MWC General Council fosters relationships

Representatives gather every three years for face-to-face meeting

General Council delegates raise orange cards to show consensus. Photo: Len Rempel.

“Stand up if you are weary, worn down by the cares of ministry.” From Portuguese-speaking countries on either side of the ocean, a Brazilian pastor crossed to embrace an Angolan pastor who stood in response to the Deacons Commission’s calls to prayer during the evening devotional time at the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) General Council meetings. Throughout the room, huddles of delegates surrounded leaders, easing burdens with prayers of encouragement.

Much of the time, MWC’s mission to create space for the Anabaptist family to meet together is fulfilled virtually, on social media or through email connections across continents. But once every three years, it occurs in person as the General Council (one to three delegates from each member church), commissions and networks (Global Mission Fellowship, Global Anabaptist Service Network) meet. Representatives from up to 107 national churches from 58 countries gathered for triennial meetings April 23–26, 2018 in Limuru, Kenya. They discerned decisions, learned from teaching—and ate together and shared their hearts.

General Council meetings are about “making connections, meeting beautiful brothers from here in Kenya, all parts of Africa, Indonesia, Japan, China and from different parts of the world,” says Juan C. Colón of Convención de las Iglesias Menonitas de Puerto Rico, Inc. “Learning from them, seeing how they pray, learning from the humility that they show… – it has been a rewarding experience for me.”

“We learn it’s not only in Congo we have problems that affect the life of the church; problems are everywhere, but each corner has its own. I was moved by the hardships of the church in Panama who have been displaced from their own land,” says Alphonse Komuesa of Communauté Mennonite au Congo. “The fact that we have shared these experiences together gives us an opportunity to comfort each other.”

“We have space to be able to talk and get to know each other,” says Colón.

A space to share prayer

During a prayer time, Komuesa shared about the difficulties in DR Congo where a violent military group has displaced many of the Mennonite church’s members, resulting in deaths, separated families and poverty.

From Germany, Alexander Neufeld of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Brüdergemeinden in Deutschland, a Mennonite Brethren conference, said the many Middle Eastern refugees making a new home in the country challenge the church to learn and grow.

Delegates from Nicaragua shared their concern about the government suppression of student-led protests happening during the meetings.

The small church of 1 000 members in Nepal has been affected by flooding and earthquake in the past few years, and is restricted by anti-conversion laws, yet it continues to grow, said Hanna Soren of Nepal BIC Church/Brethren in Community Welfare Society.

Alexander Neufeld (Germany) and Joji Pantoja, chair of the Peace Commission (Philippines), pray for Alphone Komuesa (DR Congo). Photo: Wilhelm Unger.

A space to learn

Gathered in a rainbow striped tent that was both a metaphor for the diversity of the gathering and a real tabernacle for God’s people, delegates approved the Program Plan and financial projections 2018–2021 and reviewed Fair Share 2016–2021 and had lively discussion around Commissions Proposals. Strategic goals for the triennial were identified as: live out anabaptist identity, interdependent relationships, reconciliation and hope.

“The unity of the spirit is the reason we walk together, not the result of walking well together,” said Thomas Yoder Neufeld, Bible scholar, new Faith and Life Commission chair, and speaker at three plenary teaching sessions. “God is to blame for the diversity in our unity,” he said. “This is a permanent problem we do not want God to solve for us.”

The imagery of breaking down boundaries show how costly peace is, he said.

A space to wrestle

Delegates experienced pain when disagreement surfaced over the Faith and Life Commission’s guideline on responding to controversial issues. Yoder Neufeld’s teaching – patience, suffering, forgiveness, seeing in each other the face of God are the ways to walk in unity – were put to test. The General Council did not reach consensus on accepting the document which means that MWC continues without a clear process on how to discuss controversial issues.

Two other Commission documents received delegate approval: a statement of solidarity with Indigenous peoples and a teaching resource “Identity and Ecumenicity: A Theology of Interchurch Hospitality and Denominational Identity.”

Delegates ratified new national church members approved by the Executive Committee since the previous General Council and new members in 2018: Lancaster Mennonite Conference (full member); and Iglesia Misionera Anabautista, Bolivia (associate members).

Henk Stenvers was elected president elect, to assume presidency at Assembly in Indonesia in 6–11 July 2021. Currently serving vice president Rebecca Osiro was affirmed to serve a six-year term. New Commission members and Executive Committee members were approved, including Bill Braun, a U.S. Mennonite Brethren retired pastor from Fresno, Calif., to serve on the executive committee.

Prior to the General Council, delegates and representatives of Anabaptist service and mission agencies travelled to western Kenya to participate in Renewal 2027, a day-long celebration of the Holy Spirit in the history and life of the nearly 500-year-old Anabaptist church. The next day, they worshipped in local churches in the Kisumu area.

Osiro described it as a great honor for Kenya Mennonite Church to host the gathering of Anabaptist leaders worldwide. “We feel encouraged and strengthened that we come to this reality,” she said. “Where the roads are not defined clearly…, you bear with us and forgive us,” she said. “How nice, how pleasant and good that we stay together in unity.”


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