Lenoir, NC, event to be duplicated in multiple districts
By Myra Holmes
A LEAD One leadership training event held May 6, 2017, in Lenoir, North Carolina, focused on racial reconciliation and the value of networking. Similar events are being planned in other districts throughout the year.
LEAD One events are one-day, high-impact leadership training events and are one component of USMB’s LEAD church health initiatives. MB Mission, the global mission agency of North American Mennonite Brethren, is partnering with USMB to host the 2017 series on racial reconciliation.
About 35 pastors and leaders from churches in the North Carolina District Conference (NCDC) and the community attended “Overcoming Racism in the Church and Community” at The Life Center, a USMB congregation in Lenoir. Attendees represented a good racial mix, with about 75 percent being black, according to Don Morris, USMB national director.
NC district has history of overcoming racial barriers
It is fitting that this LEAD One series should begin in the NCDC. The NCDC is comprised of seven small congregations, six of which are primarily black; the seventh, Iglesia de Dios Bethel, is Hispanic. As NCDC district minister Terry Hunt points out, many older folks in the district clearly remember the days of segregation and integration.
The district has historically been a place where racial barriers are overcome. Over 100 years ago Krimmer Mennonite Brethren missionaries from South Dakota began a mission work with black children in Elk Park, North Carolina. The congregations that resulted joined the Mennonite Brethren when the two conferences merged in 1960.
“It does seem strange and maybe a ‘God thing’ that the first LEAD One on racial reconciliation was in NCDC,” Hunt says in an email interview. “But I think that this is much, much bigger than that. God in his infinite wisdom chose the smallest district in the USMB family, the one farthest away from mainstream Mennonite Brethren, to identify and give biblical wisdom to a need that is impacting states, cities and communities across America.”
Morris notes that racial reconciliation is a particularly timely subject, with much work to be done not only in the general culture but also in the church.
“We tend to do a lot of talking about doing better at race relations, but then we don’t actually do much,” Morris says.
He notes that Christians need to remember they are joined as brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of skin color, and to work at understanding one another—to “walk in each other’s shoes.”
Hunt, who is also pastor of The Life Center and serves as chaplain for the Lenoir Police Department, was a primary resource for this event. He says God has placed a deep burden in his heart to “repeal racism” in America.
“I may not see it in my lifetime, but I have been given a platform to challenge Christians to join me in the fight,” says Hunt.
He calls racism a “poison” that has impacted the church for too long, but says the Bible offers an antidote and the church, especially Mennonite Brethren, should be part of the solution.
“What is exciting to me is that I believe that God is challenging MB churches to be the church in bringing racial reconciliation to America,” says Hunt. “Mennonite Brethren are biblical, and we are not afraid to address issues that are dividing our nation and our churches.”
Speakers hope to spark more discussion
Hunt spoke on “Overcoming Racism from a Biblical Perspective,” noting that the creation account in Genesis says that God created only one race, and throughout Scripture, God identifies people by nationality—Canaanites, Israelites, Hittites, etc.—rather than by color of skin. Hunt called the church “the most segregated institution left in America at 11:00 on Sunday mornings” and said that Christians should view people as “saved or not saved” rather than by skin color.
Hunt says the event sparked many questions, and he hopes that attendees will lead continuing discussions in their churches.
Stephen Humber, regional mobilizer for MB Mission, spoke on “Growing Up White in America: You don’t know what you don’t know.” Humber told stories from his upbringing to demonstrate how the various people he’s interacted with have shaped how he relates to those different from himself.
“I wanted to be honest about the positive and negative experiences that I had with all kinds of different people,” Humber says in an email interview.
Attendees then broke into small groups to discuss how their own experiences have shaped how they think about and live with others who are different. Humber observed “some real heart-to-heart conversation” in those groups.
A panel discussion featured five people who shared their experiences with racism and ideas on how to begin making a difference at home and in local congregations.
Morris led a short presentation on “How Networking Leads to Increasing Impact” that emphasized the value of networking for pastors, leaders and churches.
Humber introduced attendees to “Awake,” mission equipping events for local churches that are being planned by MB Mission and C2C Network.
Morris says the day was marked by a “congenial, collaborative and positive” atmosphere, and good interactions took place in group discussions and a question and answer session.
Series to go on the road
The Lenoir LEAD One is intended to be the first in a series. Similar events on the theme of racial reconciliation will take place in October in the Southern District Conference, in November in the Central District Conference and in early December in the Pacific District Conference.
In addition, a Spanish-language LEAD One on intentional disciple-making is being developed, led by Daniel Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva, Omaha, Neb. Morris hopes to replicate that event in other Spanish-speaking areas in fall.
More information on upcoming LEAD One events can be found on the USMB website, and will be distributed through district ministers and email communications.