MB participants reflect on general council decisions


MWC General Council approves new initiatives

by Fern Burkhardt, MWC, and CL Staff

What’s new with Mennonite World Conference? A great deal, beginning with new leaders and new member churches.

The MWC’s General Council and Executive Committee conducted business in Asunción in conjunction with MWC’s global Assembly 15, July 14-19. U.S. Mennonite Brethren were represented at the meeting by Ed Boschman, executive director of the U.S. Conference, and by Lynn Jost, president of MB Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Calif. This was the first time Boschman had represented U.S. MBs at the General Council; Jost also represented U.S. MBs in Zimbabwe in 2003 and at mid-conference meetings in California in 2006.

“One thing that doesn’t change,” Jost says via e-mail in reflecting on the meetings, “is the energy and excitement from having the world Mennonite community gathering for fellowship and discernment. One thing that is changing is the growing body of common structures that characterize the work of the General Conference.”

New leadership at the 2009 meetings included Danisa Ndlovu from Zimbabwe, who was installed as president of MWC for six years. Ndlovu has been vice-president for six years and president-elect for three; he succeeds Nancy Heisey from the United States.

Janet Plenert from Canada was elected vice-president for six years. Plenert chaired the Global Mission Fellowship for three years and worked with GMF and MWC in establishing what has become MWC’s Mission Commission.

The General Council elected a new Executive Committee from its members, with two people nominated by each continental caucus and affirmed by the Executive Committee. For the first time, the African Caucus chose a woman, Mawangu Biavula Ibanda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as one of its representatives.

Reflecting on the African representative as well as other women in MWC leadership, Jost says, “This appears to me to signal a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit among us.”

Other Executive Committee members elected are: (Africa) Thuma Hamukang’andu, Zambia; (Asia) Prem Prakash Bagh, India, and Adi Waludjo, Indonesia; (Latin America and the Caribbean) Edgardo Sanchez, Argentina, and Felix Rafael Curbello Valle, Cuba; (Europe) Rainer Burkart, Germany, and Markus Rediger, Switzerland; (North America) Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, U.S., and Ron Penner, Canada. All Executive Committee members are new except Rediger and Ndlovu.

The first action of the new Executive Committee, which met July 19, was to accept by consensus a report from AMIGOS, the young adult team, and its nominations for a Youth Task Force to operate for one year. AMIIGOS, with one representative from each of the five continental regions, organized a Global Youth Summit in Zimbabwe in 2003 and in Asunción in 2009. Lisa Washio of Clovis, Calif., represented U.S. MBs at the Global Youth Summit.

The new task force will have a member from each continental region who has been vetted by AMIGOS and affirmed by his or her church, and one member from the outgoing AMIGOS team. Its mandate is to propose MWC youth programs and structures by 2010.

Four new churches
Four national churches (conferences) were accepted as full members of MWC. In addition to the Vietnam Mennonite Church, new members are the Brethren in Christ Church in Mozambique, the Gilgal Mission Trust (Mennonite Church) in India and the Bible Missionary Church in Myanmar.

Churches must apply for membership and meet eligibility criteria. They must be known and recommended by the general secretary and the regional caucus. They must be an organized church for at least five years, have 500 or more baptized members and at least two congregations and affirm MWC’s vision, mission and shared convictions.

Spain has several small Anabaptist churches which have formed an association but together they have fewer than 500 members. Those churches were granted decision-making rights on the General Council until the question of their full membership as a special case is determined.

For the first time, management of MWC’s finances has moved to the global South with the appointment of Ernst Bergen, a Mennonite Brethren from Paraguay, as treasurer. Paul Quiring, a Mennonite Brethren from California, concluded 11 years as treasurer at the Asunción meeting.

During the past decade, MWC’s income, investments and expenses have increased dramatically to approximately $1.2 million at the end of 2008 with positive fund balances. Assembly 15 finances are not yet final.

The General Council has about 116 members named by member and associate member churches. Approximately 50 percent of the new General Council (GC16) were also members of GC15.

New commissions

Four new commissions—mission, deacons, peace and faith and life—met for the first time in Asunción. Each commission has a chair, a General Council member from each continental region and several specialists.
Discussion between MWC and the Global Mission Fellowship concluded with the formation of the MWC Mission Commission. The chair of the commission, Richard Showalter from the U.S., was elected in Asunción. He also chairs the related GMF whose planning committee is responsible for global mission events.

Other commission chairs, named earlier, are: Deacons, Cynthia Peacock from India; Faith and Life, Alfred Neufeld, an MB leader from Paraguay; and Peace, Mulugeta Zewdie from Ethiopia. Valerie Rempel, an MB from California, will serve as a member of the Faith and Life Commission. While each commission has goals and plans for specific areas of work, they will also discern how to operate in unity.

Boschman notes that, while he sensed general enthusiasm for the new structure, he wondered how U.S. Mennonite Brethren can realistically support what he called “another layer” of partnership and responsibility. Those questions became particularly highlighted when discussion turned to “Fair Share”—each member conference’s contributions to MWC. Boschman says the suggested dollar amounts for North American conferences were “quite steep.”

Boschman says that U.S. Mennonite Brethren have a responsibility to follow through with the initiatives and partnerships they affirm; it’s a matter of integrity. At the same time, he says, “that felt to me like it was going to be a real challenge.”

Ecumenical guests
Among special guests at the General Council meetings were representatives of several Christian world communions. Welcomed were Gregory Fairbanks, representative for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican City; Daniel Okoh, president, Organization of African Instituted Churches; Raquel Contreras, vice-president, Baptist World Alliance; Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director, World Evangelical Alliance; Eugene Hsu, vice-president, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists; Federico Pagura, former president, World Council of Churches; Hansulrich Gerber, coordinator, Decade to Overcome Violence, World Council of Churches; and Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, and Kathryn Johnson, assistant general secretary.

The LWF representatives reported that the LWF Council plans to present a statement on the final report of the MWC-LWF Joint Study Commission at its 2010 world assembly. The statement is expected to ask for forgiveness of Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists in the 16th century. “What we [Lutherans] did to Anabaptists was wrong,” grieved Noko. Following his statement, there was an emotional embrace between Noko and Ndlovu, the leaders of two world communions, both of whom were sons of Zimbabwean Brethren in Christ mothers.

MWC is also looking into the future. Under consideration is reconfiguring its offices and staffing, intending to shift some administration to the global South, with MWC representative offices in each continent.

There is strong support for continuing global assemblies, not losing current momentum. Boschman says, “There is always something we can learn from listening and sharing experiences” in a setting such as MWC.

Both Boschman and Jost say the structure of MWC offers U.S. MBs a chance to have valuable input into theological issues. In addition, Jost points out that U.S. MB participation in MWC gatherings “expresses value” to other Mennonites, some of whom travel great distances for such encouragement.

“If we as U.S. MBs can give this gift of solidarity and support to world Mennonites, why wouldn’t we continue our support?” Jost says.

A study is underway to determine the time and place for the next global gathering. Already a major celebration is anticipated in Europe in 2025, the 500th anniversary year of the beginning of the Anabaptist movement and MWC’s 100th anniversary.

The next General Council meeting will take place in May 2012 in Switzerland in conjunction with MERK (Mennonite European Regional Conference).


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