Delegates hear reports from 14 ministries during two-day convention
By Connie Faber with files from Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
Stories from USMB church planters are frequently the highlight of a USMB National Convention and the Santa Clara convention was no different. Eight church planters or church plant couples shared stories of transformation.
Their stories reflected the diverse environments in which USMB church plants are ministering: among Filipinos in Las Vegas, Nev., and Russian and African immigrants in Spokane, Wash.; among Mormons in Utah and rapidly growing areas in South Texas. Mission USA church planters are ministering to the “unlikelies,” addicts, atheists and people influenced by spiritism.
- Church planter Jared Pulliam, who with his wife, Julia, is leading Christ Church Sellwood in Portland, Ore., provided a video report. The Pulliams were unable to attend because of the impending birth of the couple’s child.
- “We’re on a journey to figure out what it means to be the church and not just go to church,” said Nicole Quiring. Quiring and her husband, Jason, are church planters at The GreenHouse in Saratoga Springs, a predominantly Mormon community south of Salt Lake City, Utah.
- Aris and Ana Torentino and their son, Archie, are part of the church planting leadership team at Friends of Jesus Church, Las Vegas, Nev. Aris reported that the congregation has used Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as well as other occasions, to distribute small gifts to introduce their church to the neighborhood.
- Wes Wilmer was introduced as the newest Mission USA church planter. Wilmer told the delegates about his friend, Mike, a former addict who is passionate about being part of a church plant that will accept people regardless of their past addictions. Wilmer and his wife are leading Sanctuary Fremont.
- Mountain View Community Church Sunnyside church planter John Richardson invites people to text him questions during the worship service and then he leads a discussion time based on those questions following the sermon. Richardson said the six or seven missionaries will be moving into a neighboring apartment complex and beginning after-school ministries.
- “The work is difficult, but there is a lot of joy in seeing what God is doing in the lives of people,” said Williams Velez through translator Aaron Hernandez (photo right) about the church planting efforts in Mission, Texas. Velez said that before he left for the convention, he received a note from a single mom giving God praise because God is doing a work in her life.
- Hernandez, who is planting GracePoint @ McAllen (Texas), said, “We live in a hurting world where people are not finding places to belong.” The congregation recently was given a refurbished building and the donor’s only request was that “we fill it up with people, and we’re doing that.”
- Gavin Linderman, Axiom Church planter, said that their congregation has witnessed 10 baptisms since their public launch one year ago. Linderman said that while things are tight financially, the fledgling congregation has received timely and unexpected financial gifts. “Thanks for being good friends and good family,” said Linderman.
- Aleks and Vera Borisov are planting the first next-generation USMB Slavic church plant, Disciples Church in Spokane, Wash. Borisov told of their two-pronged approach to outreach: taking advantage of relationships with relatives, friends and coworkers to draw in congregants and expanding as they forge new relationships outside of their existing friendships. Borisov’s story of a young boy and his parents who have significant drug addictions illustrated the ways in which internal connections have led to ministry and the recent addition of Rwandan refugees represent new relationships.
Mission USA, the USMB church planting and church-resourcing ministry, is two years into a 10-year effort to annually plant six churches. “It takes all of us to do this,” said Don Morris, Mission USA director, adding that unfortunately only one-third of USMB congregations financially support the national conference.
Church planters voiced their appreciation for the support they receive. “There is an entire host of partners who are making this happen,” said Quiring of The GreenHouse, one of the only two non-Latter-Day Saints church in Saratoga Springs. “We are just the ones with feet on the ground.”
An offering taken during the National Convention raised $3,000 for Mission USA.
The Mission USA report closed with a prayer of blessing offered by Morris for the church planters currently supported by USMB.
Stories of the global church challenge delegates
Later Saturday, new MB Mission workers attending the convention—Tony and Roxanna Peterson from Mountain View Community Church, Fresno, Calif., (center couple) and Jason Clark (second on right) from Birch Bay Bible Church in Blaine, Wash.,—were commissioned for ministry. MB Mission is the global church planting ministry of North American Mennonite Brethren that works among the least reached.
“We often serve in places that feel like holes in the wall instead of like divots,” said Randy Friesen, MB Mission general director, referring to speaker Ed Stetzer’s challenge Friday night to plant churches in the various subcultures—or “divots”—of society. Friesen told of national MB church leaders that “pay whatever price for their faith.” One such pastor, who had spent nine months in a dark prison hole, told Friesen that he prayed for Friesen every day during his imprisonment. “I didn’t know what to say,” Friesen told the delegates. “What this man carries I want more of.”
