UPLAND, Ind. — At 3 years old, the Evana Network is solidifying its identity as a collaborator with other Anabaptist denominations.
During a delegate session at Evana’s third ReGen convention, held June 29-July 3 at Taylor University, Evana board chair Matt Hamsher of Kidron, Ohio, said the evangelical Anabaptist group is “not competitive but collaborative.”
Citing a choice between being another Anabaptist denomination or a resource agency for local mission, he said the emerging vision is for Evana to partner with other denominations while also being a credentialing network for congregations who want Evana as their primary affiliation.
“We want to serve your congregations without taking them away from you,” Hamsher said.
Evana has revised its affiliation structure to allow congregations to participate at three levels:
- Full partners affirm a shared theological affinity and may send delegates to convention. They have the option of leadership credentials through Evana.
- Affiliate members also affirm a shared theological affinity but do not have delegates and retain their credentials from denominations with approved Confessions of Faith (these currently include the 1995 Mennonite Church USA/Canada Confession of Faith, three Mennonite Brethren Confessions — international, North American and U.S. — and the Conservative Mennonite Conference’s Statement of Theology).
- “City Flourish” users are congregations that don’t necessarily share all of Evana’s beliefs but want to use its resource programs in their local mission efforts. City Flourish is the collective name for these services.
The convention drew 544 registrants, including 196 middle school or high school youth and sponsors, and 58 children.
During a delegate session, executive director John Troyer of Goshen, Ind., announced he would take the next six to 12 months to transition out of the role, saying the required travel was taking him away from his family more than he wanted.
“There’s pain in that [decision], but there’s peace also,” he said. “[Evana is] in a place now where there’s a very cohesive sense of identity.”
In an interview, Troyer said he still considered Evana his church family but felt his personal effort was less needed in building the organization.
“Now that we’re three years into it, we have a very strong constituency group of stakeholders who are invested in Evana and who we are,” he said.
Forty congregations in the U.S. and Canada are affiliated with Evana, as well as nine partner agencies, including the two USMB schools — Fresno Pacific University and Tabor College — and Eastern Mennonite Missions and Virginia Mennonite Missions.
During the delegate session, Hamsher recognized Troyer for his work in forming Evana.
“I think some of us will never understand the depth of how being the public face of the Evana Network made John the target of a lot of emotion,” he said.
Outgoing board members Tyler Hartford and Samuel Lopez were replaced by Terry Diener of Goshen and Sonya Miller of Sarasota, Fla., by a unanimous vote.
Troyer said Evana was implementing a fund for its congregations to borrow from in order to use the services of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), a child-abuse prevention and investigation organization focused on church settings. Evana also has an account with the financial stewardship agency Everence to provide grants to congregations working with GRACE.
Call to spiritual battle
Worship themes were healing from brokenness, overcoming past hurt and responding to the call to spiritual battle.
Keynote speaker Kim Meeder of Bend, Ore., gave three impassioned talks on how she clung to God as a child when her father murdered her mother and then killed himself. She found comfort working with horses and now operates Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, where traumatized children and youth work with injured horses to find healing.
Meeder described how, while praying on a walk in the wilderness, she found a pair of elk antlers. Right then, she felt a call from God to fight a battle.
“I could hear this thundering voice of God, just roaring, ‘I am so angry! The enemy has moved into my land, and he’s attacking my people, and he’s slaughtering my children, and I am done! I’m calling those who are mine to stand up and fight back!’ ”
As she looked up, she saw a mountain lion 10 feet away, staring straight at her, crouched and ready to pounce.
She said she heard God say, “Lift up the weapons of war that I have provided for you and fight back!”
Taking the elk antlers, she attacked the mountain lion, and it fled from her.
“The American church seems to have forgotten that we are in the war of a lifetime,” she said, speaking of the cosmic spiritual battle between Christ and Satan. “. . . Jesus is calling you to stand up and wage war against the enemy, and take back the land of your heart.”
Bishop L.W. Francisco of Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va., a Virginia Mennonite Conference congregation, encouraged listeners to trust in God’s plan for their lives, even through hardships.
“God assigned you to this particular time, and nobody can do like you what you do,” he said. “. . . You are called to be a curse-breaker and a legacy-maker.”
An unlikely journey
Joseph Jones, president of Fresno Pacific University, talked about the theme of God doing what seems to be impossible, tracing the story of his life growing up in government housing amid gang violence.
Speaking of himself and his wife, he said: “How in the world would these two people come to the place where we’re now president and first lady of a university? . . . The Word of God entered into us, and it opened up our hearts, and it opened up our minds to believe God and to trust God in ways that we had never imagined.”
Their life, he said, was a journey of trusting God.
“The more we trust him, the more he challenges us to move closer to him,” he said.
Troyer closed the worship talks with an admonition to hold onto Jesus’ teaching on loving enemies and not retaliating.
“Jesus came as a warrior to teach us a different way to fight,” he said, outlining the armor of God for spiritual battle described in Ephesians 6.
“Jesus was so clear in the Word where he said, ‘Follow me, even if you lose your life,’ ” Troyer said.
He expressed caution about patriotic church services around July 4.
“There are so many stories of churches that say, ‘We’re committed to [the peace position], and then they begin to compromise,” he said. “. . . When we take the bread and cup, we are invited into [Jesus’] death.”