Central District family gathers


Annual convention held in remote Lustre, Mont.

By Myra Holmes

As Frank Lenihan, pastor of Lustre (Mont.) MB Church, welcomed delegates and guests to the 106th convention of the Central District Conference (CDC), he likened the gathering to a family reunion, which is exactly what the Nov. 4-5 gathering felt like.

About 80 registrants made their way from the various CDC states—Montana, Minnesota, the Dakotas and Nebraska—to Lustre, host church for the convention, including one carload of attendees that originated in Omaha, Neb., roughly a 17-hour drive.

Lustre is remote by any standard, marked by only a few lonely buildings along miles of gravel road under Montana’s legendary Big Sky. As Lenihan joked, “You may not think you’re at the edge of the earth out here, but you can see it.”

But if anyone was put out by the remote location, they kept their complaints to themselves. Rather, hallway conversations were peppered with expressions of gratitude to the Lustre congregation for hosting the convention and appreciation for the opportunity to visit this USMB outpost to see their ministry in person.

The Lustre congregation welcomed the extended family with a warm hospitality, leading worship, offering ready smiles and handshakes as well as serving quietly behind the scenes with seasonal decorations, home-cooked meals and a myriad of other tasks to keep the event running smoothly.  


Possible family expansion

Convention attendees included representatives from three churches in Montana and Wisconsin who visited as part of a process to discern whether to join the CDC and the Mennonite Brethren. The churches recently withdrew membership from Mennonite Church USA after disagreements over doctrine and practice and are currently searching for a church family with which to belong.

According to Rick Eshbaugh, district minister, some of these churches will also send youth to the upcoming Central District Youth Conference to be held Nov. 17-20 in Rapid City, SD. The next step in the discernment process will be for Eshbaugh to visit these churches and meet with their leaders.


Worship interspersed

Worship through singing was sprinkled liberally throughout the convention, most often led by a team from Lustre MB and featuring a mix of contemporary worship songs and favorite hymns.

The Friday morning session also included special music by students from Lustre Christian High School, a school started by area churches that now draws students from around the world.

Attendees from Iglesia Agua Viva, a Hispanic congregation in Omaha, Neb., along with Neil Peterson of Christ Community Church, Sioux Falls, SD, led a mix of English and Spanish songs Friday evening.


Family bLud Hohmusiness

District chair Lud Hohm (pictured left) presided over business sessions that had the feel of a family discussion rather than a formal meeting. Delegates heard reports from various district committees, elected a slate of district leaders and approved a “robust” budget, which assumes a 20 percent increase in church giving.

“It’s a big budget,” Hohm said. “But as you see what the money goes to, it’s exciting.”

Last year’s similarly aggressive budget fell short by over $49,000; the shortfall was covered with monies from investment accounts. Treasurer Rick Walter noted that the district has never before received the asked-for $180,000 in church offerings; if giving falls short again, the shortfall will once again need to come out of reserves.

“Go home and tell your church council that CDC has a good thing going; they would like to have more money,” Walter said.

An offering of $2,000 received Friday will go toward the budget.


Sharing stories

The convention theme was “The Power of Our Story,” taken from 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s good news but our own lives, too.”

Accordingly, stories of God’s work in and through the CDC churches were woven throughout the event, most notably on Friday evening, which was dedicated to the district’s Church Planting and Renewal Committee. Traditionally, this portion of the convention focuses on church planting; this year, stories were told from one church plant and four existing congregations.

Luke Haidle, pastor of Henderson (Neb.) MB Church, told how this 140-year-old congregation is exploring new ministry that may include a multi-site model that echoes the “station churches” of the church’s earliest days. Haidle says the church leaders plan to pray and explore for the next year to discern whether to pursue such ministry.

Kenneth De Wet, attendee of Sanctuary Fremont (Neb.), spoke on behalf of this church plant, honestly sharing a discouraging development in the last couple of weeks which resulted in the loss of their successful Celebrate Recovery ministry. Two people from that ministry remain at Sanctuary Fremont. “That’s why we’re there. We’re there for those two people,” De Wet said.

