Friendship groups facilitate conversation

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"We freely share like a family"

By Karla Braun for Mennonite World Conference

“You can witness young to very old people [talking with each other]. And we’ve become intimate friends,” says Omondi Samson from Kenya as he takes a picture of his new “mom and dad” from the U.S.

Samson participated in one of the 255 friendship groups that met following the morning plenary sessions at the Mennonite World Conference assembly held July 21-26 in Harrisburg, Pa.

Coordinator Thobekile Ncube from Zimbabwe says the friendship groups were organized at PA 2015 “at the request of the Anabaptist family. They felt they need to know each other well at a closer level.”

Damaris Rickhaus from Switzerland was the only person in her group who attended each day.

“You can’t make friends in a half hour,” she says. But “even in a short discussion, some people share their life.”

When he didn’t attend one session, Victor Kristijanto says his group missed him. “As we gather, we feel like a home,” the Indonesian man says. “We can freely share like a family.”

The program book provided questions to guide discussion; however no leaders were assigned.

Omondi found it very interesting to discuss this way. “Once one is appointed,” he says, “there is no space. Once everyone is a leader, you are free.”

Due to participant demographics, most groups were comprised of at least 50 percent North Americans.

Rickhaus was hoping to meet people from all over the world but her group was mostly Canadians. Nevertheless, the discussion “opens your horizon.”

“All churches have their own problems,” says Kristijanto. “When we have a friendship, we can share our burdens.”

Participants prayed for each other. Many groups exchanged contact information. In Canadian James Wittenberg’s group, a man from Indonesia invited the group to visit his home for the 2021 MWC Assembly.

Though the group meetings were brief, the planning committee’s intention to provide a space to share across cultures and practice community seems to have succeeded with many participants.

“Now, we are friends forever,” says Ivonete Coimbra, of Brazil, about the people in her friendship group.  

Photo by Dale D. Gehman

Balahalama Sourable, from Burkino Faso, talks with Linda Helmus, of the United States during their friendship group.

 

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