I learned a new word recently: protestimony – a made-up coinage that tickles my fancy.
It combines protest and testimony: the act of giving witness to our faith by standing up and speaking out in love and truth about things that break God’s heart and ours. Sarah Thompson, director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (which was awarded Canadian Mennonite University’s PAX award for 2017), exhorted attendees at a Dismantling Racism Workshop in Winnipeg with this playful portmanteau.
Recently, my newsfeed filled with one man’s protestimony: Michael J. (MJ) Sharp, a graduate of all the usual Mennonite institutions, son of a pastor/theology professor, whose drive to protestify took him to DR Congo, where he made friends with armed rebels, first as an MCC service worker, then under the UN. His choice to enter dangerous situations with a spirit of peace led to his brutal death at the hands of the rebels with whom he was attempting to negotiate.
His protestimony isn’t a failure, though; it’s an inspiration. Rooted in Anabaptist convictions, and empowered by the Holy Spirit as in Acts 1:8, Sharp took his witness “to the ends of the earth.”
There are other ways to be a witness: like giving your eyes or ears and your heart to the experience of another in protest of the brokenness in the world and testimony to the possibility of transformation. Listening to another person’s story is a sacred act. On a Canadian Foodgrains Bank learning tour in Lebanon, Jacqueline Block bore witness in this shape of burden carrying.
And in well-known words, Jesus called us in Matthew 28:19 to be about the business of discipling: training, teaching – and protestifying.
Our Mennonite Brethren family from around the world gathered in Thailand in March to talk about how we live out this commission in the power of the Spirit and through prayer. Aptly, the event was called The Church on Mission – for it is not merely as individuals that we bear our witness to the inbreaking Kingdom of God, but as a body of Christ together. As local congregations “going” about our daily lives.
At this gathering, professor Arthur Dück from Brazil reminded listeners that the mission that drives the church is not our own agenda, but a calling from God to participate in God’s reconciliation of all creation. Our communities of faith bear witness to God’s mission by our unity, by our nonconformity to the priorities of the world around us – even as our love for God compels us to tend to the needs of those around us – and by the Spirit with which God empowers us.
As a church participating on the mission to which God has called us, we witness to the good news as a community, and as a community, we touch the ends of the earth, whether through encouraging a missionary from our midst who serves in a faraway place or through communion with Indigenous churches to whom we became joined in the family at the Manitoba convention.
We can become disillusioned as we work at what sometimes seems like a losing struggle against injustice, pain and hopelessness. But we are directed by the mission God has called us to, inspired by the Holy Spirit and grounded in our community. In this way, we may not grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9) as our lives testify good news “to the ends of the earth.”
In our churches on mission, what’s our protestimony?
About this issue
ICOMB (the International Community of Mennonite Brethren), in partnership with MB Mission, gathered denominational and ministry leaders in Thailand in March 2017 for a week-long consultation on mission and prayer (pages 2, 8–13).
The Board of Faith and Life offers the second reflection in our new series on the Confession of Faith (page 15).
Our Intersection contributor speaks into the conversations begun at conventions. In Manitoba, new church expressions introduced included six Bible fellowships (coached by MBCM Indigenous ambassador Paul Winter) emerging on reserves. In Saskatchewan, Dallas Pelly, a member of Forest Grove Community Church, Saskatoon, shared a testimony and challenge as an indigenous Christian.
Reporting from provincial conventions no longer finds space on the pages of the MB Herald; we encourage you to find links at mennonitebrethren.ca/provincial-conventions-2017 to explore the presentations and news from those conventions.
The conversation continues online at the Herald as well (mbherald.com). Throughout the month, we post news and book reviews, sharing how our churches and partner agencies are protestifying on God’s mission in their spheres of influence. You can engage with these online exclusives by following us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribing to receive new posts by email.