ICOMB gathers in Peru

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Annual global summit includes review of USMB Confession of Faith

By Connie Faber with files from David Wiebe for ICOMB

All 20 global Mennonite Brethren conferences were represented at the 2013 International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) summit May 21-27. The last time all MB conferences were represented at the annual gathering of global leaders was in 2010 when the group met in Germany as part of the Mennonite Brethren Church 150th anniversary celebration.

The 2013 gathering took place near Trujillo, Peru, and was organized around the theme of “Listening to God.” Ed Boschman, USMB executive director, represented U.S. Mennonite Brethren at the ICOMB gathering.

“God spoke to us in Peru,” says David Wiebe, ICOMB executive director, “and we tried to listen.”

The three-day summit began with a report from Wiebe reviewing his first year as the full-time ICOMB executive director and an orientation session to assist the five first-time conference representatives and guests.

Then the delegates participated in a study of Ephesians, establishing a community hermeneutic for discerning direction during the rest of the week. The delegates divided into groups to study the entire book and then reported back to the whole group possible applications for individual lives, ministries and that of ICOMB.

The study of Ephesians was a highlight for Boschman.

“It was inspirational to experience what we often call the hermeneutical community at a global level,” says Boschman (pictured far right) in an email interview.“While we have cultural differences, some of the challenges of living faithful to the call of Jesus and the New Testament are common to us all. For example, living as loving spouses and parents in our own homes is a challenge for us all,” he says.

A major topic of discernment was the authority and role of ICOMB. ICOMB is currently a fellowship but conferences would like to see ICOMB serve as a resource for guidance, advice, wisdom and accountability.

“From Ephesians we heard that our great diversity of gifts enriches us for such a task,” says ICOMB’s Wiebe. “Moreover, we are called to expose darkness—sometimes others among us can see things we can’t see ourselves. A sense of ‘kairos’ pervaded; that ICOMB has reached a moment in time that is loaded with the fullness of God’s Spirit.”

In this context the delegates discussed a proposal to establish “Global Elders” to effectively exercise authority and to resource one another in areas of need. “We require people with unique gifts and capacity to relate powerfully to specific contexts,” says Wiebe, who will give leadership to developing both areas through the year. A decision regarding global elders is slated for 2014.

In other business, ICOMB delegates were asked to reflect on changes to the USMB Confession of Faith (COF). USMB representative Ed Boschman requested feedback on a draft of proposed changes to Article 13, Love and Nonresistance. Since the draft is still in process, Boschman asked the ICOMB representatives to not publish or share the proposed statement.

Until last summer, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CCMBC) and USMB jointly owned, managed and protected the North American COF, a document that has been the basis for MB national conference COF statements around the world. Until 2004 when the ICOMB Confession of Faith was adopted, the North American COF was even translated in some countries. Last summer the Canadian and U.S. conferences agreed to establish independent COF statements, in keeping with the pattern of other national MB conferences around the world.

Because of the role the North American COF has played in the theological life of other national MB conferences, the USMB Board of Faith and Life sought the counsel of ICOMB regarding proposed changes.

“Given that the written statements of our beliefs have been taught around the world by our missionaries and adopted by many of our sister country conferences, and that we have beyond that an unwritten commitment to ‘believe and confess’ together, we believe it is honorable and right to engage our global brothers and sisters in our review and discussion process,” says Boschman.

The ICOMB delegates encouraged USMB to remain strong in their commitment to peace and affirmed the version they reviewed, says Boschman.

ICOMB’s Wiebe describes the discussion as “robust and generally affirming.”

Violence is an issue in many places around the globe, says Boschman, citing Colombia, home to 1,600 Mennonite Brethren, as an example. “Colombia reports incredible injustice and violence at multiple levels, including the ruling government official and militia that they are choosing daily how to respond,” says Boschman. “And, they are committed to pursuing peace through non-violent means.”

Also on the agenda was the Global Scholarship Fund; fund committee members met the Monday prior to the summit. The fund was established in 2010 by ICOMB and MB Mission, the North American mission agency, to train leaders from the global South or from emerging and small conferences of the global North who will train other leaders. At this meeting, ICOMB distributed $40,000 to international students through the Global Scholarship Fund.

Director Wiebe has been commissioned to raise $1million to double the fund’s capacity. “We are turning away student applications for lack of funds,” says Wiebe. “This is difficult, since education builds conference capacity and long-term strength in mission.”

The 2013 summit agenda also included times for each conference leader to share concerns and joys and to pray for one another. In their final session Friday, the group shared communion and washed one another’s feet.

MB Mission workers in the Trujillo area and local MB church leaders hosted the ICOMB delegates who enjoyed the temperate and comfortable coastal climate.

Saturday ICOMB representatives traveled to various cities in Peru, including Trujillo where on Sunday Boschman of USMB preached through a translator in the MB church in that city.

Jose N’Gola Muinga, president of the IEIMA (MB) Conference, has invited ICOMB to meet in Lusanda, Angola, in 2014.

Reflecting on the annual ICOMB gatherings in a recent email to USMB pastors, Boschman says, “It really is a rare and spiritually nourishing experience to be able to interact with those leaders. Many of them are the spiritual children and grandchildren of both our current MB missionaries and those of decades past.”

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