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Prepare to be hosts for MWC in 2015

7.1. 2014 18 Times read

Global Anabaptism: Stories from the global Mennonite church

Eight years ago, when Jonathan Stucky and a small group of women from the Teusaquillo Mennonite congregation in Bogotá, Colombia, began bringing food every Sunday afternoon to the small neighborhood of San Nicolás at the edge of the city, their efforts seemed hopelessly insignificant.

Nearly half of Colombia's 46 million inhabitants live on approximately $8 per day, and 15 percent survive on less than $2 per day. Years of violence in the countryside have uprooted millions of families from their homes, with hundreds of displaced people showing up in Bogotá every day. The rapidly-growing San Nicolás neighborhood has one school for its 5,000 inhabitants but no clinic, no police station and few basic services. Yet Sunday after Sunday, Jonathan made the trip across town with a van laden with sandwiches.

Nearly half of Colombia’s 46 million inhabitants live on approximately $8 per day, and 15 percent survive on less than $2 per day. Years of violence in the countryside have uprooted millions of families from their homes, with hundreds of displaced people showing up in Bogotá every day. The rapidly-growing San Nicolás neighborhood has one school for its 5,000 inhabitants but no clinic, no police station and few basic services. Yet Sunday after Sunday, Jonathan made the trip across town with a van laden with sandwiches.

Slowly the Sunday afternoon meal project evolved into the Comedor Pan y Vida (Bread and Life Cafeteria), a small community center that now provides regular meals, a bilingual afterschool program, workshops for adults and a safe refuge for abused women. Five years ago, a small congregation—La Iglesia Menonita de la Resurrección—emerged, and it has become a spiritual oasis in the San Nicolás community. The secret to the program’s success, says Adaía Bernal, an energetic leader in the congregation, is patience and love.

“In a setting where there is so much darkness,” she explained recently to a delegation of Mennonite World Conference (MWC) visitors, “we are lighting candles by letting the world see that we love each other.”

Our group of international visitors quickly experienced that love. As we crowded into a small room, our hosts—including many children and young people—opened our time together by raising their hands and offering us a blessing. In the hours that followed we were moved as together we worshiped and sang, heard testimonies of transformed lives and joined in prayer.

At the end of our visit, members of the congregation prepared a simple meal for us, sharing generously from their meager resources.

Next year at this time, thousands of Mennonite brothers and sisters from around the world—among them, several members of the Iglesia Menonita de la Resurrección in San Nicolás, Colombia—will travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in the 16th Assembly of MWC.

At that gathering we will have a unique opportunity to host members of the global Anabaptist-Mennonite church. Even though the date seems far away, it’s not too early to think about your role as a host.

Here are a few suggestions that came to mind as I was visiting the Comedor Pan y Vida in San Nicolás:

  1. Register to attend Pennsylvania 2015: Our understanding of church places a high value on face-to-face relationships. If you wonder what it means to be part of a global family, the upcoming MWC assembly (July 21-26, 2015) will offer a remarkable opportunity to gather with 7,000-8,000 brothers and sisters from around the world to sing, pray and share together. You may not develop a personal relationship with each participant, but you will return home with a host of new friends and a deeper appreciation for God’s work in the world.
  2. Reach out to sister churches in other countries: Most Mennonite congregations in the United States have developed special relationships with individuals or congregations in other parts of the world. Building on these relationships, extend a personal invitation for your partners to attend Assembly 16 and offer financial assistance to help make that visit possible. Write a letter of invitation that may prove helpful in the visa application process. Look on our global gathering as an opportunity to deepen these existing friendships.
  3. Contribute your ‘fair share’: In comparison with the global organizations of other denominations, the administrative costs of MWC are miniscule. But there are still costs. And hosting a global assembly will bring more costs. Currently, the “fair share” portion that MWC requests from its supporting churches amounts to the cost of one meal per member per year. That’s right—one meal per year. We know our congregations are already supporting many good causes. But if you believe that Mennonite World Conference serves a worthy purpose, please encourage your congregation to include this ministry in your annual budget for at least the amount of one meal per member.

Last month, the tiny congregation of Iglesia Menonita de la Resurrección served MWC representatives a meal. They have paid their “fair share.”

Let’s respond by doing the same.

John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College, director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism and editor of Mennonite Quarterly Review.

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