Convention afternoons have dual focus
Afternoons at Conection 2012 had a dual focus: learning via topical and practical workshops and serving and exploring the city of Omaha.
Delegates could attend two 60-minute workshops on topics that ranged from personal health to immigration to evangelism. Judging by attendance, the workshops on family discipleship, serving overseas, reaching Hispanic neighbors, ministry in one’s community and healthy church leadership teams were the most popular.
Presenters included USMB staff members Ed Boschman, Don Morris, Aleks Borisov and Myra Holmes; USMB pastors Ken Ediger, J.L. Marten, Steve Fast, Chad Stoner, Rick Bartlett, James Bergen, Vaughn Jost, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Rodriguez and Bill Braun; Randy Friesen of MB Mission along with former TREK participant Thomas Van Wert; Jon Wiebe of MB Foundation; Wendell Loewen of Ministry Quest and Tabor College; Ron Byler with Mennonite Central Committee and Jodi Thomas of the USMB Leadership Board.
Stephen Stout, a member of Faith Bible Church and director of Good Neighbor Ministries, organized service opportunities Friday afternoon for 50-some volunteers who pre-registered their interest in serving Omaha. Unfortunately, more than two-thirds chose to do something else. While Stout was gracious about the low turnout, he had the unenviable task of phoning service sites to say that no volunteers would be coming.
Nevertheless, 17 USMB volunteers, including Stout, served at four sites doing the work at those locations that had originally been intended for twice as many individuals. Eleven of the volunteers spent three hours at Hope Center for Kids on the opening day of the London Olympics manning about a dozen stations for the center’s Olympic competition. Hope Center staff had prepared competitions for children in first grade through high school that included watermelon seed spitting, free throw shooting, balloon popping and puzzle setting. Hope Center for Kids is a ministry that serves more than 300 north Omaha inner-city kids and teens.
The remaining six volunteers, two each, assisted at three service sites in south Omaha: playing basketball at a residential facility for developmentally disabled adults, doing yard cleanup with Good Neighbor Ministries and organizing sports equipment at Hope Community Church in preparation for the start of the church’s youth football and cheerleading teams. More than 180 elementary and junior high kids participate in the church’s fall sports program.
Learning about Omaha, once known as “the most wicked city in America,” was the focus of a two-hour Saturday afternoon charter bus tour. The city earned this reputation, said Barb Lokke, a tour guide provided by the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, thanks to the railroad boom that led to a largely male population that meant that bars, brothels and gambling houses thrived.
The 52 tour participants were driven past buildings that were significant in historical times as well as today, including Mutual of Omaha, Union Pacific, the homes of Warren Buffet and George Joslyn, the birthplace of Gerald Ford, Boys Town, Creighton University and Grace University.
“It seemed like nearly every building in downtown Omaha had a story,” said one tour goer.
Stephen Humber, a pastor at Stony Brook Church, supplemented Lokke’s narration with commentary about the Mennonite Brethren congregations and noted connections between tour sites and local Mennonite Brethren.
The excursion deviated from a typical city tour so that Conection 2012 participants could learn more about the city’s five Mennonite Brethren congregations and gain an appreciation for the neighborhoods in which these congregations minister.
The group visited the MB churches in newest-to oldest order, beginning with Stony Brook Church, a growing southeast Omaha congregation in a middle- to lower middle-class Millard neighborhood. While the church has a great location on a very visible corner, it is land-locked. Rather than relocate, the congregation plans to eventually plant another church.
After driving past Nebraska corn fields, the tourists were in Papillion, one of Omaha’s fastest-growing suburbs that is home to Shadow Lake Church.
The tour concluded in Omaha’s southern quadrant where two USMB Hispanic congregations—Iglesia Aqua Viva and and Iglesia Manatial de Agua Viva—are located along with Faith Bible Church, the oldest of the USMB congregations that is currently sharing its facility with Iglesia Manatial De Agua Viva, the newest Mennonite Brethren congregation in the city.
Tour goers were surprised to learn from their tour guide that when immigrants arrived on New York City’s Ellis Island and no one was there to meet them, the immigrants were automatically put on a train to either New York City or Omaha, because in those cities you’d be sure to find “your people.”
South Omaha had clearly defined pockets of Italians, Czechs, Hispanics and Greeks, said Lokke, so newcomers wouldn’t even have to learn another language to get by. Now, most of those pockets have disappeared and today these neighborhoods, while ethnically diverse, are heavily populated by Hispanics.