AKRON, Pa. — Twelve people gathered closely in a circle as Yvonne Garber uttered a Swahili phrase: Mungu Anajua. Garber then shared the translation — “God knows” — as she and her husband, Joe, elaborated about how they discerned a call to serve the Tanzania Mennonite Church.
More than 30 years after their first interaction with the church in Tanzania, the Garbers are preparing to enter into a new relationship with the people there. The Swahili response — “God knows” — still seems fitting, as they venture into an uncharted ministry context.
The Garbers are two of the eight new international partner delegates serving LMC — A Fellowship of Anabaptist Churches.
On Feb. 15-16, the delegates gathered with LMC and Eastern Mennonite Missions staff at Mennonite Central Committee’s Welcoming Place in Akron for an orientation.
Tom Eshleman, pastor of Groffdale Mennonite Church, who also serves as LMC’s global delegate, oversees the new international partner delegate system.
“We are seeking to be more intentional and focused on nurturing these international church relationships where we experience so much mutual blessing,” he said. “We need and desire to be influenced by our brothers and sisters around the world.”
This approach responds to a call for direct involvement by more leaders along with a more defined framework to facilitate these connections.
A more globalized world requires stronger relationships among the global church.
LMC has set a goal to assign a person or couple to each of the areas where LMC has global relationships.
“In consultation with the national church leadership and with EMM personnel, we are identifying and appointing people who already have established relationships and calling them to represent LMC in a fraternal church-to-church relationship,” Eshleman said.
Currently, four partners have had delegates assigned:
— Conference of Mennonite Churches in Hong Kong: Glenn and June Kauffman;
— Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Belice: Bill and Judy Houser;
— Iglesia Evangélica Menonita del Perú: Steve and Beth Gibbs;
— Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania: Joe and Yvonne Garber.
LMC identifies 23 countries where partners are located. Many have a connection with LMC through mission work led by EMM. Historically, LMC fraternal bishops would provide a connection to these partners.
In 2018, Mennonite World Conference accepted LMC as a full member. Even with the importance of joining MWC, LMC still sees a need to focus on specific relationships with its international partners.
The diminishing presence of EMM workers among many of these partners, less connection with fraternal bishops and fewer administrative visits from EMM’s central office create a need for new ways to strengthen relationships. LMC’s delegates will begin relating to the partner churches that are autonomous.
EMM President Gerry Keener says this model increases the opportunity for EMM to maintain its historic focus “on engaging new locations and people groups where the gospel has not yet taken strong root.”
“EMM will help make the connections and introductions, provide missiological perspective, cross-cultural orientation, and contexts . . . to help establish the relationships,” Keener said.
The delegate role involves maintaining communication with the partner, working with EMM staff for joint trips, attending significant events of the partner, engaging with a new generation of church leaders and coordinating visits to LMC regions from partners.