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On the shoulders of past generations

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Enzo Ferrari is reported to have sat down in one of his cars and ripped off the rearview mirror, proclaiming, “Whatsa behind me doesn’t matta.” Often, we live with little consideration for what’s “behind” us, when even the slightest reflection would reveal how important our past truly is.

Most parents hope and pray our children’s “floor” will be built on our “ceiling” – for our sons and daughters to accomplish more than we did in life. We long for our children to learn from our past mistakes, take advantage of our blessings, and capitalize on the opportunities we’ve given them. My parents prayed their children would enjoy better lives than they experienced growing up in Russia, with the trauma of WWII, followed by a difficult, circuitous nine-year journey to Canada. Now my desire is to see my sons’ lives progress beyond my life’s trajectory.

At Gathering 2012, I was overwhelmed by the words of encourage-ment I received from seniors. I was humbled by these faithful women and men cheerleading us on. I was also struck by the responsibility each generation has to those we follow, and to those who follow us.

As executive director of the Canadian conference, I’m keenly aware that we benefit from the faith, obedience, labour, and courageous leadership of those who have gone before us. We are the beneficiaries of servants who wanted “more” for their children, communities, and fellow Canadians – who took courageous steps of faith to reach out and start churches, establish schools and camps across the country, and begin mission outreaches.

The video footage of leaders David Ewert and Henry Schmidt the MB Historical Commission showed at Gathering 2012 reminded me of the profound influence these men had on my life, in the classroom and beyond. I wouldn’t be in my current role without people like Henry Schmidt, who encouraged me to follow God in a life of ministry and service. Henry’s friendship and example inspired me to think beyond myself. The list of those who paved the way forward through encouragement, direction, and prayer is too long to share here.

This spring, while attending the Mennonite World Conference general council, I had the privilege of spending a day touring Zurich and the surrounding area to view sights of significance in Anabaptist history. The effort our spiritual forebears exerted to live out their faith in the face of overwhelming oppression struck a chord in me. They risked life and limb to be faithful Christ followers, living in obedience to Jesus’ teaching. It was humbling to stand on the ground where their blood flowed because Jesus was their only king.

Taking action

Flash foward to 2012. What does it mean for us to be a people whose lives are submitted to Jesus, who redeemed us from death, and who invites us to follow him in the renewal of all things through his reign?

That’s a question I ask myself daily. Entering my fifth decade, I realize just how little true hardship I’ve experienced for my faith. I wonder: “God, why did you place us in this time in history? Why did you locate us here, with these specific gifts, abilities, and resources? What is your calling on us, personally and corporately, in the contexts where you grant us influence?” These are weighty questions.

I’m left with two overwhelming sentiments. First, I’m grateful to those who have gone before us, who passed on their passion, wisdom, and experience. Grateful for the support and prayers of senior leaders, who have extended freedom to the next generation to do things in new ways, while serving and loving the same God.

Second, I feel a deep sense of res-ponsibility. When something valuable is handed to us to steward, we have a responsibility that goes beyond our personal preferences. What we’ve received shouldn’t be taken for granted. We are not entitled to the gifts we’ve been given – but we’re accountable for them.

I encourage you to show appreciation today to a leader who paved the way for you. Write a thank you note to someone who encouraged you to follow Jesus by his or her example, teaching, or leadership.

Then, ask God who you can encourage to follow Jesus more passionately. Do you know someone in your workplace, faith community, or home who needs support or opportunity? Who will stand on your shoulders to accomplish more than you ever imagined?

—Willy Reimer

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