenging neighborhood, and people would notice if Renewal left the area.
Tyler Read works for the Rapid City Police Department and serves as a community liaison for the north part of the city, where Renewal is located. Not a Renewal attendee, Read was asked to share what he’s seen since Renewal came to the neighborhood.
Providing context, Read said Rapid City is the urban hub for many reservation communities. Renewal’s neighborhood is well-known in the city as “the woods,” named for the nearby Knollwood, Surfwood and Maplewood apartments.
“This neighborhood has struggled greatly, especially after COVID,” Read said. When things got difficult with murders and violence, Read was sent in to build relationships and reduce crime. It was a very dark time, he said, and he felt terrified and lonely, but when he looked for help, he found none. Read began by serving the children, who had nowhere safe to be. That changed when he met Pastor Jon, he said, and kids soon had two safe places—the police station clubhouse and Renewal MB.
“It warms my heart to know that this place has been such a crucial asset for them,” Read said. “(The kids) know this place is safe and welcoming, and a place they like to go.”
Read shared how Renewal opens its doors for community gatherings to get people talking and build trust. Because of these and other efforts, he said the neighborhood is starting to change, and the department is seeing reduced crime.
“(Renewal has) been exactly what this community needs,” he said.
Jonathan White Magpie lives across the street from Renewal and came to a service after seeing Renewal’s sign.
“I like this church,” he said, noting the Fiesters’ compassion and desire to help people.
Many Natives don’t trust Jesus because Europeans came and used the name of Jesus for their own greed, he said, adding that the dominant view is, “That’s the white man’s God.”
White Magpie carries a home-constructed wooden cross every Sunday to offer hope. When people ask what he’s doing, he tells them about Jesus and the church.
White Magpie said gang-related murders are high among young Native men, and he’s trying to reach them.
“Without Jon, I don’t think we could reach anyone out there,” he said, agreeing with Read that because people care, there is fruit.
Lud Hohm, chair of the Church Planting and Renewal Committee, encouraged prayer for the church plants, workers and new opportunities. Hohm had a “disaster crop” of corn this year, he said, which caused him to think about how important harvest is. He asked people to think about harvesting souls and encouraged giving for church planting, asking if church planting is a priority of the conference.
“Are we too old to birth?” Hohm asked.
Attendees gave $5,800 to the church planting and renewal offering, which will be split evenly for a new keyboard at Holy Jerusalem Pentecost Church in Coralville, Iowa, and the ESL ministry at Bethel Fellowship Church in Sioux Falls.
Amber Davidson and Jude Johnson, both from Strawberry Lake Mennonite Church in Ogema, Minnesota, provided music for the offering.
The banquet concluded with a pie social.
During the free time prior to the banquet, Rodriguez encouraged attendees to distribute business size cards inviting a stranger to attend church at Renewal MB.
Closing prayer and communion
Rodriguez held drawings throughout the convention for gifts donated for pastors and spouses as a sign of appreciation.
Rodriguez thanked various members for their service and commissioned the new leadership team with prayer. He also introduced new Iglesia Agua Viva pastoral couple, Rosemberg and Diana Polania.
As the convention came to a close, Rodriguez also invited pastors and spouses to the front, thanking them for allowing him to be part of the ministry. Garvie Schmidt prayed for pastors.
The convention ended with communion, an expression of thanks to administrative assistant Rhonda Swiers and host Renewal MB and an offering. Lynn Schneider offered a closing prayer.
Janae Rempel Shafer is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Shafer 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. Shafer graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She and her husband, Austin, attend Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kansas.