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Being a witness to those who are dying

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How do you describe yourself to others? “To really understand me, you need to know that I am ______”. How do you fill in the blank?  With your family tree? Your interests and hobbies? Your sexuality? Your vocation?

As Mennonite Brethren, we often describe ourselves as “evangelical-Anabaptist.” We want to say the things that Jesus would say, and do the things that Jesus would do, if he were walking among us today. Some of us are especially passionate about spoken truth and others of us more so about lived truth, but one of the beautiful things about being Mennonite Brethren in Canada is that we work together toward the mission that God has called all his followers to pursue.

Central to Jesus’ mission is that we be his witnesses (Acts 1:8), which involves our personal experience, telling the story of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to be his witnesses locally, nationally and globally.

In this issue’s column, we are going to look at what it might mean to be a witness for Jesus in our current Canadian context.

Last year, our national government made a significant decision regarding medical assistance in dying. As that reality continues to sink into our lives, our families, hospitals and hospice houses, how do we live out Jesus’ words to “be my witnesses”?

We witness with our words.

It seems to me that Jesus would want us to say that:

All of human life is valuable, from conception to final breath. The value of our lives is not tied up in our abilities, our experiences, our usefulness, our sexuality, our pain, or even our mission and purpose. We are intrinsically valuable simply because we have been created by God himself.

If we are created, that means we have a Creator. And our Creator, in a very real sense, retains the right to ultimately determine what happens to us, including the end of life. It is inconsistent to tell ourselves that “God is in control” when we need comfort but then say that “God is not in control” because we want to make our own decisions about our own lives.

I think Jesus would not want us to assume we have the right to end the life of a valuable person whom he created.

We witness with our actions.

As we live in a country that encourages medical assistance in dying, perhaps the most pressing question is practical: how do we care for people who have chosen this path, and how do we care for their families?

For those who have chosen death, we need to show love, compassion and care. The end of a long journey can be lonely, and if ever there was a time to feel the love of Jesus, this is it. As witnesses for Jesus, let’s love well.

The same holds true for the families who are in the midst of grief. Now is not the time for solutions, instructions or verbal corrections. Now is the time to both literally and metaphorically put our arms around those in pain  and be there with them. Pray for and with them. Love them. And keep loving them in the weeks, months and years that follow. Grief does not have an expiry date.

I think Jesus would want us to talk a little less at times, and simply walk alongside others on their difficult journeys.

What does it mean to be a witness for Jesus in Canada in 2017?

Sometimes, it means we need to have courage to stand up and declare the truth on behalf of Jesus. Other times, it means that we need to take people in our arms and – without saying a word – let them know that Jesus loves them.

Let’s pray that the Spirit will give us discernment to know what Jesus would have us do in each context we find ourselves in this year.

[Mark Wessner is president of MB Seminary. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., with his wife and two daughters.

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