This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Be a bridge

Participants at Pittsburgh 2011 learn about reconciliation and express their desire to live it out.

Pittsburgh 2011 began on July 4 with a joint worship service. Following a dramatization by Ted and Company of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, Shane Hipps (pictured) called on the thousands of adults and youth gathered to live by the higher virtue of reconciliation rather than by the divisions of those promoting either justice or purity.

Hipps-ShaneAddressing the convention’s text, 2 Corinthians 5:16-20, and the night’s theme, “Focus in the Cross,” Hipps, who is a teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., explored the meaning of the Greek words translated “reconciliation.”

While they mean “against difference,” they go further than that to include coming together, “like a drop of rain that falls into the ocean and becomes the ocean.”

Hipps, who formerly served as pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, outlined Mennonite distinctives—such as community, ser­vice and nonviolence—that drew him to the Mennonite faith. But “we can have too much of a good thing and create boundaries within,” he said.

He noted that there have been issues of division throughout human history and in the church, though the issues change. Nevertheless, he said, church divisions generally fall into two patterns: justice vs. holiness. One side wants inclusion, the other purity. Both use Scripture to support their positions, and both feel they are victims.

But while justice and holiness are virtues, they are not the highest virtue. Instead they are innate, related to fear, anger and hurt, he said. The higher virtue is reconciliation, which Jesus modeled. “It is not easy,” Hipps said. While justice and purity use a hammer to smash a rock, reconciliation uses it to shape the rock into something beautiful.

The way of Jesus moves beyond these categories, Hipps said, acknowledges the hurts and invites us to compassion.

“When you create sides,” he said, you soon choose colors and devolve into tribal warfare.

Mennonites are one of the few communities of faith that emphasizes love of the enemy. “That teaching is needed more than ever,” Hipps said. “The ministry of reconciliation is the chemotherapy that fights the cancer of division.”

He asked his audience to consider three questions: Have fear and anger blinded you to the ministry of reconciliation? Do you need to ask forgiveness of someone you have hurt? Do you need to forgive someone who has hurt you?

Hipps offered this version of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female [Mennonite nor non-Mennonite, soldier nor pacifist, liberal nor conservative, young nor old, sinner nor saint, those who sing the National Anthem nor those who do not, gay nor straight, bigot nor enlightened one, immigrant nor native]. For you are all one in Christ.”

Hipps ended his sermon with this request: “Reconciliation and love of enemy are the bread and butter of the Mennonite faith; now make me a sandwich.”

On July 5, Madeline Maldonado, associate pastor of Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Fort Myers, Fla., told the harrowing story of her childhood in her talk “Bridge to New Life.”

Maldinado-MadelineShe is the daughter of a woman who gave birth to her when she was 12, Maldonado said (pictured). She grew up in foster homes, was baptized in the Catholic Church and doesn’t know who her father is.

When she was 9, Maldonado said, her stepfather abused her sexually and hit her with a belt. She hated him and dreamed of a day when she could take vengeance on him.

At age 12, she left home and ended up at a halfway house in Allentown, Pa. The counselors asked her if she had been abused, but she said no. Her stepfather had told her that if she told anyone what he did to her, he would cut her up and feed her to her mother.

The counselors found her mother and brought her to the halfway house. She told them her daughter was a whore and should be put on the street.

She left Allentown and made her way to New York City. There her godparents found her and took her to Florida. When she was 19, she met David, now her husband. Later they accepted Christ, and she found new life.

Years later, she went to see her mother, and her stepfather was there. He begged her forgiveness. “With God’s power within me,” she said, “I forgave him.”

David’s family accepted her and welcomed her, she said. Now she and David give leadership to a church made up mostly of undocumented immigrants. They welcome these people.

Maldonado said that many times she wanted to commit suicide, but David’s patience and the welcome of people in the church helped her stay alive.

In preparation for this talk, she said, she studied bridges. She learned that bridges need a strong foundation. She urged people to “return to our foundations.”

Bridges also need to be inspected, she said. If we don’t identify who we are, the bridge can be in trouble. “One of the foundations of the Mennonite bridge is to live out our faith,” she said. “Let’s live it out.” The worship service ended with the celebration of Communion.

July 6 was designated We Are the Church Day at Pittsburgh 2011. The adult worship focused on “Life on the Bridge” and featured three storytellers.

Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship and the child of Latin American immigrants, told about a foot-washing service his congregation shared with St. John’s Baptist Church, an African-American congregation.

When an older black man called Deacon Marlow was about to wash his feet, Villegas said he wanted to protest that a man whose ancestors were slaves should not wash his feet. Instead, he thought, he should wash this man’s feet.

He recalled an experience in which a young white girl said her mother told her not to touch “dirty Mexicans” because she might get lice.

As Deacon Marlow washed his feet, Villegas said, “I experienced God’s presence.”

Betsy Headrick McCrae (pictured), pastor of Glennon Heights Mennonite Church in Ladewood, Colo., talked about white privilege.

