A foretaste of heaven in Harrisburg

Jul 27, 2015 by

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Some 7,500 Mennonite and members of related Anabaptist groups met for the global assembly of Mennonite World Conference at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg, Pa., July 21-26. As a participant in the last two days of the weeklong celebration, I felt transported into a new world that felt a lot like heaven.

As in heaven, members in the Jesus movement are a part of a global community.

Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. — Rev. 5:9b-10

More than 7,500 gather for a worship service as part of Mennonite World Conference assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., from July 21-26. — Mennonite World Conference

More than 7,500 gather for a worship service at Mennonite World Conference assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., from July 21-26. — MWC

MWC assembly represented a wonderful mosaic of languages, colors and cultures.

A hundred years ago, most Mennonites were of ethnic Swiss, Dutch or German origin, but today the majority are a part of the global South, in numerous African and southeastern Asian countries.

I was blessed by workshop discussions with people from other parts of the globe and by numerous informal conversations with them. I’ll long remember pastor Samue Masku of India telling me about the joy he felt in connecting with fellow believers here from all over the world.

As in heaven, followers of Jesus celebrate the ecstasy of God’s dream for creation coming true.

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” — Rev. 5:13

For me the music in the Arena was a truly “ecstatic” experience (“ek” meaning from and “stasis” place). In celebrations of song we were transported to a future time and place in which God’s will is a reality on earth as it is in heaven, when every voice breaks out in celebrations of salvation from evil and oppression.

No one will forget the gifted international choir that led us in worship, the overwhelming experience of 7,000 voices singing “I’ll Fly Away,” or the incredible voice of soloist Nohemy Garcia singing one of her own compositions on Friday night. (The song description starts around minute 55.)

As in heaven, followers of Jesus experience a unity that transcends all their differences.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. — Rev. 21:22-26

Through our narrow, myopic lens, we fail to grasp the breadth and scope of God’s love. And we naively assume we have all of God’s truth distilled in our creeds and statements of faith. But at Harrisburg we were able, at least for a few short days, to envision an often divided people reclaiming our oneness as a part of God’s worldwide, eternal family.

Yet not everything about MWC reflected “as it is in heaven.”

I was still painfully aware of some of the stark economic disparities that remain between attendees from the affluent North and the global South. In a conversation with Pastor Busani Sibanda of Zimbabwe, he shared with me how difficult it was to provide for their family of three daughters, for whom tuition alone was $600 for each of their three school terms in a year. On a meager pastor’s salary and whatever else he can earn from painting houses on the side, he and his wife constantly face a struggle for survival. Yet they are a part of the same Mennonite family as North Americans with spacious homes, six-figure incomes and three-car garages.

So while we daily pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven, we often fail to do our part to make that a reality.

Look, God’s home is now among his people!
God will live with them, and they will be his people.
God himself will be with them.
God will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.
All these things are gone forever.
— Rev. 21:3-4

“Our religion is a worked out religion,” declared closing speaker Bruxy Cavey, a Brethren in Christ pastor in Ontario, Canada. “We love God only to the extent that we love our neighbor. We can never separate the two.” Or as Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “You pray for the poor and the hungry, then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

Held every six years, MWC assembly last met in Paraguay in 2009 and is set to convene in Indonesia in 2021. Or maybe next time in the New Jerusalem.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.


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  • Ken Fellenbaum

    A hearty “amen” to Harvey’s article. I was able to attend the first 4 days. The music and singing was incredible!! The services and workshops I attended were very good. The opportunity to reconnect and fellowship with old friends and make some new ones was a blessing. The focus was Biblical – “Walking with God”…discipleship. The contrast between the recent Kansas City Conference (as reported in MWR) and the MWC was striking. So sad to see the schism in the MC USA. Ken Fellenbaum, Milford, CT

  • Harvey Yoder

    I wish MCUSA could simply agree on the same fundamental principles affirmed by MWC and then get together regularly for similar celebrations.