Learning to relate as siblings requires new skills
Interview with Victor Wall by Connie Faber
For five years Victor Wall has traveled the globe representing the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB), the 18 national conferences that comprise the worldwide Mennonite Brethren Church. Wall, 55, served part-time as ICOMB’s first executive secretary. Wall has resigned this position to serve as president of the Mennonite Brethren Bible college (IBA in his home country and as a faculty member of Evangelical University of Paraguay.
As one of his final ICOMB duties, Wall attended Celebration 2010, the North American celebration of the 150th anniversary of the MB Church. While in Vancouver, Wall talked with Connie Faber, Christian Leader editor. It quickly became apparent in their conversation that Wall is a people person. Asked about highlights of the past five years, Wall’s comments centered on people. Invited to reflect on challenges, his reply focused on relationships. Asked what he will miss, Wall says its people. Here are excerpts of their conversation.
What are the highlights of the past five years?
VW: Beside the official meetings we have had in different countries, visiting churches and sharing with pastors would be number one. I will miss the inspiration that comes from talking to people and leaders from other conferences. We are family, and it is a different experience to hear someone from another context (India and Africa) tell our Anabaptist story, as we did this week.
We have made very clear steps forward in the area of education, resulting in the first consultation on higher education planned for next summer. We finalized the global scholarship fund which will be administered by MBMS International. This is how ICOMB becomes reality: following through on good ideas.
On a personal level, getting to know brothers and sisters around the world has been a good experience. I think I could find a Mennonite Christian on any continent who would love me and take me to his house. In this time of individualism, this is very important and moving for me.
What challenges do you see ahead for ICOMB?
VW: One thing for everyone—not just ICOMB—is to work hard to have healthy churches and healthy leaders. All cultures have dangers and offer opportunities and we must be watchful and prepared.
How ICOMB becomes flesh, what we make out of the name, is a challenge. It requires that we grow our relationships deep: that we be accountable to each other as national conferences about our faithfulness to Jesus and that we find more ways to learn from each other.
Relationships grow when we recognize gifts. Some conferences have more gifts in some areas than others. Instead of seeing this in a negative way, we are invited to see this as the glorious mysteries of Christ in us. Our coming together is more complete when we find ways to recognize our gifts.
To become a missional people on an international level is a challenge. How do we do mission from everywhere to everywhere? How do we do this together? MBMS International is giving very valuable leadership, yet we need to create new models.
The challenge is in how we relate to each other. It is more than partnering together. Partnership is a pragmatic relationship. Partnership is not enough. Community is what we be together. We need to have relationships that help us to understand the relationship of the trinity of God. This is very radical.
Do you have a word for North American Mennonite Brethren?
VW: For North American MBs, ICOMB becomes meaningful in a special way. To a large extent, ICOMB is the harvest of a strong missionary endeavor. And now you have decided to relate to the other MB Conference as “siblings” and no longer as “parents” and so you are learning to relate in new ways.
I thank God that North American MBs continue to have many resources, many opportunities and much influence. Also, having provided strong leadership on a healthy spiritual and theological basis, Mennonite Brethren around the world continue to look for guidance to MBs in the north. Please do not forget this: When you make decisions, when you go new ways, when you discern about ethics, when you relate to culture and national politics—you do not “travel” alone. Larger and also smaller MB conferences, your “siblings,” are traveling with you and you with them. In changing times, the strengthening of our historic-theological identity combined with eagerness for spiritual renewal is our common inherited responsibility.
I thank God for your strong missionary zeal, which is becoming paradigmatic within our Anabaptist circles. Praise God for this! At the same time, I am trying hard to understand what has happened in the relationship between church/conference and school. This without any doubt represents a tough challenge.
Another task, not easy for sure, is to work on the relationship to the spiritual past. In a time and in a culture where people are looking for experiences that empower their daily lives, a strong and lengthy spiritual heritage has much to offer. But it is challenging to communicate this heritage to a new generation. Might ICOMB be of any encouragement?