KISUMU, Kenya — Seeking renewal, Mennonite World Conference representatives found it in Kenya, a nation whose Anabaptist history is defined by the Holy Spirit’s presence.
As a band played “You are the most high God,” international guests from the global Anabaptist family swayed and sang.
The occasion was MWC’s Renewal 2027 — with the theme, “The Holy Spirit Transforming Us” — April 21 at Nyamasaria Primary School in Kisumu, which is also Kenya Mennonite Church’s headquarters.
It was the second in a 10-year series of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Radical Reformation. The 2018 edition of Renewal 2027 took place in conjunction with meetings of the MWC Executive Committee, its commissions and networks, and the triennial General Council.
“The global Mennonite church is connected as the true vine to Jesus Christ and dependent on God the gardener,” said Gordon Obado, one of the event’s masters of ceremonies, welcoming international guests to Kenya.
Strengthened by the East Africa revival, Kenya Mennonite Church exemplifies the theme of being transformed by the Spirit.
In the 1930s, two 12-year-olds from the Mennonite church in Shirati, Tanzania, and Rebeka “Speedy” Kizinza — a person of peace whose urgency to share the good news motivated her hospitality and fast walking — carried the gospel into regions where it was not known and inspired others to do the same.
“Across Kenya, at cooking fires, people gathered around the Word of God and repented of their sins,” said Tanzanian-born, retired Eastern Mennonite Missions worker David W. Shenk.
Shenk distilled four revival principles: focus on Jesus while meeting regularly with other Christians, confess sins, be dependent on Jesus and be joyful.
The revival continues.
“As the Spirit of the Lord works in the church, we become more and more like Jesus,” said Francis Ojwang’, one of the masters of ceremonies.
“God is calling people from the Global South to bear witness to the gospel,” said Nelson Okanya, a native of Kenya, now president of Eastern Mennonite Missions.
Renewal 2027 is calling Anabaptists to “a spirit of repentance and renewal and a commitment to remembrance of the past to renew our relationship here and now,” said MWC general secretary César García.
Not weak, but powerful
“Why does it matter to us that the first Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit?” asked plenary speaker Elisabeth Kunjam of India, who is a member of MWC’s Deacons Commission.
Reflecting on Acts 2, she observed three reasons the 2,000-year-old event is significant today: the Holy Spirit continues to empower the church; the church is diverse and inclusive; the church displays a foretaste of the kingdom of God.
Contemporary problems call for the church’s intervention.
“The Holy Spirit’s empowerment . . . within the global Anabaptist family is needed for the church to raise up a standard that bears a witness to the world,” she said.
Alfred Neufeld of Paraguay, part of the Faith and Life Commission, said the Holy Spirit goes where people are waiting. He presented an overview of understandings of the Spirit in the early church, among the first Anabaptists and today.
“God has not given us a spirit of weakness, but dunamis, a powerful spirit,” he said, calling on listeners to show costly love, even of enemies.
“In the Book of Revelation, testimonies defeat the enemies,” said Barbara Nkala, an MWC regional representative from Zimbabwe.
She and others shared testimonies of the Holy Spirit at work: bringing unity despite diverse opinions in Switzerland; reuniting a broken family and supporting conscientious objection in Colombia; bringing physical healing and mission inspiration to women in Zimbabwe.
In global solidarity
Philip Okeyo, Kenya Mennonite Church moderator and bishop, led a ceremony to honor retired Kenyan leaders, whose bodies may be weak but whose spirits are strong.
Echoing the words of the other retired bishops, Musa Adongo thanked God for the blessings received. Joshua Okello encouraged the church to carry on the work of sharing the gospel.
Reflecting at the later General Council meetings, MWC vice president and ordained Kenyan pastor Rebecca Osiro said the Kenyan church had challenges in finding the capacity to host the international event but considered it an honor to be in solidarity with the global church.
“We feel encouraged and strengthened that we come to this reality today,” she said.
Local choirs interspersed the presentations with songs and dance. Sunday school children presented songs, dance and a poem composed for the event.
“We are no longer Greek nor Jew, Kenyan nor American, we truly are one in Christ,” said MWC President J. Nelson Kraybill in closing.