On opening night of MennoCon23, the national convention of Mennonite Church USA, a crowd of about 1,300 heard a call to turn away from the world’s habit-forming practices and be transformed by Jesus Christ.
The biennial event, with the theme “Be Transformed,” opened July 3 in the Kansas City Convention Center.
Nelson Okanya, global missions president for the Center for Serving Leadership in Pittsburgh, spoke on Romans 12:1-2, which says believers should present themselves to God as “living sacrifices” who are “transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
Originally from Kenya, Okanya chairs the Global Mission Fellowship, a support network for Anabaptist-related churches and mission groups. He is a former president of Eastern Mennonite Missions.
“I am the product of Mennonite mission,” Okanya said. “I am here because Mennonites went to East Africa in obedience to God. . . . A number are buried there. They gave it their all.”
He believes the church is able to shape God’s people for sacrificial obedience if we set aside earthly loyalties.
“I’ve lived in America longer than in Kenya,” he said, and in each nation he asks himself, “who are my people? That identity-seeking place is where the church ought to be so that we can become one body, with no time for ethnic groups, no time for nationalities.
“We can say these are my people because Jesus has made our lives new.”
Okanya urged the audience to consider what is shaping their love, because “we are lovers more than thinkers.”
“What is forming and shaping your love?” he asked. “What are your rituals and practices? TikTok? Twitter? Facebook?”
He suggested doing an audit of habiting-forming practices that might shape our desires and our love. We should ask ourselves how these practices conform us to the world and how we ought to be transformed by Jesus Christ.
Transformation is not just for individuals but for the body of Christ as a whole, Okanya said. God transforms and saves a people, not “atomized individuals.”
“We ought to be a community that is capable of not only telling but embodying the good news of Jesus,” he said.
“We are supposed to be a body, [but] we have so much division in the church, because we have not disciplined ourselves to figure out how we will live together. . . . How do we work at offering ourselves as living sacrifices?”
The answer, he said, is not to be found in our own striving but in response to the work of salvation that God has done through Jesus Christ.
“He calls us to be agents of that salvation,” Okanya said. “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. How are we doing at that, friends?”
The service, which featured many contemporary songs and a few traditional hymns, included a skit portraying a mother and child — played by Talashia Keim Yoder and son Zeph — talking about how to read the Bible as “not just a story but our story,” one that forms and transforms us in the image of God.
The convention continues through July 6, followed by the Delegate Assembly on July 7-8 and a Climate Summit for youth and young adults on July 7.