I am writing this column days after returning from the USMB Pastors’ Conference and National Convention held in late July in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I can’t help but reflect on the two events.
The theme, “Celebrating our Diversity and Unity,” provided us an opportunity to share the magnitude of the unique differences among our USMB constituency. It became apparent as the days progressed that God has blessed us with much diversity—which can be challenging and rewarding. It’s rewarding in that we can learn so much from other cultures about disciple-making, worship and unique experience in our relationship with Jesus. It can be a challenge simply by virtue of the language differences and cultural expectations.
A true highlight for me was the exceptionally inspiring worship times provided by the diversity of worship teams from The Greenhouse and South Mountain Community Church’s various campuses. It’s amazing how God uses the giftedness of people to encourage us to connect with our Savior through music and reflection. We also heard stimulating stories and reports about the many things God is doing in our midst and around the world. It was a special treat to worship at the South Mountain Community Church Draper campus on Friday evening and to hear about the remarkable things God continues to do in Utah.
Some of you may have heard that a resolution pertaining to immigration and the past southern border policy of at times separating children and parents received unanimous affirmation. The resolution was an encouragement to our government leaders to adhere strongly to the new policy of not separating children from their parents and to work diligently to reunite those who have been previously separated. As Mennonite Brethren, we care immensely for those who are suffering. May God use us to help bring godly solutions to the complex issues surrounding immigration.
Several times during the Pastors’ Conference and convention we were drawn to the words of Revelation 7, where the apostle John witnessed the great multitude in heaven from “every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” This scripture often produces a visceral response as we imagine that great scene. It also provides us with a picture of today as we celebrate the realities of that diversity even now. We affirmed that we want more of Revelation 7 to be expressed today.
Some have wondered how USMB is expressly addressing the diversity we have among our conference of churches. Are we serving our ethnic churches? Although we have a long way to go, yes, we are intentionally working to serve the various contexts that our ethnic diversity provides. For instance, USMB presented the first Spanish language LEAD One event in Fresno in June. Attendance and interaction with the presenters was healthy and beneficial. We pray this is just the beginning of this kind of leadership interaction among our Hispanic churches in the Pacific District.
We’ve held similar events in the LAMB Conference, presented in English and translated into Spanish. Many of our conference documents and pamphlets have been translated into Spanish and some have been translated into Russian for our Slavic churches’ use. We have plans to do more. A Spanish-language LEAD Cohort is being considered. We also seek to engage more with our Ethiopian, Korean, Japanese and Native American brothers and sisters. New ideas are emerging.
As I think about our 200-plus USMB churches, I am encouraged by the connections we have and the expressed desire to remain unified. We certainly aren’t perfect, but with God’s help we are striving to be a conference of churches that’s making a significant impact for the kingdom—together—through all of our diversity!