USMB delegates appreciate diversity of the global MB family
By Connie Faber
Five individuals represented U.S. Mennonite Brethren at the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) consultation, “The Church on Mission,” held March 7-11, 2017, in Chon Buri, Thailand:
- Ed Boschman, USMB representative to ICOMB and retired USMB executive director;
- Jana Hildebrandt, impact and connections director at First MB Church, Wichita, Kansas, and a member of the USMB Board of Faith and Life;
- Lianne Nikkel, of Trailhead Church, Littleton, Colorado, and a member of the USMB Leadership Board;
- Tim Sullivan, Southern District Conference minister; and
- Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference minister.
Nikkel replaced USMB national director Don Morris who was unable to attend due to health issues. Brent Warkentin, pastor of Wichita’s First MB Church, attended as chair of the MB Mission Board of Directors. A number of MB Mission workers from the U.S. also attended, some serving as hosts with the Southeast Asia Regional Team.
Five of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren who attended Thailand 2017 shared their reflections in emails with the CL following the event or in blogs posted on the ICOMB website during the consultation.
Ed Boschman: We are all on mission
It has long grieved me that most of our North American Mennonite Brethren define a missionary as someone who leaves home and goes somewhere else to tell the good news. My struggle with this reality is that the default understanding of those who don’t go anywhere is that they are not missionaries—not on mission. Speakers at the Thailand meetings communicated that everyone who is a follower of Jesus is on assignment as a missionary, whether they leave home or not. That message is critical and encouraged my soul.
It is important to keep emphasizing that, for our Western and North American church members in particular, the “go, give or pray” mantra is not biblically sound. Jesus’ Great Commission is really for all his of disciples to disciple people as they go about their everyday lives, wherever they are, beginning in their own neighborhoods and towns. Praying and giving are not enough. Source: Email interview
Gary Wall: These are my people
I was humbled to be among faith-filled followers of Jesus, serving in some of the poorest, war-torn, hostility filled regions of the world. Yet their joyful, prayerful, Spirit-filled empowering caused me to recognize our (my) neediness and poverty in the West. This was a worshipping, praying, Bible study and story-filled time of learning and inspiration.
At our first dinner, I sat with a group of young men from China and a couple of long-term missionaries who helped with translation as needed. These young men are relatively new believers. Ren is a very bright university engineering student who came to faith during his high school years. Leng is getting married this summer. We went around the table offering brief marriage advice to him, accompanied by much laughter. Each of them is paying a price among their family and friends for choosing to follow Jesus. I was inspired by their commitment, even as new believers.
We heard stories throughout the conference of the crises where war persists—in the Ukraine (where many of us can trace our family story), in Syria and Turk*y and elsewhere. Perhaps like me, you have heard these news reports and move on, without contemplating the real-life impact on the men, women and children in these devastated communities. The U.S. president chided and mocked Germany for opening its borders to refugees from these regions. But in Germany, MB churches are responding to the challenge and opportunity that comes when people the Bible calls strangers and aliens are in their neighborhoods. Hospitality is being extended. The Bible is being taught. Needs are being met. And refugees are coming to faith!
Wall’s photo story includes brief stories from presentations and conversations he had with people from Congo, Malawi, Germany, Thailand and ministering to the Khmu people. He concludes: Repeatedly I kept saying, “These are my people.” Most I had never met before, but there was a kinship—a unity that is difficult to describe. It was a taste of that heavenly vision of nations, tribes and tongues gathering around the throne. Flawed as we are, I am so grateful to be part of this global Mennonite Brethren family living on kingdom mission!” Source: Photo essay emailed to PDC pastors and leaders
Lianne Nikkel: Sharing the gospel in pain and suffering
A chorus of voices translated the words of five pastors from nations outside of North America as they engaged the question “What are key church-planting principles that are transferable to other contexts?”
As a former church planter, I expected many of their responses:
- remember that it is God’s mission, not yours,
- choose a strategic location and
- remember that the church is not a building but a people.
I did not expect my tears at the words of a pastor from a war-torn country: “Meet people in their pain and suffering with the love of the gospel.” His genuine, humble response struck me as simply a description of his reality, a reality vastly different from mine, rather than a principle to remember. He serves and loves in a context that I will likely never know.
I was moved by his deep love for the people of his country that drives him to risk his life so that they might find life in Jesus. Yes, his “principle” is transferable—far beyond church planting.
Pain and suffering have no nationality. Too often, they touch us and those we know. The beautiful simplicity of this church planter’s response challenges me to meet people in places of pain and suffering, wherever they live. Source: Blog posted on ICOMB website. Read a second blog by Nikkel.
In a workshop about storytelling, we learned that the length of the story doesn’t matter as long as it’s compelling. It is important to tell your own story or testimony, but to tell it in a way that draws people to the gospel and moves them closer to God.
Our time together at the consultation was launched with a compelling story from Brother Samir of a believer arrested for giving out Bibles who led a prisoner to Christ before release, only to be arrested again—an answer to prayer for the new believer who wanted to be discipled.
Each session, we heard incredible testimonies of God on the move using the MB family to spread the gospel. We sat under the teaching of Pastor Naat, housekeeper turned pastor/church planter. We wept at the story of Pastor Kham killed for his faith, and we rejoiced that his wife is carrying on his ministry. Brother Safari from Malawi shared his story of a murdered father, of becoming a refugee and not only coming face to face with the murderer but leading him to Christ.
Our hearts broke for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine as we heard stories from Brother Roman of life in a war zone. We received a greeting from a pastor whose brother had ISIS involvement. A story of redemption from Brother Mvwala of DR Congo focused our attention on the Batwa pygmies who find in the gospel redemption from an age-old identity of being despised and rejected.
These stories testify that we are a diverse family. We are blessed to have churches in refugee camps, in prisons and in the unlikely city of Las Vegas. One Burmese pastor has started 11 churches, and, amazingly, he’s only been a Christ follower for 13 years.
Who are the Mennonite Brethren? These stories are us. We come from 35 countries. We look different, speak differently and do church differently. But we are God’s people, participating together in God’s purpose to redeem all creation. Our stories are compelling and God is using them to draw people to himself. This is our heritage. Source: Blog on ICOMB website
Brent Warkentin: Praying globally
A highlight of the consultation: “Being with pastors and leaders from other countries and hearing their stories—both victories and frustrations. With 200-plus people from 36 countries it felt like “every tribe and nation and people and tongue”—a little heaven on earth?”
Inspiration in the area of prayer: “To pray with blinders off. To pray as a global Christian.” Source: Email interview
Photo credits: John Irvin for ICOMB
Photo 1: Tim Sullivan, far left, the Southern District Conference minister, was one of five USMB representatives to attend Thailand 2017.
Photo 2: Ed Boschman, far left, is the USMB representative to ICOMB and Gary Wall, third from left, the Pacific District Conference minister, was one of the U.S. delegates. Also pictured is Harold Ens, fourth from left, who is also from the U.S. and served as the MB Mission general director when ICOMB was formed.
Photo 3: Jana Hildebrandt, far left, another U.S. representative from Wichita, Kan., is pictured with Sandra Fender, a MB Mission worker in Thailand who is from Rapid City, SD.
Photo 4: Brent Warkentin, facing camera, of Wichita, Kan., chairs the MB Mission Board of Directors.
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