6,500 are registered for global assembly

Getting visas, one of biggest challenges, has gone better than expected, with about two-thirds approved

Jun 29, 2015 by and

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Mennonite World Conference assembly planners are putting final details in place for the July 21-26 event, which will draw more than 6,500 Anabaptists to Harrisburg, Pa.

“We are very excited with how the program is coming together and also that we will have a lot of visitors,” said Liesa Unger, MWC’s chief international events officer and overall coordinator for the assembly.

By June 26, registrations included 4,200 from the U.S. and Canada and 2,300 internationally. There are 5,200 full-time registrations.

“We had a little bit of a hold back from North America for a while, but I think people were just waiting for closer to the assembly to register,” she said. North America numbers began to ramp up in the final months.

Registration will be available for those in the U.S. and Canada until the assembly, with online registration options limited to part time and full time with no meal plans. There is space for 8,000 total participants at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg.

With international registrations nearly finalized, assembly plans are falling into place. Visa prospects look better than anticipated, and while some events are being scaled back, others have expanded.

Most visas accepted

Securing visas for international guests is a challenge planners will work with until assembly begins. Unger said they’ve seen about a two-thirds approval rate so far.

June and early July is the time most visa interviews are taking place, so final numbers are still unknown. However, planners originally hoped for about 1,000 visa approvals and anticipate closer to 1,500.

“It’s actually a little better than we had anticipated,” Unger said. “The big disappointment is that a number of young people are getting their visa refused.”

Certain areas are worse than others. In India, only one youth delegate was able to secure a visa and will carry news on behalf of the others. Hopeful young attendees encountered a similar problem in Mexico.

“It’s a lot harder for younger people, especially if they don’t have a job yet and are out of school,” Unger said.

With registration numbers almost settled, Unger said planners have confirmed evening passes will be available for $35 for adults, $15 for children. Availability will change each day based on daily registration numbers and will be updated at mwc-cmm.org.

“We will have tickets at the door and as much space as we have that evening, we will let people in,” Unger said. Evening passes won’t be sold online.

They would like as many people to be able to come to at least some part of the assembly as possible, though Unger encourages full-time registration.

“I wish everybody could attend,” she said. “I am certain that it will be an excellent experience.”

Unger said she is personally most anticipating the Global Church Village, an exhibition area open each day from lunch until dinner with space for people from each continent to showcase their stories, music, mission work, culture and more. Each continent will have a tent, and so will MWC. There will be a tent for storytelling, and a stage will feature world music and dance events.

Assembly will also include international professional musicians, morning speakers, worship with a different continent as the focus each evening, small group discussions, programming for children, and Anabaptist World Cup soccer.

One big difference between this assembly and those in the Global South is the cost of food and lodging, Unger said. As a result, MWC lined up 1,200 home­stays in 350 area homes.

Scattered events

Assembly Scattered, events planned around the country to visit MWC churches and ministries on the way to or from Assembly Gathered, has been scaled back considerably, mostly due to a lack of registrants. Of 18 originally planned events, nine have been canceled.

“That was something that we did not anticipate as much,” Unger said. She said the more popular options are the ones nearest to Harrisburg.

Evanna Hess, the Assembly Scattered coordinator, said reasons for canceling also included cost, transportation logistics, limited schedules and visa issues.

“Planning committees were excited to host guests in their churches and communities and disappointed when they needed to cancel their event,” she said. There’s still time to register for the remaining events at mwc-cmm.org.

“The Assembly Scattered opportunities range from exploring the wilderness of Alaska with the northernmost Anabaptist congregation in the world, to informative walking tours about African-American history and Mennonites involved in peace issues in the U.S. capital, learning about immigration issues in southwest U.S. and experiencing daily life with Bruderhof communities,” she said.

Final worship

In past assemblies, the last day featured a final worship service that included local Anabaptists in addition to all participants.

“Having so many Anabaptists in the area, we thought instead of inviting everyone and finding a place that is a big enough, we are going out to congregations in the area,” she said.

On Sunday morning, July 26, assembly participants will be shuttled to more than 45 local Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches.

MWC will distribute worship materials so that congregations across the world can take part in the worship experience. A video of highlights from the week will be uploaded to mwc-cmm.org.

Throughout the assembly, live streaming worship services will be accessible online.

“In that way, people from anywhere in the world can participate in the assembly from their home,” Unger said.

Resources, registration information and updates can be found at mwc-cmm.org.

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