This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Mennonite Brethren affirm international community, mission

The global center of Christianity is trending southeast. For Mennonite Brethren, the hub is somewhere between Congo and India, where the two largest MB conferences are located.

Thailand may not be the geographical center, but it was the focal point of the MB world March 7-12 when 240 delegates from 36 countries gathered in Chon Buri for a global consultation on mission and prayer.

The ICOMB gathering week ended with an outdoor worship service at a nearby beach. The service included testimonies from 15 baptism candidates from four churches, three Thai and one Burmese. — John Ervin/ICOMB
The ICOMB gathering week ended with an outdoor worship service at a nearby beach. The service included testimonies from 15 baptism candidates from four churches, three Thai and one Burmese. — John Ervin/ICOMB

The International Community of Mennonite Brethren, in partnership with the North American agency MB Mission, called the meeting.

Twenty-one well-established MB conferences and 17 new associations under MB Mission were represented. Most sent their principal leader plus a mission or church-planting coordinator. Some, like the Spanish conference of Paraguay, sent many more as a boost to their mission vision.

Plenary speaker Johann Matthies of Germany described a world on the move: 244 million people are migrants, refugees and stateless. Top hosting countries are Jordan, Ethiopia, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. North America manages nowhere near the numbers these countries deal with. Despite fearmongering by some in the government and media, Christians are caring for refugees, drawing them to Christ.

“We live in times of unprecedented opportunity to share the gospel in holistic ways to the waves of people coming to our doorsteps,” Matthies said.

‘Don’t be afraid’

Among the Bible study presenters on the Book of Ephesians was Nahtanong Silachotboriboon, a Thai pastor. Once a housekeeper for missionaries, she heard God’s call to ministry and has planted four churches.

“Recognize the call of God on your life. Keep the vision and move forward no matter what,” she instructed. “Take time to repent before God daily. . . .

“Don’t be afraid. As you go forward with passion, God will add to your faith, knowledge [and] fruitfulness.”

Preaching in the powerful style of Mennonite Breth­ren from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mvwala Katshinga proclaimed a call to women for mission.

“Is there one Holy Spirit for men and another Holy Spirit for women?” he asked. “No! And the Spirit calls us together on mission. . . . It’s God who gives the gifts. A church on mission breaks the walls of separation. . . . We are all one in service.”

Pastor Ada De Mencia of Paraguay called the assembly to be open to the Holy Spirit and to confess that we haven’t allowed him to fill and use us as he wants.

An evangelist from Turkey called MBs to arm themselves for spiritual warfare.

Power of prayer

The theme of prayer permeated the conference. Paul Duck and Reginaldo Valim of Brazil shared how the Holy Spirit revolutionized Valim’s life and ministry, resulting in his ministry of intercession. A call of response had everyone on their knees, opening their hearts to God.

At Abundant Life Home Orphanage — a program for children affected by HIV/AIDS founded and directed by MB Mission worker Karen Sanchez — consultation participants provided a “fire tunnel” for all orphans to run through. The delegates paired up, holding hands high in a line of 120 pairs. While the children ran underneath, all prayed out loud at once for God to bless them.

“For many participants, the activities coming from all corners of the globe were new practices,” said David Wiebe, ICOMB executive director. Some Latin Americans raised concerns about apostolic expressions based on the troubled charismatic practices they see at home. “Discomfort is part of an international gathering,” Wiebe said.

Despite the inevitable misunderstandings of a cross-cultural meeting, an atmosphere of love and unity prevailed. Most of the emerging network leaders had never met such a large body of the MB family. ICOMB received at least half a dozen requests from associations to join as full members.

“It was a spiritual highlight because we are under pressure in our country,” said Roman Rakhuba of the Association of MB Churches of Ukraine. “We felt relaxed here. Thank you for remembering Ukraine. We do really feel part of the family.”

Young but strong

At the ICOMB summit that followed the mission and prayer consultation, participants asked Wiebe to revise the ICOMB membership pathway to signal belonging while a group is still fledgling in size and structure but strong in spiritual life and witness.

“The impact from these emerging groups in faith, hope and love is much needed among the established MB conferences, while the older groups can mentor and provide sustaining body life,” Wiebe said.

Education to sustain discipleship and build theological strength alongside spiritual renewal is an ongoing need. For the 2018 summit, ICOMB will develop a system to map opportunities for pastoral and leadership development in each continent.

The 2018 ICOMB summit in Vienna, Austria, will further develop these pathways.

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