Global MB gathering fans passion for mission, prayer
When representatives of the global Mennonite Brethren community gathered for Thailand 2017 at The Tide Resort in Chon Buri, Thailand, messages of love were the bookends of the six-day event.
“It’s all about love,” was the message of PK, leader of Khmu Mission, on the final night.
“Love God; love the church (the divine community); love the world as Christ did” were the points that anchored the opening message by David Wiebe, executive director of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren, who in partnership with MB Mission had called the historical consultation on mission and prayer.
And certainly love and charity prevailed as 240 delegates from 36 countries assembled March 7-12, 2017, to talk and pray about mission. They were leaders of 21 well-established Mennonite Brethren conferences and some 17 new associations under MB Mission. In most cases, they sent their principal leader plus a mission or church planting coordinator. In some cases, like the Spanish conference of Paraguay (Convención Evangélica de Iglesias Paraguayas Hermanos Menonitas), they sent many more—at their own expense—to absorb the event as a boost to their mission vision.
The mission in keynotes
“There is only one mission,” said Arthur Dück of Brazil, quoting Wilbert R. Shenk. “The authority for all missionary action is the mission Dei. Our efforts and actions must be submitted to the priority of God’s missional purpose.”
The church is the body of Christ in the world for the sake of the world, Dück said. “Mission is not primarily our activity or initiative, but God’s people participating in God’s purpose to redeem all creation.”
Dück was one of nine conference and mission leaders who presented plenary addresses on aspects of mission and prayer. In fact, his “The Mission of the Church: Clarifying the Missio Dei,” and Martin Eitzen’s “Worker Preparation: An extension of discipleship” on the role and value of education in formal and non-formal ways were last-hour substitutions.
“It’s a testimony to the ‘bench strength’ of the Mennonite Brethren when we can draw on our community at a moment’s notice for quality input,” says Wiebe.
Johann Matthies of Germany pictured the world on the move: 244 million people are migrants, refugees and stateless. Top hosting countries are Jordan, Ethiopia, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. North America manages nowhere near the numbers these countries deal with. Despite fear-mongering of government and media voices, Christians are caring for refugees, drawing them to Christ, said Matthies. “We live in times of unprecedented opportunity to share the gospel in holistic ways to the waves of people coming to our doorsteps,” said Matthies.
Randy Friesen of MB Mission spoke of an “everywhere to everywhere” mission. Expatriate workers support energetic missional leaders who plant churches and start conferences in difficult places where the gospel is costly. Khmu Mission is one. “The gospel is not costly for North Americans; should we not step into that cost with others?” Friesen asked. Serving refugees is a small beginning.
The geographical center of Christianity is currently trending southeast. For Mennonite Brethren, it is somewhere between Congo and India, our two largest conferences. This begs reflections on how MB mission praxis and strategy responds to this reality.
For a truly “everywhere to everywhere" gospel, Wiebe called for a message reflecting not just the legal gospel most familiar in of North America (Christ paid the penalty for sin, Col. 1:14), but also the gospel that empowers (Christ defeated all powers, Col. 1:13-6) and the gospel that lifts us from shame to honor (Phil. 2:5-11). The latter are metaphors with more contextual power in the rest of the world.
David Heidebrecht spoke about a new integrative approach for mobilizing workers, church planting and growing toward reproduction and a vision that ignores political boundaries to mobilize all national churches to reach all nations. Vic Wiens and Jean Claude Ambeke of Angola encouraged the assembly to use what’s in one's hand to engage in mission. Ambeke’s personal story of the Angola church efforts to witness rounded out the presentation.
The mission from the Word
Each morning different continental representatives presented a Bible study from the book of Ephesians.
Pastor Nahtanong Silachotboriboon (widely knowns as “Pastor Naat”) of Thailand was once a housekeeper for missionaries David and Louise Sinclair-Peters, but God called her to ministry and leadership. She has planted four churches in the region of Chon Buri and continues to pioneer ministry in new areas.
“Recognize the call of God on your life, keep the vision and move forward no matter what,” Pastor Naat instructed in her Bible study on Ephesians 3. “Take time to repent before God daily…. Trust in God and go after what God has called you to do…. Don’t be afraid; as you go forward with passion, God will add to your faith, knowledge [and] fruitfulness.”
Pastor Mvwala Katshinga of DR Congo proclaimed there is one Spirit (Ephesians 4), preaching in the powerful style of Congolese Mennonite Brethren, highlighting the call to women for mission. “Is there one Holy Spirit for men and another Holy Spirit for women?” he asked. “No! And the Spirit calls us together on mission…. It’s God who gives the gifts; a church on mission breaks the walls of separation…. We are all one in service.”
