Mennonite conferences of North America are quite discriminating about which mission organizations represent them in their public gatherings. Almost all of us “own” Mennonite Central Committee as a service organization. But when it comes to church planting and evangelism, most conferences reserve the platform for their own mission agencies.
This is such a common practice that I assumed it was true everywhere. Mennonite Mission Network takes the stage at Mennonite Church USA assemblies. Eastern Mennonite Missions gets the spotlight at Lancaster Conference celebrations. Rosedale Mennonite Missions is featured at Conservative Mennonite Conference annual meetings.
But this summer, when I attended the annual convention of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference of Canada, my paradigm began to shift. I expected to hear mission reports from the Latin American countries where the EMC Board of Missions has workers. And I did. What I did not expect was to hear from the rest of the world.
We heard many other Mennonite witnesses from every corner of the globe give their reports and share their stories. Gradually, I began to understand these were members of EMC congregations administered by agencies other than the EMC Board of Missions. Many of these other agencies are household names among Christians everywhere.
“As a conference, we affirm all those witnesses that our congregations send,” said Tim Dyck, EMC executive secretary. “Our mission board provides an associate status for those we do not directly administer. When we gather at convention, we benefit from the rich and diverse perspective of all EMC workers, regardless of their administering agency.”
What a vision — and, as a result, what an exciting convention. The EMC is not the only Mennonite group whose mission agency has associate workers administered by others. But rarely have I attended a larger conference or denominational gathering with equal attention given to both kinds of workers.
The local congregation, we think, can give equal stage time to all those it sends. But even there we often give special attention to those we send with our own conference agencies. The others are just a wee bit like beggars. They haven’t quite made the cut.
Not, though, in this convention. It was both excitingly local and thoroughly global. We heard from Canadian inner-city kids and international witnesses. Those serving with Wycliffe were right there with those who serve with the EMC Board of Missions.
And it was Anabaptist in substance and tone. A strong testimony of both word and deed marked the meetings. César García of Colombia, executive secretary of Mennonite World Conference, addressed the largest session. There was no dissonance between his voice and others.
I am sure the EMC, once called the Kleine Gemeinde (Little Community), has plenty of challenges as well as strengths. Coming away from the convention, though, I reflected on the words of Paul: “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world . . . ” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).
We could take a page from the EMC, a “little community” that has learned how to affirm and be inspired by all its sent ones.
Richard Showalter, of Landisville, Pa., is chair of Mennonite World Conference’s Mission Commission.