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B.C. convention 2011

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B.C. Mennonite Brethren gathered to “read each other’s mail” from heaven – celebrating God’s transforming work in B.C. church plants, camps, Columbia Bible College, and conference programs, at Willow Park Church, Kelowna, Apr. 29–30.

Moderator Rob Thiessen called the 156 delegates and 73 Willow Park volunteers (less than two percent of BCMB’s 19,545 members) “a Gideon’s army.”

Setting the prayerful posture for the weekend, four pastors read letters of admonition to their own churches, written in the style of Revelation 2–3, Friday night. (See all four letters at www.bcmb.org/downloads/sb_bcmb/conventionletters.pdf) The charge from Dan Unrau’s letter to Fraserview MB Church, Richmond, was repeated throughout the convention: “Become a pray-er alone and with others whenever they gather to pray until most of what you do is pray.”

Faithful service

When conference minister Steve Berg announced his resignation, “we wondered how we’d go on,” said Thiessen. “We quickly oriented ourselves, [remembering] that Jesus is the head of the church.” Berg, who has accepted a position as national director of government mission focus with Power to Change Canada, thanked his team of the past 7 years. Director of camp ministries Merv Boschman will be interim conference minister for 6 months.

John Redekop was honoured for years of service, most recently as executive secretary, with a plaque. “Although, I don’t know if retirement fits into John’s vocabulary,” quipped Thiessen. Lorraine Dick was elected to complete Dave Esau’s term as member at large on the executive board.

Domestic duties

Director of administration Marilyn Hiebert reported a net shortfall (as of Mar. 31) of $117,814.  Noting that although Church Planting BC’s budget is $1.37 million, they receive only 26 percent of the B.C. conference ministry commitment, Hiebert asked churches to partner with CPBC: “It’s not just the money; it’s the tangible connection.”

The board of management report disclosed ministry commitment levels from each of the 103 churches. Hiebert challenged delegates to return to their churches and encourage them to be fully participating contributors to the B.C. conference.

“There are established churches not giving to five percent; is that my business?” asked Dan Unrau, who compared this “family conversation” to getting on his 22-year-old’s case about chores. He urged: “We’re a family here. Do the dishes!”

CBC supporting churches

Columbia Bible College president Ron Penner said CBC serves as a school of discipleship, ministry training, and increasingly, as educational support for the church. Paul Loewen offered CBC’s professors and students as respite for worship teams and preachers, and encouraged participation in the “church match bursary” – when a church supports a student up to $1,000, CBC matches it.

CBC began construction on their new residence, for which $3.23 million has already been donated or committed. Board member Ron Born suggested care groups consider furnishing a dorm room for $2,300.

God goes to camp

B.C. camps – Camp Bob, Camp Likely, Pines Bible Camp, Gardom Lake Bible Camp, and Stillwood Camp and Conference Centre – celebrated 5,388 campers and 1,961 commitments to Christ in 2010. Referring to the 727 staff, camp ministries committee chair Arthur Loewen said, “We count it a privilege that you as our churches send us your people to get their missional training.”

  • Les Klassen from Camp Bob said, “Camp has a way of levelling the playing field. For five short days, you get to affirm the positives in this child” and show him “God is someone he can count on.”
  • Harry Edwards from Stillwood received this letter from a 47-year-old former camper: “I recently became a Christian, but I’d like to think the seed was planted at camp. It was the honest love of God showing through people.” In 2010, 32 campers participated in a new program for children with autism. At the close of one week, Edwards saw the mom of a nonverbal camper weeping. She explained, “He doesn’t communicate, but he just ran up to me, and said, ‘Mom, I had the best time of my life. God loves me and he loves everybody.’”

Church planting growth

Church Planting BC’s goal is 1 church for every 1,000 people; for Vancouver to have that ratio, it needs 434 more church plants. In BCMB’s 22 church plants, 20 couples or individuals and 8 apprentice couples are serving. CPBC associate director Mark Burch’s report of 99 baptisms at B.C. church plants in 2010, and 55 already this year, met with applause.

“Our goal is no closures,” said CPBC director Gord Fleming. When people from other denominations hear about CPBC, they tell Fleming, “It’s so typical of MBs: you’re so mission-focused.”

  • Gateway Community Church, Port Alberni, has grown from 5 families to 130 attendees, including a woman in her 70s returning to church after 30 years, and a man who used to live on the street near planters Paul and Naomi Wicki’s house and now comes inside for weekly small groups.
  • Lee and Ilona Francois began at Real Life Community Church, Surrey, as apprentices in time to support pastor Mike Roth through cancer treatment.
  • BCMB welcomed Metro, Willow Park’s church plant in downtown Kelowna, into the conference. Metro pastor Laurence East shared that he was terrified one Sunday when middle-class people showed up, but “the ‘have nots’ opened their arms to the ‘haves,’” who realized “they were just as broken as the homeless.”

Connecting leaders

Leadership development’s Ron Toews asks every pastor he meets two questions: “How are you, really?” and “How might the Spirit be inviting you to grow today?” Toews leads In Service online conversations twice weekly, which include a 12–14-minute webinar followed by a 45-minute “free-flowing conversation between pastors,” designed to “collapse the distance between Fort St. John and Grand Forks and Fort Langley.”

Creating consensus

The Friday afternoon Deep-Spirited Friends pastors’ session on preaching Revelation, featuring speakers Michael Szuk, Ray Bystrom, and Don Petker, focused on the worship of Christ, power of the gospel, sovereignty of God, and hope for the overcoming church.

Pastoral ministries committee (PMC) co-chair Bruce Guenther read the delegates a letter summarizing the two B.C. conversations on the cross, which “verified that there is a firm consensus among us on affirming Jesus Christ as our substitute,” and that the “spectrum of approaches…is considerably narrower than in some denominations.”

From the floor, B.C. representative on the board of faith and life Brian Cooper affirmed PMC for “framing robust conversation.” When Cooper’s asked, “Why is the Canadian conference doing a study conference on the cross?” he responds, “Because we want to follow the example of B.C. and build a similar and greater consensus nationally.”

Golden age

“We are facing unprecedented numbers of missionaries coming out of B.C. MB Churches,” reported MB Mission’s John Best.

“My sense of delegates in B.C. is we want to see churches thriving in Quebec, Halifax,” and across our country, summarized Rob Thiessen. Quoting a board member, Thiessen said, “‘We’ve entered a golden age in our ministry.’ It’s not a golden age of retirement, but of harvest.”

—Angeline Schellenberg

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