Pastor Ada De Mencia of Paraguay called the assembly to be open to the Holy Spirit and to confess that we haven’t allowed him to fill and use us as he wants (Ephesians 5). And an evangelist from Turkey called Mennonite Brethren to arm themselves for the spiritual warfare that’s upon us (Ephesians 6).
The mission through prayer
Prayer, the parallel theme, complemented everything in practice, example and teaching. All sessions provided opportunity for prayer. Prayer rooms and workshops provided practical opportunity to pray and learn about prayer.
On the second night Paul Duck and Reginaldo Valim of Brazil shared how the Holy Spirit revolutionized Valim’s life and ministry, resulting in his ministry of intercession. A call of response had everyone on their knees, opening their hearts to God.
At the ALH Orphanage, consultation participants provided a “Fire Tunnel” for all the orphans to run through. The delegates paired up, holding hands high in a long line of 120 pairs. While the children ran underneath, all prayed out loud at once for God to bless them.
“For many participants, the activities coming from all corners of the globe were new practices,” says Wiebe. Some of the Latin Americans raised concerns about apostolic expressions based on the troubled charismatic practices they see at home. “Discomfort is part of an international gathering,” says Wiebe.
A Saturday morning session on prayer was another participatory experience. “I believe God was speaking deeply and directly to everyone in the room,” says Discipleship On Mission intern Katie Vogt, who participated in the event under the MB Mission program. “It was such a beautiful moment to share with amazingly gifted believers from around the world,” she said.
Despite the inevitable misunderstandings of a cross-cultural meeting, the atmosphere of love and unity prevailed. This global gathering provided opportunity to make many new contacts. Most of the emerging network leaders had never met such a large body of the MB family. “The sense of belonging was palpable,” says Wiebe. ICOMB received at least half a dozen requests from associations to join as full members.
“It was a spiritual highlight because we are under pressure in our country,” said Roman Rakhuba of the Association of MB Churches of Ukraine. “We felt relaxed here. Thank you for remembering Ukraine. We do really feel part of the family—we are not orphans.”
Alina Itucama, of Iglesia Evangélica Unida—Hermanos Menonitas (United Evangelical Church – Mennonite Brethren, Panama), said, “We notice that we are not alone. When we have needs, we have hands and eyes in Europa and Asia. (Prayer) has to grow in our conference and be a stronger foundation for our work,” she said.
“As a diverse ICOMB family of churches, God has given us a diverse set of gifts in order to reach a very diverse world with the gospel,” said the listening committee in their report on the consultation. They recommended making time for prayer and intercession, empowering women, increasing awareness about interdependent ministry with other Anabaptist churches and recommitting to being a church on mission in “radical imitation of Jesus [through] forgiveness and love.”
The mission in business
At the ICOMB Summit March 13-14, following, groups processed what they heard and how they will transfer those into goals going forward. Each conference was encouraged to envision several specific mission initiatives.
“We received very much form the meeting,” said Baby Ilonga (Jean Claude) Ambeke of the MB church in Angola (Igreja Evangelica dos Irmaos Menonitas en Angola). “We are leaving inspired, with models for our meetings.”
Dario Ramirez of the Paraguay conference reported that nine pastors from his delegation heard a call about church planting. “The whole event was highly spiritual and inspirational,” he says.
The final Summit day, March 14, provided occasion to dedicate Rudi Plett as the new associate director (half time) with primary focus on serving the churches of Latin America. The ICOMB representatives also mandated Wiebe to revise the membership pathway, to signal belonging while a group is still fledgling in size and structure but strong in spiritual life and witness.
“The impact from these emerging groups in faith, hope and love is much needed among the established MB conferences, while the older groups can mentor and provide sustaining body life,” says Wiebe.
Education to sustain discipleship and build theological strength as an accompaniment to spiritual renewal is an ongoing concern for ICOMB. For the 2018 Summit, ICOMB will develop a system to “map” formal and non-formal opportunities for pastoral and leadership development in each continent, while developing a certificate of recognition for those who complete non-formal training.
The 2018 ICOMB Summit in Vienna Austria, anticipated to be a much “simpler, quieter gathering” in comparison to Thailand, will further develop these pathways.
Photo credit: John Irvin for ICOMB
Thumbnail: Consultation participants were led in collective worship by a team organized by Thailand missionary Andy Owen. During worship times, different languages were highlighted: English, Thai, Spanish and French.
Commissioning photo credit: Ed Boschman