Following an extensive review, Multiply — the global mission organization of the Canadian and U.S. Mennonite Brethren Churches — has decided to release its president, Randy Friesen.
Friesen, who has served in that capacity for 17 years, will be replaced by a new general director, the new title for the position in the organization.
The decision was approved at a Dec. 1 special meeting of the Multiply board and released Dec. 14.
Along with replacing Friesen, the board has decided to appoint national directors for the U.S. and Canada, in recognition of the unique cultural contexts of both nations.
Friesen will remain in his current role until the new general director is appointed.
Replacing Friesen was one of 18 recommendations made by the Multiply Review Task Force, which was created in the wake of a severe financial shortfall of $1.2 million U.S.
The shortfall arose after the 2018 merger of the former MB Missions and C2C, the church-planting arm of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren conference. In June 2019 the organization de-merged, releasing C2C to become an independent organization.
Other recommendations from the task force include ensuring future board chairs are qualified to lead a complex organization; that new board members “understand their governance responsibilities and have both the capacity and experience to exercise them”; and that accountability measures to the two supporting Mennonite Brethren conferences in Canada and the U.S. be strengthened.
The task force recommended Multiply have “balanced, honest disclosure” in its communications; do “regular cost and risk analysis around decisions”; and create a culture where staff feel free to “challenge and critique” decisions instead of one that sought to “intimidate into compliance.”
According to Elton DaSilva, national director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, problems soon arose due to differences in style between C2C and MB Missions.
“The two different cultures did not mesh well,” he said, noting MB Missions only went ahead with international projects if they were assured 75% of the funding had already been raised.
C2C, which did Canadian church planting, operated the other way around; it started projects and then “moved by faith, believing God would provide,” he said.
Sometimes, he added, “it worked, but not always. In this case it didn’t. The money didn’t come in, with the result there was a huge deficit.”
Don Morris, national director for the U.S. Mennonite Brethren conference, agreed.
“There was a major deficit in spending mainly due to the C2C side of the merger,” he said, adding before the merger MB Missions “was on good financial standing and in fact held a significant surplus.”
The C2C side, he said, “was simply not generating the income needed to run that portion of the merged entity.”
Some staff and board members tried to raise the alarm about spending, but because of the intimidating culture “they went unheard,” Morris said.
Added DaSilva: “They were silenced by some who used spiritualized language. They would be asked if they didn’t trust God, or it would be suggested they didn’t have enough faith the money would come in. This had the effect of shutting down conversations about important issues.”
What didn’t help was how Multiply failed to share enough about the financial problems.
The result, said DaSilva, “was a loss of trust for many people. There were lots of positive stories about impact being shared, but there wasn’t enough information about the challenges Multiply was facing with its finances.”
Now, Multiply is expected to share “openly and honestly not just about its successes but also where it is experiencing challenges,” DaSilva said.
As for the deficit, the loss was covered through Multiply’s reserves.
“There is still a good amount of reserves remaining after the de-merger and subsequent problems, and the financial situation for Multiply has now stabilized,” Morris said
The two national leaders commended Friesen for his work. But, said DaSilva, the loss of funds and trust required a change in leadership.
One of the task force’s recommendations is to officially include a representative from the International Community of Mennonite Brethren on the board. This will provide more connecting points with the 22 national MB conferences around the world.
Ed Boschman, head coach for the USMB LEAD Coaching initiative, has been asked to fill that role on behalf of Rudi Plett, ICOMB executive director, who lives in Paraguay, and executive chair Emerson Cardoso of Brazil, while the changes at Multiply are being made.