What is the best context for mission effectiveness?
By David Wiebe
As executive director of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB), I have visited each of our national conferences representing the global family at least once in the past three years, including several visits to USMB congregations.
So what is our family like? What might we learn? More specifically, what is the best context for mission effectiveness?
One approach is to divide the global family into four broad contexts. Our churches exist in poverty, plenty, under persecution and under political challenge. So which setting is the most fertile for mission and the growth of God’s kingdom?
In the past we might have answered that the most fertile setting is the “plenty” context, because most missionaries came from the wealthy countries of Europe and North America. But that’s not the case anymore. Recently we’ve seen more than 50 percent of the global missionary force coming from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Besides, while churches in the Global North are the source of much funding, these churches can be spiritually bound by materialism and/or a sense of imperialism that compromises the gospel message.
Is it persecution? Our Anabaptist history—and church history itself—tells us martyrdom releases incredible spiritual power. But it carries the danger of losing too many good leaders to really develop well. And the trauma carried by members can undermine their development.
Is it poverty? We Mennonite Brethren can look to our own movement to make a positive case. The three largest national conferences—India (200,000 members), Congo (100,000) and Khmu Mission (almost 50,000)—are found in countries with some of the lowest per capita income indexes in the world. They say that need mobilizes other people’s gifts. The problem is these “other people” may not hear the call of that need and thereby miss the chance to participate in freeing up gifts already residing in the poor, leaving the poor where they are.
Is it political challenge? This factor usually presents itself in war or conflict, or possibly more benignly, government neglect. C.S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters thought that war was the devil’s tool to distract the church through debilitating fear or super-patriotism. The Mennonite Brethren story from the 20th century is filled with witness and mission even during the conflict and terror in Russia. But the toll on leaders and members was severe.
Today the Panama church, comprised of indigenous people, suffers from government neglect. Their land rights are often overlooked, leaving them scrambling at times for justice, displacing focus on mission. The North American “War on Drugs” has cost $1 trillion and billions have gone into Colombia to stem the flow of drugs. But much has gone into officials’ pockets, and our church suffers because of ill-conceived programs to halt drug growth.
This leads to a final observation. The U.S. Mennonite Brethren family faces a challenge unique to our global family. Like Christians living in Rome in the first century, you have to figure out how to put the kingdom of God first in the “most powerful nation on earth.” How do you live out your peace conviction? When you share the gospel, how do you address hidden assumptions from the position of power you occupy? Are you able to take an authentic learning posture in order to hear what the rest of the global family has to say about mission and church life?
In the end it’s impossible to say which of the four contexts has a particular advantage. We all have major challenges to overcome to be faithful in mission and in building God’s kingdom. My prayer for USMB is that you discern the times and ability to pick the kingdom of God as your priority.
David Wiebe is the executive director of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren.
Photo by Dustin Wiebe: The ICOMB conference representatives and guests that attended the 2015 Annual Summit held in July at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.
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