LIMURU, Kenya — From Portuguese-speaking countries on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, a Brazilian pastor embraced an Angolan pastor.
They had just heard a call from the Mennonite World Conference Deacons Commission to “stand up if you are weary, worn down by the cares of ministry.”
Throughout the room, huddles of MWC General Council delegates surrounded leaders, easing burdens with prayers of encouragement.
Representatives from up to 107 national churches from 58 countries gathered April 23-26 for the triennial meetings of the General Council, commissions and networks (Global Mission Fellowship and Global Anabaptist Service Network).
Delegates ratified two new national church members: Lancaster Mennonite Conference, a full member; and Iglesia Misionera Anabautista of Bolivia, an associate member.
Delegates did not reach consensus on a document that would have ended a policy prohibiting discussion of controversial issues at MWC events.
Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands was elected president-elect, to assume the presidency at the next MWC assembly on July 6-11, 2021, in Indonesia.
Currently serving vice president Rebecca Osiro of Kenya was affirmed to serve a six-year term.
A space to pray
Juan C. Colón of Puerto Rico said General Council meetings are about making connections with brothers and sisters from all over the world — “learning from them, seeing how they pray, learning from the humility that they show.”
Alphonse Komuesa of the Democratic Republic of Congo said: “We learn it’s not only in Congo we have problems that affect the life of the church. Problems are everywhere, but each corner has its own. I was moved by the hardships of the church in Panama who have been displaced from their own land. The fact that we have shared these experiences together gives us an opportunity to comfort each other.”
During a prayer time, Komuesa shared about the difficulties in Congo, where a violent military group has displaced many of the Mennonite church’s members, resulting in deaths, separated families and poverty.
Alexander Neufeld of Germany said the many Middle Eastern refugees making a new home in his country challenge the church to learn and grow.
Delegates from Nicaragua shared their concern about government suppression of student-led protests happening during the meetings.
The Anabaptist church of 1,000 members in Nepal — affected by flooding and an earthquake in the past few years and restricted by anti-conversion laws — continues to grow, said Hanna Soren of the Nepal BIC Church/Brethren in Community Welfare Society.
A space to learn
Gathered in a rainbow-striped tent that was both a metaphor for the diversity of the gathering and a tabernacle for God’s people, delegates approved a program plan and financial projections for 2018-2021 and discussed commissions’ proposals. Strategic goals for the triennial are to live out Anabaptist identity, interdependent relationships, reconciliation and hope.
“The unity of the Spirit is the reason we walk together, not the result of walking well together,” said Thomas Yoder Neufeld of Canada, new chair of the Faith and Life Commission and speaker at three teaching sessions.
“God is to blame for the diversity in our unity. This is a permanent problem we do not want God to solve for us.”
The imagery of breaking down boundaries shows how costly peace is, he said.
A space to discern
Yoder Neufeld’s teaching — patience, suffering, forgiveness, seeing in each other the face of God are the ways to walk in unity — were put to test. The General Council did not reach consensus on accepting the document, which means that MWC continues without a clear process on how to discuss controversial issues.
Two other commission documents received delegate approval: a statement of solidarity with indigenous peoples and a teaching resource, “Identity and Ecumenicity: A Theology of Interchurch Hospitality and Denominational Identity.”
Prior to the General Council, delegates and representatives of Anabaptist service and mission agencies traveled to western Kenya to participate in Renewal 2027, a daylong celebration of the Holy Spirit in the history and life of the nearly 500-year-old Anabaptist church. The next day, they worshiped in churches in the Kisumu area.
Osiro described it as an honor for Kenya Mennonite Church to host the gathering of Anabaptist leaders worldwide.
“We feel encouraged and strengthened that we come to this reality,” she said. “. . . How nice, how pleasant and good, that we stay together in unity.”