As a local band played “You are the most high God,” international guests from the global Anabaptist family swayed and sang at this year’s Renewal 2027 “The Holy Spirit transforming us” event at Nyamasaria Primary School’s auditorium in Kisumu, Kenya, and headquarters of Kenya Mennonite Church (KMC).
Mennonite World Conference’s annual event to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation took place between meetings of the Executive Committee, Commissions and Networks and the triennial delegate meetings of the General Council.
“The global Mennonite church is connected as the true vine to Jesus Christ and dependent on God the gardener,” said Gordon Obado, one of the event masters of ceremonies, welcoming the international guests to Kenya.
A church born of the Spirit
Strengthened by the East Africa revival, Kenya Mennonite Church (KMC) exemplifies the theme: “The Holy Spirit transforming us / Roho Mtakatifu Hutubadilisha Maisha” (Swahili).
In the 1930s, two 12-year-olds from the Mennonite church in Shirati, Tanzania, and Rebeka (“Speedy”) Kizinza—a person of peace whose urgency to share the good news motivated her hospitality and fast walking—carried the gospel into regions where it was not known, and inspired others to do the same.
“Across Kenya, at cooking fires, people gathered around the Word of God, and repented of their sins,” said Tanzanian-born, now-retired Eastern Mennonite Missions worker David W. Shenk.
Shenk distilled four revival principles: focus on Jesus while meeting regularly with Christians; confess sins; be dependent on Jesus; and be joyful.
The revival continues: “As the Spirit of the Lord works in the church, we become more and more like Jesus,” said Francis Ojwang, one of the event masters of ceremonies.
“God is calling people from the Global South to bear witness to the gospel,” said Nelson Okanya, a native of Kenya, now president of USA-based EMM.
Renewal 2027 is calling Anabaptists to “a spirit of repentance and renewal and a commitment to remembrance of the past to renew our relationship here and now,” said MWC General Secretary César García.
A Spirit of power
“Why does it matter to us that the first Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit?” asked plenary speaker Elisabeth Kunjam (Deacons Commission, India). Reflecting on Acts 2, she observed three reasons the 2,000-year-old event is significant today: the Holy Spirit continues to empower the church; the church is diverse and inclusive in nature; and the church displays a foretaste of the kingdom of God.
The problems facing our generation call for the church’s active intervention, said Kunjam. “The Holy Spirit’s empowerment…within the global Anabaptist family is needed for the church to raise up a standard that bears a witness to the world.”
“Where does the Holy Spirit go? The Holy Spirit goes where people are waiting,” said plenary speaker Alfred Neufeld (Faith & Life Commission, Paraguay). Neufeld, who is a Mennonite Brethren leader, presented an overview of understanding of the Spirit in the early church, the first Anabaptists and today. “God has not given us a spirit of weakness, but dunamos, a powerful spirit,” he said. “Dear friends, let’s enjoy this [agape – costly love/love of enemies] spirit of the Lord.”
A Spirit of transformation
“In the book of Revelation, testimonies defeat the enemies,” said Barbara Nkala (Regional Representative, Zimbabwe).
Nkala, Jürg Bräker (Deacons Commission, Switzerland) and Oscar Suárez (YABs Committee, Colombia) shared testimonies of the Holy Spirit working in local churches: bringing unity despite diverse opinions in Switzerland; re-uniting a broken family and supporting conscientious objection in Colombia; and bringing physical healing and mission inspiration to women in Zimbabwe.
Leaders with strong spirits
Philip Okeyo, KMC moderator and bishop, led a ceremony to honor retired leaders of KMC, whose bodies may be weak, but spirits are strong.
Echoing the words of the other retired bishops, Musa Adongo thanked God for the blessings received. Joshua Okello encouraged the church to carry on the work of sharing the gospel.
Reflecting back at the later GC meetings, Rebecca Osiro, MWC vice president and ordained KMC pastor, said the small national church had challenges in finding the capacity to host the international event, but it was a great honor to be in solidarity with the global church in Kenya. “We feel encouraged and strengthened that we come to this reality today.”
Local choirs interspersed the presentations with songs and dance. A group of Sunday school children aged 4 to14, a ministry of KMC Women Fellowship in Kisumu, presented songs, dance, and “We are here to celebrate,” a special poem composed for the event.
In closing, MWC president J. Nelson Kraybill said, “We are no longer Greek, nor Jew (Galatians 3:28), Kenyan nor American, we truly are one in Christ.”
“May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord who is alive, give you strength so you may continue to spread the gospel of Christ,” said Samson Omondi, KMC general secretary.
Mennonite World Conference is a communion of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for fellowship, worship, service, and witness. USMB is a member conference of this global ministry.