Transformation a key topic in 2008
by Myra Holmes
If there was a common thread running through the headlines, events and milestones in the U.S. Mennonite Brethren family in 2008, it was mission. Judging from the articles and topics in the pages of the Christian Leader, a desire to offer Christ’s transformation to individuals, communities and the world shaped the Mennonite Brethren family in the United States this past year.
When U.S. Conference leaders and constituents gathered in 2008, they talked about mission in a formal way. Under the relatively new leadership of Ed Boschman, appointed as executive director in late 2007, the national Leadership Board drafted a mission statement: “We partner as one family to serve one Lord on one mission, for the transformation of individuals, families and communities.”
That mission statement was approved by leaders of “all things MB” at an April Leadership Summit, then by delegates to the biennial National Convention, held in Hillsboro, Kan., July 25-27. As part of its 100th anniversary celebration, Tabor College, together with the three Hillsboro, Kan., Mennonite Brethren congregations, hosted the National Convention Throughout the convention and the preceding National Pastors’ Conference, the focus was on reaching the lost for Christ.
Then in October the Leadership Board spent considerable time brainstorming how to encourage oneness among the MB national family and how to put feet to that mission. The board and staff will continue to work out the mission in 2009 through a revamped communications strategy, renewed energy for church planting and renewal, increased connection to non-English-speaking congregations and leadership development.
Also significant were the first meetings of the national Board of Faith and Life. The board had been disbanded as part of national restructuring, then reinstated as leaders and constituents quickly realized the need for a theological rudder to stay on course in the pursuit of mission.
Even before the formal mission statement put words to the vision, congregations were working hard at the local level to offer Christ’s transformation to their communities and their world, and the CL featured many of them in the news section. Here’s a sampling:
North Fresno MB Church, Fresno, Calif., mentors at-risk young men in a nearby apartment complex through their March to Manhood program. The Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif., challenged and empowered their small groups to reach out into their community in significant ways. North Park Church, Eugene, Ore., accepted the challenge of an anonymous giver to “feed the children, the homeless, the handicapped, the widows and the aged in need.” A team of women from R&R Retreats, a ministry of Belleview Community Church, Littleton, Colo., traveled to Thailand to renew missionary women.
Men from Shadow Mountain Church, West Jordan, Utah, tackle home improvement projects and build relationships through Basement Builders. Youth from North Carolina churches cooperated for a week of community service in June. Reedley (Calif.) MB Church sent a team of teachers to Thailand to work with teachers at a Thai school for the third year. Corn (Okla.) MB Church initiated a dual-focused outreach designed to meet neighbors and feed the hungry through Neighborhood Connections Thru Canning Hunger.
Several churches pursued building projects as tools to transform their communities. The CL featured Birch Bay Bible Community, Blaine, Wash., which hopes to complete their new facility in 2009, and The Bridge Bible Church, a five-year-old church plant that finally moved into their first church home in September. Many other churches are working on physical expansion projects, including Bushtown MB Church, Lenoir, NC, where work on the much-anticipated Hope Center, a project support by the national MB family through Mission USA, is moving forward after months of frustrating delays.
The national Mennonite Brethren family celebrated new and growing young churches, including Eagles Harbor Community Church, Clovis, Calif., that was birthed in 2008. Other church plants continue to grow and show signs of thriving. One, sadly, miscarried; the Pacific District Conference and Mission USA mourned the loss of a planned church plant in a suburb of Portland, Ore., when planter Nathan Carlson confessed in fall to “conduct unbecoming of a minister of the gospel.”
Other church losses in 2008 included Millard Bible Church, Omaha, Neb., which closed its doors in September. Manhattan Mennonite Church, a dually-affiliated congregation in Manhattan, Kan., chose to part with the Mennonite Brethren and more closely affiliate with Mennonite Church USA. The Leadership Board accepted this unique and amicable parting at their meetings in October.
Mennonite Brethren mourned the deaths of many loved individuals in 2008, including some who were known as leaders in denominational circles: Marvin Hein, well-known pastor, conference leader and CL columnist, died Jan. 5. Jonah Kliewer, influential educator and musician, died July 12.
Leadership transitions played a part in this move toward mission in 2008. Jules Glanzer took the helm at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., in spring following the retirement of Larry Nikkel at the end of 2007. Nikkel, meanwhile, was honored as the college’s first president emeritus. Jim Holm, president of MB Biblical Seminary in Fresno, Calif., resigned in August under less-celebratory circumstances, having admitted to an extramarital affair. Lynn Jost is acting as MBBS interim president.
The sense of mission extended beyond home as U.S. Mennonite Brethren kept an eye on news of the extended Mennonite family in the nation and the world. Mennonite Disaster Service, the disaster relief agency of North American Mennonites, did what they do best in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, even as work from 2005’s Rita and Katrina continued. Flooding in Iowa and wildfires in California also drew MDS volunteer attention. And Mennonite Central Committee’s fourth dialogue with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked controversy and conversation.
On the global front, U.S. Mennonite Brethren watched issues and crises that especially affected those in the extended Anabaptist family. Kenyan Mennonite leaders called for prayer during violence following disputed elections in that country. Mennonites partnered in relief efforts in China following devastating earthquakes in May. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, where Anabaptist church members find themselves in the midst of hardship and crisis, continued to draw headlines.