Daniel Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva, a Spanish-language congregation in Omaha, used PowerPoint slides as he spoke about several exciting outreach opportunities. But there were no photos to illustrate his deep gratitude for a CDC grant which has helped him gain training at Grace University in Omaha. He became emotional as he told how such education once seemed impossible and how even the family’s need for a car to get him to classes was met miraculously. Howard Whiteface

“I see the hand of God working in our church and in my life, my family,” Rodriguez said.  “We just appreciate you guys so much.”

Howard Whiteface (pictured), pastor of Lakota Gospel MB Church, located in Porcupine, SD, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, shared both the challenges of ministry in a culture where poverty and native religion present obstacles as well as his determination to share the gospel boldly. “This is what we do: Tell everybody about the gospel,” he said. Whiteface also shared personal struggles, including the loss of his wife, Rose, earlier this year. An offering received at the end of the evening will go to support Whiteface.

Stephen Stout, pastor of Faith Bible Church, Omaha, Neb., a congregation that received a CDC renewal grant in 2015, talked about his surprise at being called to the pastorate. Although he had attended FBC for 25 years, he candidly said he never wanted to be a pastor and didn’t like preparing sermons.  But, true to a promise he felt God gave him, his joy is evident as he leans into this new position and watches God grow this faithful congregation.


Speaker encourages

Guest speaker Randy Alonso helped flesh out the convention theme in three keynote addresses.

Alonso is a personal friend of Lenihan as well as pastor of Central Life Church, Melbourne, Fla.; president of International Ministerial Fellowship, a global ministry to encourage pastors; and board member of Bridges for Peace, which seeks to connect Christians and Jews.

Alonso shared much of his own faith story as he explored the power of intimacy and relationships in calling, then encouraged attendees to listen for a word from God and simply say yes. “What he tells you to do, do that,” Alonso said.


Exploring USMB future

District Minister Rick Eshbaugh led a roundtable discussion Friday afternoon that focused on applying the new USMB vision to CDC congregations. The national conference adopted a new vision, outlined in a document titled “The Future Story,” at the USMB National Convention in July. The vision includes an organic, networking approach to resourcing local congregations surrounding three core commitments: church multiplication and evangelism, disciple-making and leadership development.

Representatives from USMB, Christian Leader magazine, MB Mission, MB Foundation and Tabor College each took a turn telling delegates how their ministry might help equip CDC congregations as part of this new vision. Attendees then had opportunity to ask questions of the various representatives.


Pastor appreciation

As the convention wrapped up, Lenihan called forward all pastors present for a “family photo” (pictured right), then asked district minister Rick and Esther Eshbaugh to join them. Lenihan called the Eshbaughs “living models” of the convention’s theme verse as they share their very lives as “pastor to the pastors” in the district. Noting that October had been designated as pastor appreciation month, he asked pastors to pray and offer words of encouragement over the Eshbaughs.

The convention ended with communion and lunch, then delegates and guests headed back out under that Big Sky toward ministry in their own communities.

Photo of church leaders, left to right: Kenneth De Wet, Sanctuary Fremont (Neb.); Michael Patrick, Emmanuel MB Church, Onida, SD; Neil Peterson, Christ Community Church, Sioux Falls, SD; Luke Haidle, Henderson (Neb.) MB Church; Dan Strutz, Community Bible Church, Mountain Lake, Minn.; Anthony Lind, Bethesda MB Church, Huron, SD; Mike Petts, Salem MB Church, Freeman, SD; Scott Crook, Bible MB Church, Gettysburg, SD; Stephen Stout, Faith Bible Church, Omaha, Neb.; Frank Lenihan, Lustre (Mont.) MB Church; Duane Deckert, Bible Fellowship MB Church, Minot, ND; Bruce Bogar, Gospel Fellowship Church, Wolf Point, Mont.; Abel Threeton, Cornerstone Community Church, Harvey, ND; Jon Fiester, Bible Fellowship Church, Rapid City, SD; Rick Eshbaugh, district minister; Esther Eshbaugh.



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