Affirming all we send

Aug 18, 2014 by

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Mennonite conferences of North America are quite discriminating about which mission organizations represent them in their public gatherings. Almost all of us “own” Mennonite Central Committee as a service organization. But when it comes to church planting and evangelism, most conferences reserve the platform for their own mission agencies.

Showalter

Showalter

This is such a common practice that I assumed it was true everywhere. Mennonite Mission Network takes the stage at Mennonite Church USA assemblies. Eastern Mennonite Missions gets the spotlight at Lancaster Conference celebrations. Rosedale Mennonite Missions is featured at Conservative Mennonite Conference annual meetings.

But this summer, when I attended the annual convention of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference of Canada, my paradigm began to shift. I expected to hear mission reports from the Latin American countries where the EMC Board of Missions has workers. And I did. What I did not expect was to hear from the rest of the world.

We heard many other Mennonite witnesses from every corner of the globe give their reports and share their stories. Gradually, I began to understand these were members of EMC congregations administered by agencies other than the EMC Board of Missions. Many of these other agencies are household names among Christians everywhere.

“As a conference, we affirm all those witnesses that our congregations send,” said Tim Dyck, EMC executive secretary. “Our mission board provides an associate status for those we do not directly administer. When we gather at convention, we benefit from the rich and diverse perspective of all EMC workers, regardless of their administering agency.”

What a vision — and, as a result, what an exciting convention. The EMC is not the only Mennonite group whose mission agency has associate workers administered by others. But rarely have I attended a larger conference or denominational gathering with equal attention given to both kinds of workers.

The local congregation, we think, can give equal stage time to all those it sends. But even there we often give special attention to those we send with our own conference agencies. The others are just a wee bit like beggars. They haven’t quite made the cut.

Not, though, in this convention. It was both excitingly local and thoroughly global. We heard from Canadian inner-city kids and international witnesses. Those serving with Wycliffe were right there with those who serve with the EMC Board of Missions.

And it was Anabaptist in substance and tone. A strong testimony of both word and deed marked the meetings. César García of Colombia, executive secretary of Mennonite World Conference, addressed the largest session. There was no dissonance between his voice and others.

I am sure the EMC, once called the Kleine Gemeinde (Little Community), has plenty of challenges as well as strengths. Coming away from the convention, though, I reflected on the words of Paul: “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world . . . ” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

We could take a page from the EMC, a “little community” that has learned how to affirm and be inspired by all its sent ones.

Richard Showalter, of Landisville, Pa., is chair of Mennonite World Conference’s Mission Commission.


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  • Charlie Kraybill

    I would ask Mennonite missionaries and mission agencies to consider how they would feel if a non-christian religious group from another part of the world were to move into their neighborhoods here in the U.S., set up shop, engage in community outreach, and begin to try (in subtle ways) to proselytize their children. I’m sure Mennonite parents would do whatever they could to put a stop to this behavior in short order. Please be aware that parents in countries with Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist and/or Pagan populations may be at a significant disadvantage to you when it comes to social and economic circumstances, but they are no less offended by the proselytizing behaviors of your missionaries and mission workers. Please leave them and their children alone. Respect the spiritual paths they inherited from their ancestors. Just as they, no doubt, would respect yours. Matthew 23:15.

    • Merv Horst

      Why don’t we hear this quoted more often? I would challenge some of the “missionary types” to do a exegesis on this.

      …14″Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15″Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. 16″Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’…

      Thanks for pointing this out, Brother Kraybill.

      • Bruce Leichty

        Whoa, we have some serious confusion and a severe case of being “out of touch” in the Mennonite Church when Christian missionaries, for all their flaws, are being compared to hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. When have any of our Mennonite missionaries “devoured widow’s houses” (like Zionist Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein tried to do in his treatment of a real widow, my 9/11 widow client Ellen Mariani, for instance). What serious biblical scholar could suggest that Jesus’ condemnation of the early rabbinic Judaism of his contemporaries somehow nullifies the Great Commission — which was to fulfill the original Jewish mandate of being a light to all the nations? And — you enlightened fellows call yourselves New Yorkers and yet are unwilling to offend anyone?? Plenty will be offended by Good Information aka Good News, but some will find liberation, forgiveness, morality, and meaning. And even if the message is sometimes garbled and off point, a few will still find the Jesus who transcends any attempt to create an institution in his name, and they will continue to give testimony in acts small and large to the Reign and Reality of God as witnessed by Bro. Showalter.

    • Jeff Linthicum

      To me, this is an example of the bigger divide we have in the Mennonite church. Bigger than the issue if homosexuality. Is Jesus the one and only way to the Father or not? The yes and no to this answer is a huge chasm that will not be bridged.

      • Charlie Kraybill

        Jeff, my answer is “No.” To answer yes to your question would mean the following: It would mean that all the Jews do not have access to “the Father,” and are thus condemned. It would mean all the Buddhists do not have access to “the Father,” and are condemned. It would mean all the Muslims do not have access to “the Father.” All the Hindus do not have access to “the Father.” All the Earth Worshippers do not have access to “the Father.” All the Goddess Worshippers do not have access to “the Father.” All the sincere doubters and skeptics do not have access to “the Father.” All those in history who never heard about Jesus do not have access to “the Father.” Further, it would mean that all those within the Christian fold who do not believe that Jesus is the sole intermediary between humans and God, they also do not have access to “the Father.” After excluding all those folks, the only ones left are those who, by accident of birth, were born into a Christian environment, and have the correct theological view of Jesus. So let me ask you this: Why would God (who is the author of all acts of mercy and compassion, no matter where they are found) create a system of salvation that excludes the overwhelming majority of humanity? If we can agree that God wants to “save” everybody, doesn’t it stand to reason that she will find a way to do just that?

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