Seismic shift in Pennsylvania

How MWC’s Global Youth Summit changed me

Rianna Isaak was the Canadian MB delegate at Mennonite World Conference’s Global Youth Summit.

Rianna Isaak was the Canadian MB delegate at Mennonite World Conference’s Global Youth Summit.

The 2015 Global Youth Summit (GYS) radically shaped my Anabaptist Mennonite faith. Not because I necessarily learned specific theological understandings, nor even saw God in a new way; no, my faith was transformed because my perspective of the church shifted.

What is GYS?

GYS gathered more than 400 Anabaptist youth from around the globe July 17–19, 2015 before the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., July 21–25, 2015.

GYS MB delegates

MB delegates: Timo Doetsch (Germany), Rianna Isaak (Canada), Nikki Bergen (Paraguay [German]), Kary Bogarin Argaña (Paraguay [Spanish]), Trent Voth (USA), and [not pictured] Jairo Andrés Rodríguez Londoño (Colombia)

GYS also brought together 42 youth delegates for special meetings. I was grateful to be the Canadian Mennonite Brethren youth delegate. This gave me structured opportunity to dialogue with other delegates active in ministry all over the globe in different Anabaptist denominations.

The summit theme, Called to Share: My Gifts, Our Gifts, led to conversations that empowered each of us to more fully embody the church in our regions, and to use our gifts globally.

Mennonite – much more than ethnicity

Delegates at Mennonite World Conference’s Global Youth Summit display their international origins.

Delegates at Mennonite World Conference’s Global Youth Summit display their international origins.

I have always been proud of my Mennonite ethnicity. I can trace my family back through Isaak, Willems, Regier, Peters, Neufeld and so on. I have been proud of the fact that I can make wareneki, sing hymns and quilt.

However, at GYS, I was confronted with the global Anabaptist church. Not only was my pride in my “tribe” not necessarily a positive, but it could become quite harmful, and even racist.

The Mennonite youth that I met at GYS were all part of Christ’s church, regardless of their ethnicity, background or language. They put Jesus at the centre of faith, community at the centre of life and reconciliation at centre of our work together. The way I express pride in my heritage might actually cause others to feel rejected by my church if they don’t share a Dutch-German-Russian version of Mennonite “ethnicity.”

I am learning to celebrate the Anabaptist Mennonite theology of my church over and above any cultural or ethnic specifics that could exclude others.

Body of Christ – unity not uniformity

Rianna Isaak and a "plain clothes" Mennonite friend.

Rianna Isaak and a “plain clothes” Mennonite friend.

I sat with North American young adults in trendy crop tops, “plain” dresses or “hippie activist” dreadlocks – next to African youth in bright traditional dresses. This faith was not uniform, but the act of worshiping with Anabaptists from around the globe was a beautiful experience of sights, sounds and emotions.

GYS embodied rich diversity: different economic situations, political viewpoints, occupations, denominations.

And the best part was that we were all passionate about our faith in Jesus!

Our differences can be united in the body of Christ when our diverse gifts, identities, purposes and callings are held together within the global church community, supporting each other in the mission of Jesus Christ.

Global conversation – the power of language

I had never before questioned the fact that I speak only English. At GYS, the majority of the young adults spoke multiple languages. Yet, whenever I walked up to a group laughing and joking in Spanish (or German or French), they would switch to English, so I could be included.

I felt honoured and cared for by this tangible practice of love. However, I noticed that in their effort to include me, they now struggled to form their sentences in English. My presence radically changed the conversation dynamics.

I realized it is an act of power to only speak English, assuming others will adjust to me. In order to “even out” the power differential, I aim to learn another language before the next Assembly in Indonesia.

Hope in the church

MB Delegates spelling MBWhen I look at my particular context, it can be easy to lose hope in the church. It’s easy to focus on a specific conflict within my congregation or denomination, or to compare ourselves with a version of the church in the past or somewhere else.

At the GYS, I celebrated with a church that is thriving! Seeing so many young people who are active in ministry, pursuing their faith and engaging with the face of Jesus in the marginalized was tremendously encouraging.

I was inspired by the passion for peace, justice, healing and living well in this world. The energy in the room was overwhelming!

The Anabaptist Mennonite church is growing around the globe. We can learn much from our sisters and brothers in South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. When we gather to worship our Lord, we are not alone.

Both GYS and Assembly embodied for me what it means to be an Anabaptist Mennonite Christian. I recommend that every Mennonite Brethren attend at least one MWC global event in their lifetime. It is sure to shatter stereotypes about being Mennonite; to remind that we are the body of Christ not despite but through our different gifts; to enrich our dialogue with a global conversation; and to rekindle hope in the church gathered and dispersed.

See you at Indonesia 2021!

—Rianna Isaak is a member of River East MB Church, Winnipeg. A graduate of Canadian Mennonite University, she works as program director for Camps with Meaning.

One Comment on “Seismic shift in Pennsylvania

  1. Rianna I could not agree with you more – thankyou for sharing – it brings back recent memories of our MCC assignment in Mexico, and connecting with folks from other parts of Latin America and the world – our MB and anabaptist expression of faith is diverse and its unity is to be celebrated – it is one of the exquisite flavours that God prepares for the banquet feast…blessings to you

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