Multiple moments during the Pacific District Conference (PDC) convention held Oct. 27-28, 2017 at Bethany Church in Fresno, California, highlighted the diversity of the PDC as expressed in the convention theme, “From Everywhere to Everywhere.”
One of those instances was the welcome of new member churches Saturday morning. The platform was crowded by the time representatives from each of the five congregations being recognized had joined PDC district minister Gary Wall, moderator Pat Coyle and vice-moderator Scott Holman on stage.
Pastors from each of the churches, accompanied by one to as many as two dozen church members, briefly shared their story with the 131 registered delegates and guests attending the biennial district gathering. Three of the congregations were presented as free-standing church plants and two were established churches being welcomed as new PDC members.
- Christ Community Church Sellwood is a young congregation in Portland, Oregon, a city in which Christianity is not popular, church planter Jared Pulliam said. Pulliam, who serves with his wife Julia and their children, and an elder represented the now free-standing congregation. “We don’t want to be fancy,” Pulliam said. “We want to be faithful.”
- Friends of Jesus Church, a mostly Filipino congregation in Las Vegas, Nevada, is the first Mennonite Brethren church to be planted in Las Vegas and was also recognized as a free-standing congregation. Pastor Andy Basilio, who was joined by his wife, presented a resolution of thanks to the Pacific District Conference and the U.S. Conference for the support of Wall and USMB national director Don Morris.
- Gavin and Kendall Linderman are the pastoral couple at Axiom Church, a church plant in Phoenix, Arizona, that was planted five years ago by Copper Hills Church. Now has free-standing status. This young congregation’s core commitments are discipleship, local mission in every context and joy and celebration, Linderman told the delegates.
- When El Rey Ya Viene Iglesia Cristiana, a Spanish-language congregation in Arleta, California, was welcomed as a new member of the PDC, Pastor Arturo Cana was accompanied by at least 25 people from the congregation. “Our vision is not to be stagnant but to begin new churches wherever God sends us—Mexico, Central America and the U.S.,” said Cana through an interpreter.
- New Beginnings Community Church, a 10-year-old congregation in Fresno with 300 members led by Angulus Wilson, Fresno Pacific University’s university pastor and dean of spiritual formation, also joined the PDC. When FPU students began asking about an on-campus church, Wilson spoke with university leaders and with their support, the congregation began meeting on the FPU campus and invited the students to join them. Wilson, who was joined by members of the congregation, offered a prayer of blessing following the introduction of the five churches.
The Friday evening Board of Home Missions’ dinner and program was another opportunity for attendees to enjoy the diversity of the PDC. The program, moderated by Board of Home Missions member Mark Thompson, began with singing led by a worship band from Prodigal Church, a new church plant in Fresno. The program, attended by about 200 people, highlighted many of the 15 PDC church plants and other congregations involved in community outreach. More than a dozen pastors shared their own stories as well as stories of transformation from people in their congregations.
While much of the focus was on celebrating diversity, the challenges and tensions that exist within the district were also recognized. One such moment came when District Minister Wall apologized to the PDC’s 38 Hispanic churches, which is one-third of the conference membership.
“You represent a vitally important part of our corporate district body,” Wall said, addressing Ramon Arguello, chair of the PDC Hispanic Council.
“I want to confess that in my role as district minister, I have not always conveyed, in words and action, how much I value our Hispanic churches and the leadership of the Hispanic Council,” said Wall. “I apologize for not being a better conference leader, given my lack of affirmation and support of our Spanish-speaking churches.”
Wall acknowledged being unresponsive to the times Hispanic churches felt marginalized and treated as second-class members of the conference.
“Please forgive me for my insensitivity and inattention to the experience of our Hispanic pastors, leaders and churches,” Wall said. “I commit to being a better and more inclusive leader, serving together with the Hispanic Council that we may be unified as one conference body without divisions or discrimination. I believe that as we practice mutual love and respect for one another, we will shine as lights in this world filled with hatred and discord. Our leader and Lord Jesus Christ would call us to nothing less than unity, oneness and mutual respect, honoring one another above ourselves. I invite you and other leaders to hold me accountable to these commitments, for the glory of God and the fame and honor of Christ our Lord.”
Following his remarks, Wall washed Arguello’s feet as the audience sang the hymn, “In Christ Alone.”
“I have been a pastor in three different countries and in America for 27 years,” Arguello said to Wall, “and I have never had an experience like this. Thank you for being my brother. I love you.”
Earlier in the convention, Wall had invited the delegates to mourn with him that the PDC has not always shared God’s good news with the world and has not always taken uncomfortable steps of faith to share the gospel from everywhere to everywhere. How will we respond now that now the nations are coming to the U.S., Wall asked.
“We have so much,” Wall said. “Will we step out in bold ways to bless that nations? God has been so good to us, but the needs are so great. How does God wants us to be a blessing to the nations?”
Wall directed the attendees’ attention to the 11 flags hanging in the fellowship hall that represented the home countries of PDC congregations, crediting Loyal Funk with helping a generation of immigrants to the United States find a home with the Mennonite Brethren. Funk, who died in July 2017, was the director of Integrated Ministries from 1988 to 2004.
Two of the three convention keynote speakers, who normally do not preach in English, are pastors serving these immigrant congregations, Wall told the delegates as he introduced the first speaker, Alexandr Kaprian, pastor of Pilgrim Church, a USMB Slavic congregation in Spokane, Washington.
Kapian wove his own experiences as a child and an adult living in the former USSR of being
persecuted for his Christian faith into his message that being faithful to God is “the most important thing.” Faithfulness is not easy, Kaprian said more than once.
