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The year in review; the year ahead

Top CL News Stories Of 2011; Anticipating 2012

By Connie Faber, CL Editor

The start of a new year is a natural time to think back on the significant and memorable events of the old year and to anticipate what’s ahead in the new. So here are the top 2011 events as covered in print or online by the Christian Leader and a taste of what is on the horizon for 2012.

The Top 10: 2011

1. 2011 was the Year of Name Changes. Mennonite Brethren Mission and Service International became MB Mission in an effort to clarify and simplify its name. Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in the U.S. was renamed Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary to mark its new status as a professional school within Fresno Pacific University. And the USMB staff uniformly adopted “USMB” as the working name of the United States Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, a rather long and unwieldy moniker.

2. The number of USMB staff positions almost doubled in 2011—from five to nine. Optimism is high that the additional staff will result in extra funding due to the addition of a director of development, Derk Madden, and stronger connections thanks to the social media coordinator—first Justin Salters and now Myra Holmes—and a Slavic ministries director, Aleks Borisov.

3. If you pay attention to CL ads or attended a 2011 district convention, you know that MB Foundation is promoting “first fruits” giving. This biblical principal teaches that we are to worship God by giving him our first and best and by managing all the rest in ways to honor and glorify him. Resource packets have been mailed to all churches. 

4. Even though it cost more than some youth groups could afford and featured a keynote speaker (Shane Claiborne) that some thought too controversial, the 2011 USMB National Youth Convention held in San Antonio was the largest gathering of U.S. Mennonite Brethren. The initial evaluation sheets completed by students and sponsors gave the every-four-year-event high marks.

5. History was made when Mennonite World Conference, a global fellowship of Anabaptist Christians, appointed Colombian Mennonite Brethren pastor and educator Cesar Garcia as its new general secretary. Garcia is the first MWC general secretary from the global South (and the first MB to serve in this position).

6. Mennonite Brethren around the world supported the Japan MB Conference in prayer when the biggest earthquake to hit Japan since records began struck the northeast coast March 11, causing a massive tsunami to sweep inland devouring everything and everybody in its path, including a nuclear power plant that led to another crisis. Japan is home to 28 MB congregations and a seminary.

7. This year will be remembered for historic flooding across the country, including Minot, N.D., where a June flood destroyed the meeting place of Bible Fellowship Church. Mennonite Disaster Service has partnered with the MB congregation to repair the church building so that it can host MDS volunteers over the next two years.

8. Mennonite Brethren around the globe celebrated the life and ministry of Henry J. Schmidt, President Emeritus of MB Biblical Seminary, who died Feb. 8, at the age of 70.

9. Mennonite Brethren educators from 30 institutions of high learning from 17 countries on five continents met together for a week of singing, devotions, plenary addresses, round-table discussions, workshops and prayer. The CL provided online coverage of the June 2011 International Committee Of Mennonite Brethren Higher Education Consultation.

10. After leading Fresno Pacific University for nine years, D. Merrill Ewert announced he that will retire as president effective July 31, 2012. Ewert’s leadership will be missed, as he has served the university and the MB church well during his tenure. The direction in which Ewert’s successor, yet to be announced, will take the university is one story the CL will be following in 2012.

Looking ahead to 2012

1. The shift in leadership at FPU is among several changes on the USMB education landscape that the CL will be watching in 2012. Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary will continue to develop its distance-learning program, while Tabor College will unveil its new graduate theological education endeavors made possible by a gift of $250,000 from USMB. Ministry Quest, formerly a ministry of the seminary and now a program of Tabor College, will begin a new season of preparing high school students for ministry leadership.

2. Can U.S. Mennonite Brethren plant six new churches in 2012 and establish 60 new churches in the next decade? That’s the plan and the CL will keep you updated on our progress. Mission USA, the USMB church planting and renewal ministry, is leading the effort and for the next six months USMB staff have committed to doing all they can personally and within their areas of responsibility to meet the goal. Join us in prayer that God will honor this desire to see lives and families changed.

3. U.S. Mennonite Brethren are invited to travel to Omaha, Neb., this summer for the USMB biennial delegate convention, Conection 2012. The planning team hopes that the opportunity to hear stories of God’s transformation among USMB churches and partner ministries and to be entertained and inspired during evening programs will be an attractive combination. The CL will be filing electronic on-site reports July 25-28 and full reports in the Sept/Oct issue and online.

4. Delegates to Conection 2012 will be asked to enact a new formula by which congregations financially support USMB. The proportional giving approach asks all congregations to give a first fruits offering of 2.5% to USMB. The claim that the current “norms” model is broken is supported by the low percentage (less than 10%) of churches that contributed to USMB ministries during the 2010-11 fiscal year. CL convention coverage will report on the response to this proposal.

5. Mennonite Central Committee’s supporting denominations, including USMB, approved a plan, to take effect in 2012, in which its U.S. and Canadian national entities will jointly administer international programs and the U.S.-Canadian bi-national structure will end. Watch for CL updates on this process via C-Link.

6. And what is C-Link? A free electronic biweekly newsletter published by the CL that will debut in early spring. C-Link will provide timely news updates from USMB and its partner agencies, including MB Mission, MB Foundation, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University. We anticipate that subscription sign-up will begin in February.

Interested in other reviews of the events, people and debates of the past year that have shaped or will significantly shape evangelical and Mennonite life, thought and mission? Check out the Christianity Today list. 

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