“If I did not get this help, I don’t know where my wife and I would be,” Samuel said as we talked. Samuel (not his real name) had been asked to serve as the director of his national Mennonite Brethren conference at a difficult time.
“They chose me because I was not involved in the regional struggle,” Samuel said.
The struggle, to which Samuel referred, had shaped this national Mennonite Brethren conference over decades and included some nasty episodes. Leading would be a challenge, and Samuel, a bi-vocational pastor with limited leadership experience, was apprehensive and fearful. The help for which he was so thankful came from the global Mennonite Brethren family.
Representatives from the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) had visited this national conference before, and soon after Samuel’s appointment, global leaders paid another visit to encourage and support the new leader.
This visit was followed by others. ICOMB also arranged and financially supported visits between Samuel and other regional leaders and gathered regional leaders for a retreat intended to build a conference vision and to address hurts and mistrust.
Leaders from various ICOMB conferences continued to visit and provided leadership training, women’s retreats and personal mentoring for Samuel and his wife. ICOMB encouraged the national conference to hold more retreats and strategic meetings, and as a result the conference moved toward unity and a shared vision. In time this conference began supporting short-term youth mission work, church planting and long-term missionaries. They made necessary legal adjustments.
This national conference still has a ways to go to become a healthy and strong conference. But even with COVID-19 restrictions, we are greatly encouraged by what God has done in the personal life of leaders and with the whole conference over the last four years.
Samuel’s story tells us something about ICOMB. ICOMB desires global Mennonite Brethren conferences to be healthy and to learn from one another.
Nurturing healthy conferences
“ICOMB exists to facilitate relationships and ministries to enhance the witness and discipleship of its national member conferences—connecting, strengthening and expanding.” This is how we state our purpose as the International Community of Mennonite Brethren on our website homepage.
Our aim is for each national conference to build relationships with other conferences, providing fellowship that enhances becoming a healthy conference. A healthy conference aids local churches to witness and make disciples with a missional focus. A healthy conference reaches out to the world in ways that most local churches cannot.
A national conference can experience fellowship with other conferences that strengthens their vision and helps them navigate through critical situations, such as natural disasters, national crises (war, financial breakdown, persecution, etc.), leadership problems and lack of resources.
A national conference can also experience a fellowship that enhances mission, whether nearby or far away, in the same country or on another continent.
Many of the 22 ICOMB national conferences connect through regional cohorts. In July 2018, the Latin American ICOMB cohort (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay), with the support of Multiply, held a regional gathering in Paraguay. Each conference was invited to send at least three leaders representing conference leadership, education (theological and discipleship) and mission.
The purpose was to expand the connection between our Latin American conferences and to promote an exchange of experience and resources. Connections that started or deepened at this gathering have grown and developed, much like what Samuel experienced in his region. Gatherings like this and previous visits from international leaders have shown that there are a lot of resources and support in the region; not all has to come from the north.
Learning from one another
It’s been said that our spiritual and personal growth can be hindered when we only spend time with people who look and think just like us. Being part of a multiethnic and diverse family of believers challenges many of our preconceptions and biases, allowing us the opportunity for growth.
When we consider the cultural context of many in our global family and compare that to the circumstance of the New Testament church, we observe a closer correlation than what we experience in 21st century America. Many of our MB family live in difficult and desperate circumstances yet thrive with courage and faithfulness. For example, they often lack the material, educational, medical and technological advances we in the U.S. enjoy but manifest the realities of the kingdom of God in ways that inspire and challenge those of us in the West.
Another area where we can learn from our global family is in relation to persecution and opposition. In many places around the world, Christians have never known the favor of those in authority and therefore don’t expect governments to support or protect their rights. We in the U.S. can learn much from their many years of experience in serving God in less than favorable circumstances.
That is not to say that Americans have nothing of value to offer in our relationships with the global MB church. Our advancements and experience, when offered with humility and generosity, can greatly bless our global family. The global family often looks to North American churches for guidance and advice, especially in places where the church is just now emerging.
Such exceptional experiences are possible when we have a sense of belonging to one family. We desire for ICOMB members and newcomers to grow in their sense of belonging to one family.
ICOMB conferences and church groups are quite heterogeneous. We are culturally different, with implications for worship, learning and evangelism. The unique history of church groups and their theological background affect church life. To live and be the church in a context of wealth and freedom or in poverty and the everyday struggle for bread or persecution shapes how we understand and live our faith.
ICOMB has all these differences. But at the same time, there is a value in being a family, locally, nationally and globally. The best way to learn more about our global family is to engage as individuals and as churches in a fellowship beyond one’s comfort zone. We invite you to visit, invite, share, read, pray and bless for and with the others of our global Mennonite Brethren family.
To connect with ICOMB:
- Visit our website at www.ICOMB.org;
- Sign up to receive the newsletter updates;
- Join Nations Praying for Nations meetings, found on the website, and
- Listen to the LEAD Pod (https://usmb.org/lead-pods/) with Bob Davis.
Written by Rudi Plett and Bob Davis. Rudi Plett is the ICOMB executive director. He and his wife, Ruth Ratzlaff de Plett, live in Asuncion, Paraguay. They have five children. Bob Davis is the ICOMB U.S. advocate. He and his wife, Chris, live in Birch Bay, Wash. They have five children.
This article has been posted by Christian Leader staff. The Christian Leader is the magazine of U.S. Mennonite Brethren.