Convention highlights church planting as DNA of conference
by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
The year was 1912 and the place was Reedley, Calif. Forty-four delegates representing six churches gathered for the first time as the Pacific District Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
One hundred one years later Pacific District Conference (PDC) delegates gathered again in Reedley, meeting in the Reedley MB Church’s new student center Nov. 8-9. One hundred twenty-two delegates represented 43 of the district’s 121 churches, including six new church plants begun since the last convention in 2012.
In his report to the conference, District Minister Gary Wall led in celebrating the conference’s 100th anniversary. The 1912 conference delegates had spent nearly a full day discussing home missions, he said. “Throughout our 100 year history home missions has been the core of our calling, the DNA of our conference," said Wall.
“By the grace of God, many of our largest and leading congregations were church plants,” he said, pointing out that The Bridge Bible Church in Bakersfield, Calif., planted just 10 years ago, is now the largest English-speaking MB congregation in the U.S.
Randy Friesen, general director of MB Mission, set the theme of DNA in his three keynote addresses. “We are contending for the DNA that calls us to lay our lives down,” said Friesen. “We often look at techniques and strategies, but Jesus said, ‘My life in you will multiply; you doing your own thing will not multiply.’”
The story of missionary Frank Wiens, who, along with his family, sailed for China to evangelize the Hakka people 100 years ago, shows the kind of DNA that drives Mennonite Brethren to lay down their lives in mission, he said.
Friesen related how Wiens had established a Bible school and clinic, planted churches and even negotiated peace between rival Chinese troops. “The church plants are still carrying on,” he said, “and the Hakka people are still telling the story 100 years later.”
Among many home missions stories told during the weekend was the unique vision of Disciples Church in Spokane Valley, Wash. Under the leadership of Aleks Borisov, a core of six Slavic immigrant couples is planting an English-speaking congregation. “We want to start with the Slavic community and then work with local immigrants,” Borisov explained, pictured left with Gary Wall.
Their approach is to offer support and English language lessons for immigrants adjusting to life in the U.S. “We have contacted the local refugee office and will offer language fellowship for them in a study on the Gospel of John.” he said. “They’ll learn English and then can come to church on Sunday to practice it.”
Ironically, the congregation’s first baptism was of a native-born American, one of several who have become part of their fellowship. But they have also drawn in one Chinese immigrant and six Slavic immigrants who had not been part of a church.
During the Friday evening rally, Home Missions board chair Jay Wiebe gave special recognition to retiring Home Missions secretary and director of donor development Don Enns. For more than half of the district’s 100-year history, Wiebe said, Enns has played a role in Pacific District church planting efforts. A plaque presented to Enns listed seven churches he has personally served since he began church planting work in 1956. It also noted his 22 years in various roles with the Board of Home Missions.
In his characteristically humble manner, Enns responded to the recognition with a thank-you “to our supporters who sent those checks in.”
Leadership development was another priority highlighted at the conference. Dina Gonzales-Piña, Leadership Board co-chair, reported that 175 students had served as interns since the board was created 10 years ago.
Two former interns, Kent Schlecht and Kevin Lott who are now in pastoral roles, told about the key role their internships played in their calling to ministry. Both described how their internships revealed their gifts and pushed them to pursue further training.
In a significant restructuring, the delegates approved a proposal to combine the Youth Ministries and Leadership boards into a single new Board of Next Generation Leadership, whose focus will include leadership development for young adults who are exploring ministry as well as youth ministers and others currently holding ministry roles.
“The desired outcome is that this ministry will be enhanced as our youth pastors closest to the youth of our district give more direct leadership to the ministry,” noted the written proposal.
The delegates welcomed Fresno Pacific University’s president, Dr. Pete Menjares, to his first PDC gathering. In his report Menjares highlighted his interest in developing the people of FPU. “You have to care for the people who are in the trenches with you.”
He also noted the diversity represented at FPU, including a student body that is 40 percent Hispanic. “We look like the Central Valley,” said Menjares. We don’t have a dominant culture.” FPU was recently recognized nationally for their high graduation rate for Hispanics.
In a lighthearted gesture of friendship between FPU and Tabor College, Menjares’s wife, Virginia, presented an FPU hoodie to Tabor College President Jules Glanzer’s son-in-law, Jason Quiring, who is a PDC church planter. With a grin, Menjares challenged Quiring to wear it to the Glanzer Thanksgiving.
A discussion about Article 13 of the MB Confession was one of several Friday afternoon workshop options. This workshop drew 50 attendees in a lively interchange on the revision entitled “Love, Peacemaking and Reconciliation.”
Some workshop attendees affirmed the less restrictive wording of the new version, noting that they had “asterisked” the current version of the article as less central than other core beliefs.
“If I had preached and highlighted [the current version of Article 13] people would have been freaked out,” said Pastor Jeff Gowling of The Bridge. He felt that the new version would “be more effective in standing for something. We wouldn’t have to de-emphasize it like we do the current one.”
Others spoke of the value of a clear and definitive statement on military service, including Slavic church pastor Alexandr Kaprian. He recalled how, under pressure from the Soviet government, the Evangelical church had removed statements about pacifism from their statement of faith and left the decision to individuals. He lamented the way Christians were left to choose prison or even execution without the clear support of the church. “It put the burden on the shoulders of the soldiers,” he said.
Several, including those who would have favored a stronger statement, affirmed the revision as representing a shared conviction and opening up opportunity for teaching youth about the Christians’ calling to peacemaking.
In other business, delegates affirmed new leaders and approved a fairly flat budget for the coming year.