In a regional office of the Meserete Kristos Church in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, the MKC’s former president, Tewodros Beyene, introduced LMC leaders to the administrative staff. He said the delegation had come to listen.
Turning to the LMC leaders, tears began to well in Tewodros’ eyes. He said that usually when Europeans and North Americans come to Ethiopia, they come to tell them how to do something. He expressed how much it meant to him that they came to listen and to learn.
“It felt like such a holy moment,” LMC Bishop Rodney Martin said.
Formerly known as Lancaster Mennonite Conference, LMC — a fellowship of Anabaptist churches — embarked on a learning tour that included several of its leaders: Martin, global delegate Tom Eshleman, Bishop Glenn Kauffman, Bishop Alvin Motley, Bishop James Sutton and moderator Keith Weaver.
Eshleman said the purpose of the Aug. 27-Sept. 6 trip was to represent LMC — the sending church that the Holy Spirit used to birth MKC — and establish a relationship that honors this legacy while learning from MKC leaders what God would tell the delegation to carry home and share with LMC.
A forgotten child?
During a 2018 visit to the United States, MKC Vice President Kelbessa Muleta connected with LMC leaders. He said LMC was like a parent to them and asked why it had forgotten about its child. This humbling reflection initiated the planning of a delegation to travel to Ethiopia.
It became apparent that not only would the meeting have historic significance, it would impact LMC’s future.
LMC wanted to learn how MKC cultivates “such a deep commitment to multiplication across their system,” Weaver said.
Motley celebrated the unity exemplified in MKC.
“I saw the solidarity, the value of operating as one,” he said.
MKC has an administrative structure that spans regions and language groups.
They pray more
LMC leaders asked about the structure of MKC. Tewodros explained that it isn’t about the structure. The structure keeps changing to catch up with the growth they’re experiencing. He said it’s really about the prayer that’s invested.
“That doesn’t mean that they don’t organize,” Kauffman said. “They have more specific structures and goals and counting of results . . . than we do, [but] they also have a lot more prayer than we do.”
Sutton was particularly inspired by MKC’s commitment to making disciples of Jesus: “MKC has a passion for Christ and . . . for seeking and saving the lost.”
“They were showing us what it means to be Anabaptist,” Eshleman said. “They hold together some things that in the West we tend to separate, like evangelism and peace and justice. . . . Or even bringing together a priority for organization and procedure with a freedom of the Spirit.”
Weaver believes LMC is ready to look at its governing structure and ask what needs to be changed. The Conference Executive Council has asked a task force to look at LMC’s structure. Weaver believes insights from the Ethiopia trip have influenced the conversation. The Oct. 25 Bishop Board meeting will provide an opportunity for conversation about LMC’s structure.
An astonishing act
LMC leaders were received as honorary delegates at the MKC General Assembly meeting. As the visiting delegation sat among the Ethiopian delegates, they were surprised to realize that a procedural vote had resulted in the end of Tewodros’ tenure as president.
Then the assembly witnessed an act of humility by Tewodros. To the astonishment of delegates, Tewodros had a basin and pitcher placed on the stage. He invited the incoming president, Desalegn Abede, to be seated as Tewodros knelt and washed the feet of his successor. LMC leaders were inspired by Tewodros’ servant spirit.
Tewodros explained his actions in an email to Weaver and other global Anabaptist leaders: “I believe, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the assembly has elected our brother Desalegn Abebe to serve the Lord as MKC president.”
Past, present passion
Kauffman visited a church in Adama, formerly known as Nazareth. On the way, his group drove past two sites where Eastern Mennonite Missions workers began important work: the place where Chester Wenger founded a school and where Rohrer Eshleman founded a hospital.
After the service they met an older man who was a key evangelist during the years when the Ethiopian church went underground due to persecution in the 1980s. Kauffman also was introduced to a group of young adults who do street evangelism.
By meeting these people, Kauffman experienced what he described as “continuity of this evangelistic role, empowerment and recognition of this deep, deep passion that remains there in the church.”
EMM’s work that led to the founding of MKC began in 1947. Today, MKC has grown to more than 600,000 worshipers, including 310,912 baptized members, according to Mennonite World Conference’s 2018 census.
A grant from First Mennonite Church of Berne, Ind., which joined LMC in 2016, helped make the LMC delegation’s visit possible.