After two years of virtual meetings, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) hosted a face-to-face summit May 17-22, 2022, bringing together nearly 100 global Mennonite Brethren delegates from over 20 countries—leaders of both established conferences and representatives of emerging conferences—along with Multiply staff and global workers in a gathering of the nations.
USMB was represented by Don Morris, national director, and Ed Boschman, retired national director. Bob Davis, ICOMB U.S. advocate and Multiply staff member, also attended.
The agenda for the 2022 gathering, held in Curitaba, Brazil, included introducing new ways of connecting the national conferences. Each national conference was paired with another conference. In an interview after the summit, Boschman says that while the process involved drawing names, delegates viewed the pairing as purposeful.
“There was a sense that this would be a spiritually-guided connection,” he says. “That God had selected this country for you.”
Boschman drew Kyrgyzstan, represented by Timur Kyrgyz. Orlando Panta of Peru drew USMB. Delegates each brought a flag from their country which they gave to the representative who drew their national conference.
The agenda for the 2022 gathering, held in Curitiba, Brazil, did not include welcoming new member conferences and representatives did not act on any recommendations.
Representatives affirmed Darío Ramírez of Paraguay as the new ICOMB chair, and Andreas Isaak of Germany as the new vice-chair. Boschman will continue to serve as treasurer, and the vacant secretary position will be filled by the executive committee. ICOMB executive secretary Rudi Plett of Paraguay reported he and other leaders are discerning whether to add additional members to the executive committee. Equipping coordinator Vic Wiens is also part of the six-member executive committee.
Boschman reports ICOMB continues to talk about proactively forming regional cohorts and identifying gifted individuals in each region that can help to strengthen national conferences in the areas of mobilization, equipping emerging conferences, organizational health, spiritual health, theology, leadership development and care and mission.
With the growth of the Christian church in the global South and the shift to mission from everywhere to everywhere, Boschman says ICOMB’s Missional Leadership Training (MLT) is a key way to equip national conference leaders in places where formal theological training is not available. MLT is a non-formal modular training process sourced in Scripture and in the ICOMB Confession of Faith.
Doug Heidebrecht, director of global training at MB Biblical Seminary in Canada, reported that five of the 18 modules are complete. A certificate, affirmed by MB Biblical Seminary in Canada, is available in three areas: identity, community and mission.
“One intention of MLT is to train leaders who can train other leaders,” says Boschman. Three examples of countries where the MLT has worked well is Malawi, Thailand and the Philippines.
ICOMB also has a Global Scholarship Fund that makes just under $50,000 available annually for national conference leaders who wish to pursue formal education.
National conference leaders presented regional reports and discussed challenging decisions facing their conferences and churches.
There were also various presentations regarding the spiritual, theological and organizational foundations of ICOMB’s shared Mennonite Brethren history that strengthened the delegates’ sense of kinship.
ICOMB’s Plett gave an overview of the Mennonite Brethren story and values and outlined the goals of ICOMB to connect, strengthen and expand relationships and ministries that enhance the witness and discipleship of its member national churches.
Plenary talks were given by a variety of conference and ministry leaders. Vic Wiens spoke about Anabaptist and Mennonite Brethren history and implications for the equipping of emerging church networks. Elton da Silva, Canadian Conference of MB Churches national director, Don Morris, USMB national director, and Ray Harms Wiebe, lead pastor of Willingdon MB Church in British Colombia, discussed the complexities and benefits of multi-ethnic churches and church conferences. Mark Wessner, of MB Biblical Seminary, and Hartmut August, director of Faculdade Fidelis, an inter-Mennonite Christian college in Brazil, addressed theology and leadership development.
The summit format included workshops that were well attended and peppered with lively discussion, in multiple languages. Presenters addressed a variety of pragmatic topics related to strategies for mission mobilization. Presenters included Emerson Cardoso of COBIM Brazil, Safari Bahati Mutabesha of Malawi, Ravi Sankara Rao and G. Ross of India, Jose Prada of Colombia, Johann Matthies and Heinrich Rempel of Germany and Multiply representatives Doug Hiebert, Nasser al’Qahtani and Bob Davis.
Boschman and Cecil Ramos, a Multiply worker serving in Thailand, spoke on relational evangelism. For Boschman, the opportunity to partner with Ramos was especially meaningful. Twenty years ago, almost to the day of their ICOMB presentation, Boschman preached a sermon at Laurelglen Bible Church after which Ramos gave his life to Jesus. At the closing summit foot washing service, Ramos asked to wash Boschman’s feet.
“We both cried as Cecil washed my feet,” Boschman says. “We are brothers in Christ, colleagues in mission, together in Brazil. That experience is hard to put into words; it was a personal highlight.”
Kyrgyzstan’s Timur also washed Boschman’s feet and the two men prayed together as another way of cementing their partnership, says Boschman.
Five members of the Multiply Board of Directors, including chair Wendi Thiessen, along with new general director Bruce Enns, were special guests and experienced first-hand the diversity of the global Mennonite Brethren fellowship. After Enns introduced himself to the summit representatives, Plett blessed Enns with Isaiah 41:10 and the delegates formed a circle around Enns and prayed for him.
Despertar (Awakening) 22 followed the annual summit and aimed to awaken attendees’ love for God, his church and the lost. Exuberant young adults, church members from the local communities and international ICOMB delegates filled the auditorium of the first Mennonite Brethren church to be planted in Brazil.
ICOMB was conceived at a Despertar conference held in 1988 in Brazil. At that time, organizers envisioned a body that would serve to develop the global Mennonite Brethren identity, connect national church leaders through an annual assembly of leaders and strengthen national churches by coaching leaders through challenges they face in their global context.
Despertar 22, held Friday afternoon through Sunday, included a refreshing of this vision through worship, testimonies, plenary sessions and relevant workshops. Each session brought fresh opportunities for small group prayer, discussion, convivial mealtimes, worship, celebration and corporate grieving over missing delegates from Ukraine. Spirits were high, even though by the end of the conference many participants had contracted COVID-19 and were experiencing mild symptoms.
The ICOMB gathering in Brazil concluded with several excursions, some of which were primarily touristic and recreational while others, such as the trip to the Amazon, facilitated ongoing outreach among indigenous people groups in Brazil.
Connie Faber with files from Nikki White, a writer with the Multiply media team.
You can read Nikki White’s reflections on examples of community and connection at the 2022 ICOMB Summit and her experience visiting a village on the Amazon River.
This article has been posted by Christian Leader staff. The Christian Leader is the magazine of U.S. Mennonite Brethren.