McCrae“I have received the gift of disequilibrium,” she said, “of being knocked off my feet.” She told of being in Hanoi, Vietnam, in a world she would never own, a stranger to the culture. But she knew she was known by God, she said.

A few years earlier, Headrick McCrae said, she was in Brussels, Belgium. A co-worker wondered if she had a college education, having assumed from McCrae’s ability to speak French that she had not been to college.

“Being made new has meant letting go of a sense of entitlement,” McCrae said. She said she felt God tell her that all these differences are part of who God is.

Alfred “Al” Taylor, pastor of Infinity Mennonite Church and the founder of Man Up in Harlem, N.Y., talked about his struggle to be willing to lay down his life.

taylorTaylor (pictured) said he once met Ron Sider, who asked him what he would do if someone attacked him with a gun. At the time, he said he’d grab his own gun.

Years later, when in Haiti, he was confronted with the question of whether or not he would lay down his life for God. He said yes.

On July 7, Danisa Ndlovu, president of Mennonite World Conference, spoke on “Bridges to the Cross.”

One day, he said, when he was a boy in Zimbabwe, he and his mother crossed a bridge. He was so scared he wanted to crawl, even though his mother held his hand.

Later he learned that even though crossing bridges can be scary, bridges “enable us to discover what’s on the other side, to communicate, come together and eliminate the us-and-them mentality.”

DanisaIn 1965, leaders of Ndlovu’s (pictured) native land, then called Rhodesia, met on a bridge that spanned Victoria Falls to declare a commitment to work toward an independent Zimbabwe. That independence finally came in 1980, after more meetings on that same bridge.

Other nations came to Zimbabwe to help rebuild a country ravaged by war. When peoples, nations and believers reconcile, Ndlovu said, “they are able to walk together into the future.”

“The church is called to serve as a bridge to bring together different tribes and nations,” Ndlovu said. At the center of the gospel is the message of reconciliation, he said.

Such reconciliation can be difficult. He said that at one time his church in Zimbabwe faced the question of foot-washing when some members had AIDS. Those with AIDS felt shamed. Then, after a heated debate, a woman stood up and said, “Then we should stop all baptisms.” The debate ended.

Have you faced discrimination? Ndlovu asked. He said that when he was a boy, another boy told him, “You are made of burnt wood.” Later a lady spoke healing words, “You are beautifully and wonderfully made.”

Another woman who had been assaulted and consequently could have no more children told him she found freedom when she forgave the men who attacked her. The person who offers forgiveness, Ndlovu said, “has taken the risk to be in a new relationship.”

When the Lutherans asked forgiveness from Mennonites for their persecution of Anabaptists, it changed their relationship, he said. “We can no longer speak of Lutherans as enemies,” he said.

The New Testament calls us to bear one another in love, Ndlovu said, even while it reflects a church with diverse views. “When we build bridges,” he said, “the world will know there is a new creation.”

On the other hand, divisions among Christians become a stumbling block to the church.
We cross bridges, he concluded, to meet at the cross of Christ. Reconciliation must begin in the household of faith.

Following Ndlovu’s talk, the assembly took an offering for the outreach ministries of Pittsburgh Mennonite Church.

At the final adult worship on July 8, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, explored in his talk “Be the Bridge” Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church.

Stutzman pointed out that these letters represent a prime example of persuasive literature, and 2 Corinthians “is not a theological treatise but a personal plea,” he said.

Ervin-Friday-night-worshipStutzman looked at the meaning of the term “ambassador,” which Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 5:20. At that time, an ambassador was a bridge between nations. “Even if you’re in a foreign nation, your heart is in your homeland.”

Why does Paul tell Christians to be reconciled to God? Stutzman asked. And how do they show they’re reconciled? “By opening their hearts,” he said. And “it’s not a one-time choice but ongoing.”

We may keep God distant in certain areas, he said. And being reconciled “is not just personal but social,”he said.

Since we are called to be ambassadors, Stutzman said, we must first be reconciled. However, “we’re in a political bus careening from one ditch to another,” he said, noting the divisions that occur in our churches.

Participants at the final adult worship receive an anointing from Elizabeth Soto, moderator-elect, on July 8 at Pittsburgh 2011. Photo by Everett Thomas
Participants at the final adult worship receive an anointing from Elizabeth Soto, moderator-elect, on July 8 at Pittsburgh 2011. Photo by Everett Thomas

What would Jesus say to us? Stutzman asked. “Get off the bus.” He went on: “When political differences keep us from engaging one another in love, we sin just like the Corinthians.”

Stutzman ended his talk by calling for confession. “Being a bridge to the cross … often invites us to confess our sins,” he said. We tend to point out the sins in others, he said, but “maybe we need to take the plank out of our own eye and lay it down to make a bridge to the cross.”

Following Stutzman’s talk was an anointing service. Anointing, he said, says that we need God’s presence. It’s also a tool for healing.

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