New staff leader appointed to strengthen Latin American churches
By Karla Braun with files from Myra Holmes
Ed Boschman, USMB representative to ICOMB, and Arturas Rulinskas, representing the Lithuania Free Christian Church, stand with an unidentified woman from one the four Panamanian churches that participated in the joint worship service that concluded the 2016 ICOMB Annual Summit held in Panama City. The woman was one of the people welcoming the ICOMB guests to the service by presenting them with the necklaces worn by the two men.
At the crossroads of the Americas, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) gathered its members for teaching, decision making and encouragement. ICOMB’s annual summit took place in Panama City, Panama, June 2–5, 2016, with the theme of strengthening the church.
“The ICOMB gathering builds a practical understanding that we are a global church family on mission together even though we are far apart on the planet,” says Ed Boschman, who represented U.S. Mennonite Brethren at the summit.
Each summit includes reporting from national leaders on how God is at work in their conference. AMBD (Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Brüdergemeinden in Deutschland) shared the joy of their ministry of service and evangelism among refugees from the Middle East in Germany. Hosts Iglesia Evangélica Unida–Hermanos Menonitas in Panama spoke of their struggle for safe drinking water and indigenous land rights.
Leaders from Brazil and Germany presented workshops on church vitality.
On the subject of authority, an ongoing discussion at ICOMB, executive director David Wiebe made a case study of Igreja Evangelica dos Irmaos Menonitas en Angola which suffered from embezzlement. ICOMB leadership coached IEIMA through the process of engaging new leadership.
New staff role created
ICOMB functions as a fraternal body that encourages and trains. Representatives at this summit voted to hire a part-time associate director for Latin America (which comprises eight of the member conferences) to help the conferences and partner agencies to relate healthfully and foster church multiplication and leadership development.
ICOMB president Rudi Plett, (pictured right) pastor with Vereinigung der Mennoniten Brüder Gemeinden Paraguays, will terminate his term as president at the end of 2016 to become the associate director in 2017.
“We are pleased with this arrangement,” says Boschman, noting that Plett is both trilingual and from the Global South. “We had been thinking that this would be the ideal for the next season of ICOMB ministry.”
Plett will also serve half-time with MB Mission to develop mission capacity in the national conferences. Several Latin American conferences already have national and international mission efforts, and the Brazil conference relates with the church in Portuguese-speaking Angola.
With Plett’s shift from president to staff, the executive committee undergoes changes. In January, secretary Heinrich Klassen of Germany becomes president and Emerson Cardoso of Brazil joins the board as secretary. With the help of the associate director, executive director David Wiebe (pictured left) will reduce his role from full time to 60 percent in April 2017. Boschman will continue to represent USMB and serve as treasurer.
Leaders in attendance represented 19 of the 21 ICOMB member conferences. Visa denials prevented delegates from DR Congo and Angola from being present. Khmu Mission was represented by MB Mission worker Bob Davis because the national leader was also unable to obtain a visa. Several international guests, including MB Mission workers and Canadian pastors, attended as guest observers.
ICOMB is now planning a 2017 consultation on mission, to be held in Thailand.
The four-day meetings in Panama City concluded with a joint Sunday worship service of four churches in Chepo (photo right), which Boschman says was a personal highlight. The service included traditional attire and dance that reflected the indigenous history of many of those in the Panamanian MB churches. “It was a great honor to be part of their celebration that day,” says Boschman.
Boschman notes that a Mennonite Brethren presence in Panama is the fruit of earlier missionary efforts. “It’s important that we know that the missionary activity that our forebearers put in place made a kingdom difference,” he says. “We have brothers and sisters in Christ in Panama. They love Jesus—as do we—with passion and sincerity, and they are on mission.”
Following the Sunday worship service, some members and guests travelled three days upriver to visit church members in the village of Platanares.
Photos provided by ICOMB.