I was humbled

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There is a concentration of Mennonite Churches in Kenya's Kisumu area and MWC delegates were able to worship with these congregations prior to the Renewal 2027 gathering. Bill Braun, back row, second from left, and other members of the Mennonite World Conference delegation are pictured together with local church leaders from the region at the Mennonite church in Usenge, near Lake Victoria.

By Bill Braun

The Mennonite World Conference (MWC) General Council met April 23-26, 2018, in Kenya for meetings which are held every three years. On the weekend preceding the meetings in Limuru, we were invited to travel to Kisumu, about eight hours by shuttle bus northwest of Nairobi. Kisumu is the headquarters of Kenya Mennonite Church, which hosted this year’s Renewal 2027 gathering, MWC’s annual event to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

It was a long ride to say the very least. We slowed each time a series of speedbumps appeared on the road; that means often. We traveled for an hour or so along the upper edge of the Rift Valley. The road, a main thoroughfare from the port of Mombasa to the inland countries of Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan, was narrow and filled with trucks and motorcycles.

We stopped along the road as a sign of mutual support for one of the nine buses in the caravan that had a flat tire. Zebras and monkeys appeared in the near distance. The fellowship created by the mutual discomfort of an over-full shuttle bus developed quickly and lasted into the meetings the following week. The whole day was predictable and beautiful and strengthened many of the stereotypes I brought with me to Kenya.

At a much-needed rest stop along the way, Barbara from Zimbabwe and I struck up a conversation.  We were at opposite ends of the bus, so the rest stop afforded us an opportunity to visit. As we stood there together in the light rain, the topic turned to life at home: family, weather and church.

And then Barbara volunteered that she was praying for us in the United States given the current divided and polarized political circumstances.  And in that instant, I was brought up short by Barbara’s statement. Ever since we attended the MWC Assembly in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 2003, I’ve been praying for Zimbabwe and the political, social and economic difficulties our sisters and brothers have been facing there. What need of prayer is there in the United States? Surely our situation is nothing like Zimbabwe. And yet, she was praying for us. I was humbled.

Our sisters and brothers around the world know about and pray for our country, for our witness to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives at home. Do we know as much about them and their countries? Do we live each day knowing that we need the prayers of others as well?

Back in Limuru, the General Council meetings lasted for four days. One of my new friends from the bus, Simon, came to me one day at a meeting break to ask if I could help him deliver his Fair Share contribution to the appropriate person.

The Fair Share refers to the annual amount suggested to each member conference to support the work of MWC. The goal is to find an amount for each conference that represents a fair contribution to the expenses of MWC based on conference size and ability to pay given issues of cost-of-living, etc.

This has always seemed like a rather steep hill to climb for U.S. Mennonite Brethren because if considered in full, it represents a significant percentage of the USMB budget.  The reality is that if each person who is part of a member conference anywhere in the world contributed the value of one lunch in their respective countries, MWC could more than cover its core ministry expenses. And assuming that the calculation is really fair, the Ugandan conference Simon represented was climbing the same steep hill we are in the U.S. But Simon had not only his conference’s Fair Share for this year . . . he also brought enough for next year as well, in cash. I was humbled.

I was humbled for multiple reasons. In that very moment, the kind of life I live in California stood in stark contrast to what I imagine Simon’s life to be in Uganda, based on the Fair Share contribution. The relative difference in size and wealth of USMB was on full display in my mind in juxtaposition to that of his conference. His total conference Fair Share was much closer to my individual lunch amount than I cared to think about.

Yet without any kind of calculation, Simon had taken me under his wing on the bus, giving me a better seat to accommodate my longer legs and being my informal tour guide as I asked many questions about what I was seeing. Thanks to Simon, I was humbled but not humiliated.  That’s the genius of MWC.  As we learn to know each other, we realize who we are in relation to one another and in light of our common desire to follow Christ.

I was reminded in these moments that we are part of God’s faithful people all over the world, people who struggle like we do, people who are faithful like we are, people who remind us that following Jesus is possible even when we wonder if it really is.

And more than that, I realized again that we are mutually interdependent. We need each other—to encourage one another when we falter, to support each other when we need it, to share the joys of bus rides and commitments fulfilled, to know each other well enough to pray for each other. All of this as the Holy Spirit renews and transforms us into the kinds of Jesus-followers we were intended to be. We need these destabilizing moments to remind us of the unseen reality of God’s kingdom, alive and well and growing all over the world.

Bill Braun represented USMB at the MWC General Council. The General Council consists of representatives of the 107 conferences which are part of MWC. Depending upon conference size, one to three representatives are appointed to the General Council which meets every three years. Don Morris, USMB Conference national director, was unable to attend this meeting. USMB has one position vacant. Each of the five continental caucuses of General Council representatives appoints two representatives to the Executive Committee which meets one time per year. Braun was appointed at this meeting to a six-year term, and he shares this responsibility with Lisa Carr-Pries, a Mennonite Church Canada representative from Waterloo, Ontario.

Bill Braun retired from active pastoral ministry in 2014. He was on the pastoral team at Willow Avenue Mennonite Church in Clovis, California, formerly College Community Church Mennonite Brethren, for 22 years.  Over the years he has been active in various roles with Mennonite Central Committee and MWC. 

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