Partnering as one national Mennonite Brethren family is important as we strive to be missional
By Phil Stangland
Does the church serve the denomination or does the denomination serve the church? It’s clear that either extreme takes us down the wrong path. That is why we at Laurelglen Bible Church (LBC) seek to simplify our global mission emphasis by sending those in our family. Our immediate family is LBC. Our extended family is our Mennonite Brethren churches. This is not to the purposeful exclusion of others. It’s simply a result of so much mission activity with our immediate and extended families that we have our hands full, and that is a good thing.
At LBC we almost always support those who emerge from the immediate church family in their area of service and with the mission agency we agree that suits them best. We have the joy and privilege of discipling them over many years through the various ministries of the church and we walk with them as they sense God’s call to global mission. It is because of this approach that we end up with a very diverse group of missionaries in the LBC mission family.
Here’s the current picture: We have 29 missionary “family units” serving with 13 organizations in 13 different countries. Six of these units are with MBMS International. No other organization has more of our missionaries—not by design; it’s just the way it is right now. We believe the strength of the mission ministry has come through this diversification. We don’t believe it has been to the detriment of MBMSI. As LBC’s global missions ministry has grown, so has our involvement with MBMSI.
Where has the growth come from? Mostly through a consistent investment in global mission emphasis that creates a cultural mind-set around LBC where we value taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. It occurs through a fall emphasis on supporting the poor around the world, an annual mission conference in the winter and through life-changing short-term—especially summer—mission opportunities. This summer we have 49 people heading out on five LBC teams. There are also at least 12 individuals who will serve on teams with other organizations. This is made possible through generous donors who believe in what we are doing and seek to use their resources to build into the lives of our young people and adults, many of whom have experienced missions for the first time here.
The investment has paid off dramatically this year. Four of our 29 units are heading overseas soon for long-term assignments. All of them have participated in LBC’s short-term mission program. Probably the most significant statistic is that over the last 10 years, with the exception of national missionaries and Mennonite Brethren missionaries we have “adopted,” all of our new missionaries have been “homegrown.”
How does our connection with the Mennonite Brethren mission family work with all of this? It works because of the mind-set that is already established at LBC and the consistent dialogue and participation we have with MBMSI. The key words are partnership and networking. One comes from trust and the other from communication.
Some examples: It was easy to be one of the first churches to jump on board with the Thailand Team 2000 almost 10 years ago. The Lord connected us to the Delhi Team almost five years ago through a trip I took with MBMSI to Thailand. A visit to north India two years ago with MBMSI has resulted in a growing interest in India. And about a year ago, we heard about John and Geri Warkentin who had a vision to serve with MBMSI to help tell the stories of our MB missionaries around the world. Adopting them into our LBC mission family was one of the easiest decisions we ever made. And next month, as a result of our long-term relationship with Otto and Marjorie Ekk, we are sending one of our homegrown missionaries, Doug and Myra Gentry, to serve with the Ekks in Portugal.
Is MBMSI serving us? Yes, and they are doing a great job. Are we serving MBMSI? Yes, providing finances and people is our calling as part of the Mennonite Brethren family. With God’s blessing, the mission agency and the local church can both flourish as we each do our job.
Phil Stangland has been the Pastor of Missions and Evangelism for the past 10 years at Laurelglen Bible Church in Bakersfield, Calif. He has led short-term mission teams, taught leader and visited missionaries all over the world. Phil and his wife, Tanya, have two children.