Jeff Gowling, a pastor from Bakersfield, Calif., who participated in the DNA Summit in Southeast Asia, and Ricky Sanchez, an MB Mission worker in Thailand, also shared testimonies.
Friesen and others emphasized the importance of the global MB community. “We need our global family to help us live on mission,” Friesen told the delegates.
David Wiebe, International Community of Mennonite Brethren executive secretary, and Cesar Garcia, Mennonite World Conference general secretary, represented the international Mennonite Brethren and Anabaptist family and reported on their respective ministries.
Highlighting the value of walking alongside those who suffer, Garcia said, “We really need each other. We need to work with those who are suffering and those enjoying a special celebration or growth.”
Delegates hear reports from national, binational ministries
In addition to the Board of Faith and Life and Mission USA, Saturday delegates heard from Christian Leader editor Connie Faber and social media coordinator Myra Holmes, who is also the CL assistant editor. The editors spoke about the importance of changing communication strategies in a digital age.
National Youth Conference planning team members Matt Ford and Joanna Chappa both talked about the ways previous NYC gatherings had impacted them. “The hope is that this theme (from Matthew 16) and the four days will be transformational and a spiritual marker,” said Chappa. John Richardson, pastor of Mountain View Community Church Sunnyside, will be the speaker at Named 2015, held April 9-12 in downtown Denver, Colo.
“Yesterday MB Foundation was in the black and today we in the red,” joked Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of the stewardship ministry serving U.S. Mennonite Brethren, referring to the matching polo shirts worn by the Foundation staff during the convention. Weibe reviewed the work of the Foundation and its efforts to provide “fuel for ministry.” MB Foundation staff members Christine Wall, Jeffrey Jorgenson and Bruce Jost shared stories of generosity with the delegates.
The opening business session Friday afternoon highlighted USMB involvement in higher education. Delegates heard from Tabor College President Jules Glanzer and Rick Bartlett, director of theological education at the Tabor College Wichita campus as well as Fresno Pacific University President Pete Menjares and Terry Brensinger, dean of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. Delegates prayed for the ministry of these USMB colleges at their tables following each school’s report.
Delegates also heard updates Saturday from two MB agencies that serve both the U.S. and Canada. Picking up on the theme of the convention, Amy Sterk, U.S. representative for Kindred Productions, the North American publishing ministry, described how Kindred resources can help individuals and congregations gain momentum. Jon Isaak, Historical Commission executive secretary, described the Commission as “the keeper and the forwarder of the tradition” and noted a variety of resources and grants the Commission makes available.
Testimonies from two faithful servants
In a break from the scheduled reports and just prior to Saturday lunch, moderator Steve Schroeder (right) invited Tim Bergdahl, (center), of Madera Avenue Bible Church, Madera, Calif., and Ron Voth, (left) of Koerner Heights MB Church, Newton, Kan., to address the delegates. Both men have cancer and “when we gather in two years, neither man is likely to be here,” said Schroeder.
Bergdahl told of his joy at witnessing the “uniqueness of our community.” He said, “The truth is we’re all terminal. We (he and Voth) are facing that eternity and glory a little sooner.”
Voth said that his bucket list has changed since his doctors gave him 60 to 100 days to live and attending the 2014 National Convention was one of the things on his list of things to do before dying. Saying he wanted the delegates to know “who you are,” Voth said: “We are a community of believers. The people who hardly know me but are praying—you cannot understand what it feels like to have a community of believers that support you when times are tough.”
Schroeder affirmed the two men for their leadership. “Jesus will say it to you, but it is also my privilege to say to you: Well done good and faithful servants,” said Schroeder. “You’ve served our denomination well.”
* This article was updated Sept. 14 to correct information about the Saratoga Springs church plant.
Photos by Steve Wiest
Photo 1: Don Morris, background, asks the Mission USA church planters to stand at the front of the convention stage for a time of prayer.
Photo 2: McAllen, Texas, church planter Aaron Hernandez (left) translates for church planter Williams Velez of Mission, Texas.
Photo 3: Veteran missionary Ricky Sanchez (far left) and Randy Friesen, (far right) MB Mission general director, stand with new missionaries Jason Clark from Birch Bay Bible Church in Blaine, Wash., and Tony and Roxanna Peterson from Mountain View Community Church, Fresno, Calif.
Photo 4: A total of 121 delegates representing all five USMB districts attended the 2014 National Convention.
Photo 5: Delegates Ron Voth (left) and Tim Bergdahl (center), both recently told that their battle with cancer is coming to an end, each briefly addressed the delegates at the request of convention moderator Steve Schroeder (right).
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