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MWC Executive Committee gathers for annual meeting

MWC president-elect and Deacons Commission secretary Henk Stenvers reports on the work of the Deacons Commission during the 2019 Mennonite World Conference Executive Committee meeting. Photo: Kristina Toews

The Mennonite World Conference Executive Committee (EC) met April 8-12, 2019, in Heredia, Costa Rica. Bill Braun, of Willow Avenue Mennonite Church, a USMB church in Clovis, California, is one of two North American representatives.

Appointed by the General Council, Executive Committee members meet annually to carry out the work of MWC. These two representatives from each region manage the finances, authorize programs, approve task forces, articulate the vision and mission and develop long-range plans. In addition to the 10 continental region representatives, the EC includes the MWC general secretary, president, vice-president, treasure and president elect.

Discussion and agreement

The Executive Committee withdrew the proposal, “MWC Policy for Dealing with Controversial Issues,” presented to the General Council in Kenya last year. The proposal, which was prepared by the MWC Faith and Life Commission and approved by the MWC Executive Committee, contained guidelines for a process to discuss controversial topics in MWC.

Braun says, “It was clear that the reality of differences existed right around the EC table.  The story of Mennonite World Conference from the beginning has been to focus on and celebrate our common center, supporting one another, even with our differences in view.  We still encourage each member conference to live out their respective Confession of Faith as best they can.”

At the 2019 meeting, the EC passed a new resolution by consensus, emphasizing the goal for mutual learning in MWC.

“We want to provide a safe space for our groups to learn from each other on matters of faith and life,” reads the new resolution. “We recognize that our member churches have confessions of faith and ecclesial practices that are not always in agreement with each other. Beyond the Shared Convictions, MWC does not advocate a single confession or practice for our member churches.”

In other business, the EC discussed and approved guidelines on appointment of specialists to Commissions and application to the Jubilee account of the Global Church Sharing Fund.

Overall in finances, unrestricted contributions are in a positive position, but net assets saw a significant drawdown due to spending for the General Council meetings in Kenya in 2018. Fundraising for these meetings is more challenging than for Assembly, the worldwide gathering every six years.

“Efforts are on the way to help resolve this situation,” said MWC treasurer Sunoko Lin.

Communication and consensus

Living out the priority of relationships in MWC, Glen Guyton of Mennonite Church USA taught on intercultural competence. An effective intercultural communicator prepares, observes, compares, reflects, inquires and respects, said Guyton.

“Given the reality of diversity within MWC, this was quite useful to us,” says Braun in his report to leaders of the North American conferences he represents. “Glen defined intercultural communication as the sending and receiving of messages across languages and culture.  It is also a negotiated understanding of meaning in human experiences across social systems and societies.”

The EC also heard from eight pastors and leaders from Asociación Iglesias Cristianas Menonitas de Costa Rica about how their congregations are growing together and starting new ministries. Heredia is the home of the first Mennonite congregation planted by Rosedale Mission in 1965. From that first local church, there are now 23 Mennonite congregations who joined with MWC’s Renewal 2027 celebration, a one-day Anabaptist anniversary event that preceded the EC’s annual meeting.

For the first time, the EC invited Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), International Brethren In Christ Association (IBICA) and International Community Of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) to attend the meetings in the role of advisors. These organizations are also global in scope of work, and work in a close relationship with many of MWC member churches. Ron Byler (MCC) and Doug Sider (IBICA) were present.

Three EC members were not able to attend the meetings, one for family reasons, two due to visa complications.

“We realized that these missing members did have an impact on our conversations, though in their absence we weren’t quite sure how to evaluate that impact,” says Braun.

Renewal 2027 event

The gathering in Costa Rica began with a Renewal 2027 event on Saturday. Renewal 2027 is a 10-year series of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement. Each year, local churches host the event in a different region of the world. “Justice on the Journey: Migration and the Anabaptist Story” was the focus of this event held April 6, 2019 at Iglesia Vida Abundante in San Rafael de Heredia, Costa Rica.

Folk dancers from a retirement community in San Rafael brought local flavor to the event with traditional Costa Rican dance. Photo: Henk Stenvers

A worship band from Costa Rica and traditional folk dance opened the day of singing and worshipping together attended by around 450 people. Local church leader Cindy Alpizar hosted the event.

Latin American contributors Belinda Rodriguez and Jamie Prieto addressed the theological and historical context of the event. Speakers from each continental region shared a testimony of challenge and hope.

“I learned that to belong is a two-way street,” said MWC chief international events officer Liesa Unger, who moved to Germany from Siberia as a child. “Whether I belong or not does not only depend on the others who need to accept me, it also depends on me—whether or not I accept the invitation.”

“The story of migration is one that we all share as brothers and sisters in an eternal kingdom,” said YABs (Young AnaBaptists) North American representative Larissa Swartz. “Our spiritual identity is that of foreigners in a foreign land on a pilgrimage to reach our true home.”

“No matter what are the ways of the enemy, let us not forget that our God is the God of restoration,” said Executive Committee representative from India Paul Phinehas, who focused on the story of Joseph in Genesis to emphasize the role of family in God’s restoring process.

Zaida López of Costa Rica offered a challenge: “When we meet a migrant in our country do we think, how would I like to be treated if I were in their place? And rather than discriminate against them, we offer them a helping hand because they offer an opportunity to share the love of God.”

On behalf of Samson Omondi, Executive Committee representative from Africa who was unable to attend, Rebecca Osiro shared examples of refugee response from Kenya Mennonite Church’s Eastleigh Fellowship Centre in Nairobi, a church and outreach center in a high immigrant neighborhood.

“Be intentional and keep your eyes open for refugees, immigrants and migrants during your daily routine,” Samson Omondi wrote. “Pray… [and] do not be surprised when God puts such opportunities in your path.”

These testimonies regarding the challenges of migration was for Braun the “most moving part of the day.” He says, “How do we receive immigrants in our respective countries?  What does it mean to the home community when people leave? What level of violence and poverty must be reached before people decide to leave their homes, families, and communities to try for a better life elsewhere? What challenges face the local church as people leave and what challenges face the local church where the immigrants arrive? All these questions were part of the testimonies from people who are currently on one end or the other of this situation.”

Today’s Costa Rican Mennonite church leaders recognized elders who had an important impact on the church’s development in the country. Pictured: Martín Matamoros, Hugo Rodríguez (represented by daughter), Orlando Carvajal (represented by wife), Anabelle González (second from right); Sandra Campos (right). Also recognized: María Rodríguez (deceased); Isabel Soto de Guadalupe (deceased). Photo: Henk Stenvers

A special time during the day, says Braun, was when long-time pastors and in some cases their representatives were honored for their lives of service to their congregations and the church in Costa Rica.

To close the event, participants gathered in groups with people they hadn’t met before to pray for Latin American countries with the greatest rate of forced migration.

Sunday, Braun and the others were divided into groups of four to eight and sent to designated local congregations where they participated in lively worship and someone from the MWC group brought greetings from MWC or preached the sermon.  Afterwards, they were treated to lunch and many received a short tour around the city.

“All in all, it was a very nice and inspiring day,” says Braun. “The church in Costa Rica is alive and well!”

The MWC news story was written by Kristina Toews and Karla Braun. Bill Braun’s report provides additional details.

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