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Re:View: A proper confidence in MB identity

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Thirteen people have occupied the driver’s seat at the MB Herald. Each person brought a unique perspective and a distinct voice to a particular time in the life of the magazine and the Canadian MB Conference. To celebrate our 50th year in print, “Re:View” welcomes back each of those men and women to reflect on their experience in the editor’s chair.—Eds

A memory of integration comes to mind when I think of my six years at the MB Herald some 30 years ago. I remember a vision of Mennonite Brethren identity as holding together open gospel witness with acts of love and obedience. It’s true that memory sometimes plays tricks on us – but there you have it.

My year as acting editor came about because hard-working senior editor Harold Jantz needed a year off. To be honest, I was completely challenged during that year, and it was partly because of that experience of feeling overwhelmed that I began to think of additional training.

In the meantime, however, I learned a lot. Coming from India and British Columbia, with good experiences of MB churches and institutions there, it was helpful for me to learn of the diversity in a national church spread out coast to coast. Yes, I found diversity: some emphasized evangelism and church growth; others made the case the greater need was social concern and action. But I also found a conviction among people on both sides that these two approaches belonged together in discipleship, and an understanding that, if separated, neither would be authentic.

Something unique to offer

Our mission agency was called Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services in those years. We indicated our vision explicitly with a forward slash. It was a time when Mennonite Brethren were loyal to MB institutions. There was a sense that MBs had something unique to offer – something worthwhile to say about how to serve Jesus in the world. Was the glue merely a common ethnic background? It did not seem so to me at the time, from India and B.C., with no Low German and few relatives in Winnipeg.

One moment that sticks with me is Victor Adrian’s address at a General Conference convention, in which he challenged North American Mennonite Brethren to fully support a missionary force of 200. It seemed quite reasonable at the time he spoke, and I believe it is even more feasible today. Well-trained mission leaders like Peter Hamm had given careful thought to missiological issues and were pursuing a forward-looking plan on behalf of, and accountable to, MB churches.

Dr. Adrian’s challenge reflected a healthy pride in denominational identity, a concept of denomination that – because of a proper confidence – was open to other Christian groups in a number of different directions. To evangelicals in Canada, we offered our theology of church and New Testament peace teaching. To other Mennonite groups around the world, we contributed our delight for gospel proclamation and church planting. We were open to others, free to work with others, grateful to have something to contribute, and glad to offer it.

I remember nothing doctrinaire or bigoted about the denominational confidence of those days. A few years later, I was riding with Dr. Adrian in the back of a dusty, rickety bus from Karachi to Hyderabad, Pakistan. We argued all the way about the best way to serve Jesus among Muslims, straining to hear each other above the incredible bolt-bucket din. The rock-solid support for our work in Pakistan that Gwenyth and I felt from MBM/S came with both definite convictions about mission and an openness to learn from pioneer situations.

Loss of vision

Unfortunately, it was also during my year as acting editor that there was a major dust-up concerning the leadership at one MB school. I was surprised at the time to see the deep fault lines of commitment and clan the conflict revealed. In the wake of that conflict, I remember seeing some leaders I respected decide to give up on the vision of integration, or perhaps to conclude that the vision itself was a delusion.

At the time, I felt downhearted about some of the things I saw, but don’t remember thinking the vision had lost its lustre. Yes, I saw imperfections in others, and knew of many more in myself, but how did that change the basic New Testament teaching about bearing witness to Jesus in word and deed?

Since 1984, I have often been serving in South Asia under MBM/S when decisions to change MB institutions have been made – including what is now MB Mission. For six years, I also served another denomination in order to be able to teach at ACTS Seminaries alongside other MB professors. Like many MBs, I am happy to work with Christians who may consider themselves more conservative or liberal than me. But I have never felt that the vision of holding witness and service together was mistaken.

Memory sometimes plays tricks. But one thing I know. The intense missiological debates currently shaking the evangelical mission community in North America to its core suggest the integration of word and deed I knew as a Herald editor – whether real or illusory – is well worth offering to others with openness and proper confidence.

Gordon Nickel served as interim acting editor from 1981–1982. He recently launched a project under MB Mission to encourage and train Muslim-background disciples of Jesus in India, and to write “a gentle answer” to an influential Muslim polemical book against the Bible. He lives in Eagle Bay, B.C., and is a member of River of Life Community Church, Sorrento, B.C.

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