Attendees given tools to build stronger churches, engage issues
By Myra Holmes with reports from Esther Eshbaugh, J.L. Martin and David Faber
Workshops offered in two sessions Saturday afternoon during the 2016 National Convention were intended to equip attendees to build the church and engage current issues in practical ways.
“Our overall goal for the workshops is that they will be truly helpful and informative, providing significant takeaways for attendees,” said Don Morris, interim USMB executive director, in the months preceding the convention.
Not surprisingly, by far the largest workshop attendance was in a discussion of the Future Story, hosted by the USMB Leadership Board members and offered during both sessions. Read more about the Future Story here.
Bringing the gospel to Muslims Guest speaker Nasser* shared his testimony in both time blocks and drew enthusiastic participation. Nasser, a former Muslim, used his own story of coming to Christ to encourage attendees to engage Muslims with the gospel.
Nasser was raised in the Islamic faith in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and by the age of 14, his goal was “to win converts to Islam and join the radical movement to promote Islam and take out the infidels.”
When he moved to the United States as a student and married Daisy, a Christian, he assumed he would convert her. Instead, she rallied prayer for him over a period of two years. When he was dramatically confronted with a vision of Jesus on the cross, he finally accepted Christ and felt peace unlike anything he had experienced in 20 years of Islamic faith.
His decision had deep consequences; some family members have since accepted Christ, but others have disowned him. Nonetheless, he encouraged attendees to lay down fear, pray for Muslims by name, show hospitality and build relationships in order to bring other Muslims to Christ.
“Muslims are turning to the gospel as never before—in greater numbers in the last 15 years than in the last 1500 years,” Nasser told those present. “How tragic if Christians take a step back!”
* Nasser’s full name withheld for security reasons.
Workshops address conflict, mentoring, stewardship
Three workshops during the first time block provided practical tools for individuals and churches.
Rick Eshbaugh, district minister for the Central District Conference, led a workshop on peacemaking within the church. Eshbaugh began by reminding the 12 workshop attendees of Jesus’s prayer for unity in John 17 and call to love neighbors in Mark 12. “When we don’t live out our faith, we harm the harvest,” he said. “How we resolve conflict is very important.”
“Mentoring matters,” offered mentoring advice to connect with today’s youth. About 27 people attended this workshop led by Wendell Loewen, professor of youth, church and culture at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., and director of Faith Front, a leadership and ministry development program for high school students.
MB Foundation, the stewardship ministry of US Mennonite Brethren, helped an intimate group of about seven think through stewardship, particularly as it applies to legacy gifts. In an email before the convention, Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MBF, said, “The goal would be that individuals would be motivated to explore how they can personally leave a legacy gift to their local church and be encouraged to bring this message back home to church leadership to encourage a church-wide educational effort in this regard.”
Engaging immigration issues
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) staff members Saulo Padilla and Tammy Alexander provided an introduction to immigration issues to an audience of about 19. Padilla and Alexander noted how many prominent biblical characters, including Abram, Rebekah, Joseph, Ruth, David, Jesus and Paul, had migrant or refugee status and noted the biblical injunction to be hospitable to strangers. They also noted how the biblical characters would fit into contemporary migrant or refugee categories. For instance, Joseph was a victim of human trafficking. Padilla and Alexander noted the change in language used to describe immigrants, addressed reasons why people migrate and described the rigorous vetting process that refugees go through.
Finally, they narrowed their discussion to issues of immigration from Central America and Mexico to the United States, identifying gang violence, domestic violence, corrupt police and drought as significant reasons for immigration and arguing that the system for legal immigration is so costly and slow that many choose to immigrate illegally out of desperation.
Understanding issues facing Christian higher education
Jules Glanzer, president of Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., and Richard Kriegbaum, president of Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, Calif., led a discussion of issues facing the two Mennonite Brethen-owned schools. About a dozen people attended this workshop, allowing for a fair amount of give and take.
Glanzer said external threats on Christian higher education are increasing, calling such threats “an assault on small Christian colleges.” This is a change from past years, when schools and their presidents focused primarily on internal issues and programs.
Among the issues the presidents raised in the workshop are a narrowing of the definition of religious freedom, potential loss of federal and state funding, government decisions and legislation regarding same-sex relationships, the relationship between the schools and the denomination and increasing controls from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor.
Perhaps understating the current educational environment, Glanzer noted that being a Christian college in a post-Christian age “has challenges,” then asked Kriegbaum how he and FPU face such challenges. “Prayerfully,” Kriegbaum responded.
Photos by Pam Rasmussen