Our 150th anniversary: Celebrating what God has done worldwide

When my daughter turned 30, a box arrived via parcel post from her brother and sister-in-law. When she opened it there were 30 presents, each with 30 items! It was so much fun to share her joy during the hour or so it took to open this kaleidoscope of generosity.

From anniversaries to birthdays to centennials, we make special effort to mark notable occasions. On January 6, 2010, the Mennonite Brethren movement will be 150 years old.

I derive a lot of joy in seeing what God has wrought out of the renewal vision of some 18 families in what is now Ukraine. For the past eight years I have represented the Canadian Mennonite Brethren to ICOMB – the International Community of Mennonite Brethren. It’s an assembly of leaders from the national churches that meets annually. We learn from each other what God is doing in our global family.

Let me make a few observations from this global sharing that might inspire us in our mission in Canada.

Theology

A major highlight from my time with ICOMB has been the writing of an international Confession of Faith, accepted in 2004. The two-year process started with one respected theologian from each continent. East met West in a two-part confession – part narrative, part point form. All national bodies, including our Board of Faith and Life, examined and discussed the drafts, weighing in with their perspective. It’s a testimony to giving equal place and voice to our global sister conferences.

Pragmatic missional women in ministry leadership

In Africa, for more than 20 years, women have entered the business world as entrepreneurs to counter unemployment and feed their families. They typically meet socially to innovate and engage in Bible study. The result is a large set of theologically adept women who can lead. The MB church in Congo has embraced this phenomenon, and many women are now pastors of local congregations. In Colombia, women also serve in ministry leadership, and India recently announced openness in this area.

It seems there’s more freedom to approach this matter missionally. There’s absolute commitment to Christology and biblical authority that surrounds the unleashing of women into ministry, as well as the restricting of women from ministry leadership at certain times. In other words, brothers and sisters can lead as the church requires.

Mission, church planting, and tent-making

In 2007, I preached in a Paraguayan Spanish MB church and learned that the conference expected their 50-some congregations to each plant a church in the next five years. The pastor, his wife, and family ran a business to support themselves. And they had just doubled the size of their church building. The Panama church representative told me he was the pastor of a local church and also ran a market with his wife.

The commitment that drives tent-making is now gaining traction in Canada. It’s part of the solution to the missional health of the church.

Education toward mission

Each year, the MB Bible College in Shamshabad, India graduates three dozen church planters. John Shankar Rao is the conference evangelist. Despite difficulties within the conference, and recent persecutions, the educational objective remains clear: prepare workers for ministry. In DR Congo, Nzuzi Mukawa is the director of the School of Missiology in Kinshasa. The MB Congo conference deploys missionaries to several African countries and various parts of the Congo. In these two largest MB conferences (more than 100,000 members each) we see a direct correlation between their schools and the conference mission. We will be privileged to have John and Nzuzi speak to us this coming July.

Hardship

On the international scene, there are many opposing forces that could decimate the church. Corrupt governments, civil war and unrest, direct persecution by civic leaders or radical groups, economic collapse, poverty, and systemic injustice are major stressors on the church. Yet in many places, the church is thriving. To be sure, there are losses, conflicts, lawsuits, and frustrations. But there is something to be learned from the toughness and flexibility achieved through trying circumstances. Our church in well-resourced areas (Japan, Europe, North America) seems to struggle to achieve healthy growth.

Celebrate 2010: July 12-18

A 150th anniversary deserves a week! An international consultation will look at our identity and mission. We’ll receive ministry sharing from the seminary, mission organizations, ICOMB, and hear from international Mennonite Brethren leaders. We’ll also hold our annual Gathering.

I look forward with joy to being challenged to see how our global identity informs our mission and vice versa – to continue witnessing to God’s grace in Canada and our world.

David Wiebe is executive director of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches.

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