In addition to being faithful to God, Kaprian encouraged his audience to be faithful to the local church and the denomination, to one’s children and spouse and to yourself and your conscience. He closed by encouraging his listeners to be faithful until they die and to remember that, “God is always faithful.”
Identity theft was the focus of the message given by Tamirat Haile Weshebo, pastor of Bethlehem Evangelical Church, an Ethiopian congregation in Sacramento, California.
Personal identity was among the new things Weshebo and his family experienced when they immigrated to the U.S. People in Ethiopia do not have personal identity the way Weshebo has experienced it in the United States, where people talk about birth dates, social security numbers and their street address. Given technological advances, a person’s identity can be stolen if a nefarious individual knows two of four things: another’s correctly spelled full name, physical address, date of birth and social security number, Weshebo said.
Weshebo highlighted key identity elements of the church, noting in each case how easy it is for a single congregation and the larger church to have its identity stolen in each of these four areas, which are critical to the identity of the church, both local and universal.
- The church is the gospel-preaching community (Mark 16:15-16).
- The church is the disciple-making community (Matt. 28:19-20).
- The church is the praying community (I Tim. 2:1-2).
- The church is the united community, one body under the headship to Jesus Christ. (Eph. 2:11-22, 4:1-6).
“So, what do we do when we suffer an identity theft?” Weshebo asked. “People call the police, banks and credit card companies. For our stolen spiritual identity, let’s seek help from the Lord,” he concluded, citing Lam. 5:21. “May God help us.”
Xavier Pina, pastor of Iglesia La Gran Comision in Hanford, California, preached alternately
in Spanish and English. He addressed the importance of working together in unity and the challenge of moving beyond superficial cooperation.
“Sometimes we lose focus of how Jesus wants us to work together in community. Everything is not a ‘kumbaya’ moment.,” he said. “There are challenges we face as people, churches and a denomination. We have an idealized view of community.”
Pina said that each of person sees only a snapshot of God, but when we view God through the lens of another—when we all come together—we see the fullness of who God is. That is the beginning of forming genuine community that takes God’s good news from everywhere to everywhere, said Pina.
Friday afternoon delegates were introduced to two guests from Burkina Faso who represent the “beginning of from everywhere to everywhere,” said MB Mission worker Phil Bergen, who along with Fresno Mission Mobilization staff members Galen Wiest and Garry Prieb accompanied the visitors. Siaka Traore, one of the founders and leaders of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Fasa, and Madou Traove, the first believer in his tribe and their first trained pastor who was sent by the UUMBF as their missionary to the Nanerige—brought greetings. During the break time that followed, convention delegates were invited to follow the Burkina Faso custom of each person shaking hands with the visiting guests.
Board reports were given late Friday afternoon and late Saturday morning. Delegates affirmed a ballot of nominees to the five PDC boards as well district officers and passed bylaw revisions related to quorum requirements and the make-up of the executive board.
PDC treasurer Jim Enns presented the 2018 budget, noting that the proposed budget is much like the 2017 budget except for the addition of funds for training Hispanic pastors and to cover the expenses of a team of Hispanic pastors who are fulfilling the duties previously assumed by the PDC associate pastor. Delegates approved the proposed budget of $557,341.
Enns, who has served as treasurer and chief financial officer for 34 years, concluded his duties at the convention and was recognized as trustee emeritus. Board of Trustees chair Dale Boese reported that Ron Brown will serve as the new PDC treasurer and Joe Ringhofer will serve as accountant and property manager; the PDC manages more than 20 properties.
Rod Suess, chair of the Board of Faith and Life introduced his report by reminding delegates that “relationships don’t grow if there aren’t some tension points.” In addition to helping congregations that are in transition or experiencing conflict, Suess reported that the board has discussed same-sex marriage and immigration issues. He said that conversations with Mark Yarhouse of Regent University were helpful in the area of human sexuality. Suess recommended that congregations who need help understanding and responding to immigration issues work with Nate Yoder, West Coast Mennonite Central Committee director.
Suess also spoke to the importance of the annual PDC pastors’ retreat. “If our district is going to hang together, our pastors need to connect relationally,” he said.
Suess concluded his report by emphasizing the importance of church health and intentional disciple-making, which provided a transition to the report by Jordan Ringhofer, chair of the Board of Next Gen Leadership. Ringhofer talked about the board’s efforts to intentionally disciple the next generation of leaders. Janice Line, director of student ministries at Bethany Church who has worked with summer interns, spoke about the value of the internship program in helping young adults discern whether full-time church ministry is for them.
While church planting was the focus of the Friday evening program, Board of Home Mission chair Jay Wiebe, who has served on the board for 12 years, gave a brief report Friday afternoon. Planting churches was also the focus Saturday morning when District Minister Wall interviewed Scott Thomas, director of C2C US, about C2C’s new role in U.S. Mennonite Brethren church planting. C2C, in cooperation with USMB and district conferences, is now responsible for U.S. church planting project management.
In other business, Saturday morning the PDC convention delegates convened as the Fresno Pacific University corporation. Joseph Jones, who was inaugurated later that afternoon as the new FPU president, addressed the audience, FPU board chair Don Griffith reported and the “Crosswind” ensemble performed.
Don Morris, USMB national director and Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation, gave ministry updates. The International Community of Mennonite Brethren provided an update via video. Inter-Mennonite ministires Choice Books, Everence and Mennonite Insurance Services also reported. Rhonda Dueck, director of North Fresno Church’s Micah Project, also reported.