Mennonite Brethren reflect on MWC Paraguay
U.S. Mennonite Brethren were among the 6,200 registered participants for Mennonite World Conference Assembly 15, held in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 14-19. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that College Community Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Clovis, Calif., had the largest number of participants of any congregation outside of Paraguay, with 22 persons attending. CL Online invited Mennonite Brethren participants to reflect on the experience.
U.S. Conference Executive Director
The opening evening was an impressive celebration that began with a celebratory parade of nations and ministries. There were dozens of banners and flags that were carried on display through the aisles of the 10,000-seat auditorium as traditional Paraguayan music played. Lynn Jost and I proudly and joyfully carried our U.S. MB banner. With about 6,000 people in attendance, it was a memorable and festive occasion….
When you gather people from all over the world and you listen to the same Scripture passage together, you soon realize that we each hear with our own ears. How we hear is set up by who we are and where we live and what our context is and what the politics and the economy is and the culture and the life circumstances—that builds our context, and we hear out of that context. Sometimes our understanding of a promise of Jesus or a clarification of authentic Christian living just plays out a little differently. In a Western world context where affluence is quite pervasive, we see things out of that context. We should, as a result of that, be careful that when we hear the Word of God we try to listen not only through our own ears, but through the ears of our brothers and sisters who are in very different contexts.
President of MB Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Calif.
Afternoons at MWC were devoted to workshops and service projects. One “service project” was a visit to the national penitentiary where 3,000 Paraguayans criminals are housed. Mennonite Brethren have had an active prison ministry there for two decades. Mennonite Brethren administer and control a section of the prison with about 600 prisoners where they have planted an active congregation with over 130 members at this moment and nearly 2,000 baptized believers through the years. The recidivism rate at this part of the prison is a tiny fraction of that of the rest. My visit to the prison was especially enjoyable because of the large group of my son’s friends that accompanied us, youth delegates from Holland. We talked about faith, about life and about the ministry as we rode in vans to and from the prison. We sang and prayed in prison. We rejoiced at what God is doing….
U.S. MBs express value to the world Mennonites by being present at MWC. We validate their mission and their identity. I chatted at a break with the leader of the Panama Mennonite Brethren church. We talked about his long ocean ride in a dugout canoe to get to Asuncion. It was clear that for him to meet North American Mennonites reinforced his confidence in Jesus’ promise to build his church and that the gates of hell would not be able to withstand the advance. If we as U.S. Mennonite Brethren can give this gift of solidarity and support to world Mennonites, why wouldn’t we continue our support?
I am grateful to the U.S. Mennonite Brethren Church for appointing me as a delegate and for providing financial support for my trip.
Former president of the MB Colombian MB Conference
Current student at MB Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Calif.
Health insurance is one issue of important discussion in the United States. Some people think that more equality is necessary. “Justice,” “equality,” “service”—these are words that must be heard more in our churches than in the political arena. When I was at MWC in Paraguay I was dealing with these kinds of words. In our encounter with Mennonites from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America, how could we as a global community reflect the style of community living founded on the New Testament? Is it possible to think in terms of a genuine and equitable global Anabaptist community?
There were very good and interesting experiences: The participation of other Christian confessions of faith, the diversity in worship styles, the encounter with old friends who serve the Lord in other countries, the development of important decisions. All those experiences were very special. However, at the end of the day the economic differences were evident. Far away from the event the economic differences are still there.
How could we act like a global family about it? I think the first step has to do with our identity. Many Mennonites have more in common with other families of faith than with their own Anabaptist family. That was evident in some workshops, songs and presentations at MWC. If we don’t identify ourselves as a global Anabaptist family, if we don’t feel as a part of the same family, to think in community will always be a utopia instead of a New Testament style of life.
Mennonite World Conference staff member
My heart beat a little faster and a lump formed in my throat as I watched the procession of banners representing Mennonite and Brethren in Christ national conferences, local churches, agencies and institutions enter the sanctuary of Centro Familiar de Adoración to open Mennonite World Conference, Assembly 15. Some 6,204 members of the global Anabaptists family had gathered in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 14-19, 2009. From over 60 countries they came to worship, fellowship, serve and witness. Through Bible studies, sermons, prayers, singing, music, cultural demonstrations, eating, visiting and sharing communion, they demonstrated and learned how to “Come Together in the Way of Jesus Christ.”
I was excited as an MWC staff person who was privileged to have a small part in planning the assembly and working with a very dedicated group of people. Now the result of two years of work was before us. But I was also excited to meet friends that I had made from around the world. One could get lost among over 6,000 participants spread over the sanctuary, two balconies, the parking garage/dining hall, the Global Village displays and numerous hotels. But I did manage to find many friends from around the world.
Bible studies and sermons opened our eyes to the interpretation of Scripture from all the continents as speakers, almost equally divided between male and female, spoke from the perspective of their continents and the particular circumstances of their churches and lives. Speakers often referred pointedly and powerfully to the need for believers to exercise unity, justice and social action if we are to “Come Together in the Way of Jesus Christ.” I realized again that the gospel is universal.
Mary Anne Isaak
College Community Church, Clovis, Calif.
The visual symbol of the embrace was powerful. Standing on the church platform in Paraguay, addressing wrongs committed 500 years ago in Europe, two men from Zimbabwe gave each other a moving embrace. The global community is indeed vital for the ministry of reconciliation.
Wednesday, July 15, Ishmael Noko, the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, shared about the discussions addressing the Lutheran condemnation of Anabaptists in the 16th century. Maintaining respect and honor for the founders of the Lutheran church, Noko acknowledged that with hindsight they see that the founders had other options for disagreement open to them. Noko confessed that their choice of persecution and execution was wrong; the history of condoning persecution is a spiritual wound that the Lutheran church carries with it. Graciously accepting his words of confession was Bishop Danisa Ndlovu, the new president of Mennonite World Conference.
As I joined the spontaneous standing ovation, I was grateful for the opportunity to witness this step toward healing between churches who both desire to be part of the powerful movement of God’s kingdom.
College Community Church, Clovis, Calif.
The MWC Assembly is, for me, a family gathering. In this case, the Paraguayan branch of our Anabaptist family organized a huge get-together and invited as many of us as could come. I know that I don’t agree with every member of the family on every issue, whether theology or practice, but they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and meeting them, singing with them, praying with them, eating with them, has been a blessing to me.
The experience has added something to who I am as a follower of Christ and as a Mennonite Brethren. The sermons and Bible studies were excellent and challenging, as were the workshops. The music was vibrant and soul-satisfying. And yet, I can hear excellent sermons and Bible studies in other contexts.
There is absolutely nothing that can replace the sharing of hugs, handshakes, smiles, laughter, prayers, insights and God’s presence with sisters and brothers from Congo, India, Germany, Angola, Brazil, France, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Canada. This will remain with me and be a part of me. It reaffirms and deepens the sense of what it is to be part of God’s kingdom, part of God’s redeemed community.
This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at email@example.com.