This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Rare opportunity for transformative experience

Amid growing anticipation about the Mennonite World Conference assembly July 21-26 in Harrisburg, Pa., a number of questions keep surfacing within North American churches. MWC general secretary César García of Bogotá, Colombia, shares his thoughts and answers to questions being talked about in hallways and over dinner tables.

MWC general secretary César García prays at the opening of the assembly office in Akron, Pa. — Merle Good/MWC
MWC general secretary César García prays at the opening of the assembly office in Akron, Pa. — Merle Good/MWC

Should we really come to assembly? I hear they don’t want too many North Americans there. Will there be enough internationals for this to be a truly global event?

At MWC assemblies, the people of the hosting country always outnumber their guests. It was true in India in 1997, Zimbabwe in 2003 and Paraguay in 2009. Those who live in the host country know there’s a rich feast to experience, and they don’t want to miss it.

It’s also a chance for the various Anabaptist groups from within the hosting country to work and worship together. This will include not only the host churches — Mennonite Church USA, the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, Brethren in Christ, Conservative Mennonite Conference — but also newer immigrant churches, such as Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Korean congregations, which are firmly planted and growing in strength and numbers in the U.S. and Canada.

All of these North American MWC members will be at assembly, fully participating. You’ll have them as friends and resources long after your guests have gone home. Why not build your futures together? Please don’t hold back. You are all absolutely welcome. And, yes, there will be enough internationals for this to be a truly global event. Registration so far shows strong enthusiasm.

Why have the event in the U.S. with the visa issue? What is being done about ensuring that our sisters and brothers from the Global South can get visas?

We learned something from the Zimbabweans when they invited all of us to their country for the assembly in 2003. They had worrisome food and fuel shortages. Inflation was out of control. Daily life was a major struggle for many church members. But they wanted to share what they had — and they needed to experience the support of their sisters and brothers from around the world. So they stockpiled food and fuel for months before the assembly. They set up a prayer network throughout their country and prayed vigorously.

“We humbly acknowledge that we live in a deeply fearful society and that our government is preoccupied with security,” say Mennonites in the U.S. “But we need the presence of our faith family with us. We believe they can help us be more faithful if they spend a week in our country.

“We have established a Visa Task Force [] to work carefully with this issue. And we’ve called a prayer network into being so that together we can ask God for guidance, hope and strength as hosts of this global gathering.”

All countries have problems, but MWC goes where its people are, despite the difficulties. We all need the support of our faith family.

Why is the Mennonite Church USA convention being held in July, just a few weeks before the MWC assembly?

MWC is a global community. Each of its member churches has its own calendar of events. MWC hasn’t been able to find dates for its assemblies that don’t conflict with major events put on by its member churches somewhere in the world.

In fact, two of the inviting churches in the U.S. have their conventions close to the time of assembly. But when the MWC member churches invited MWC to bring its every-six-year assembly to its continent in July, MWC wanted to accept their invitation rather than impolitely question the wisdom of holding its event so close to MC USA’s convention June 30-July 5 and to Conservative Mennonite Conference’s annual meeting July 16-19.

Why is the registration cost so high?

“Global North pricing” and “Global South pricing” is the way MWC recognizes the economic differences in our global family. MWC uses the principle of each paying their “fair share” — based on their country of citizenship — when calculating how much people should pay to attend assembly.

It is not a perfect system. MWC’s goal is to distribute costs as evenly as possible around the world, so that it is not a heavier burden proportionately in one place than in another.

Why does the assembly include two “youth” events, and one of them is not even for youth? Why didn’t MWC change the name of the young adult event so it wouldn’t be so confusing?

North Americans are simply fitting into a tradition which made sense when it was begun by MWC and still makes sense in many places in the world.

The Global Youth Summit was created for people aged 18 to 30. It began in Zimbabwe in 2003 with more than 220 registrants and happened again in Paraguay in 2009 with more than 700. It is a movement that is growing. More than 1,000 registrants are expected to attend the Global Youth Summit.

At this year’s assembly, for the first time in MWC history there will be planned activities for children and high school young people. Children ages 4-11 will gather daily from 10:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There will be a program for youth ages 12-17 every day from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. In the afternoons youth will be able to choose from workshops focused on sports, games, tours, service opportunities and the Global Church Village and Stage.

Each day will start and end including everyone — in the morning with singing with an international choir, and in the evening with a worship service that will include participation from all continents.

Why should I take a week off and come to assembly?

We hope North Americans will feel called to join this global experience. Yes, it does involve committing time and money, but we believe this is a rare opportunity to become involved in a spiritual experience that will be truly transformative. Are North Americans really so busy that they can’t set aside five and a half days to worship and fellowship and share about their faith lives with sisters and brothers from many parts of the world? North Americans are being offered a chance to practice true hospitality. What’s more important than participating wholeheartedly and seeing what we can learn? Why not include children and young people so that they have an indelible experience of life in God’s rich community, which could shape their understanding of church for the rest of their lives?

What is MWC? If it is more than a once-every-six-years conference, why is it called a “conference”?

MWC began as a single meeting in 1925, when a small group of European and North American Mennonites planned a “conference” to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Anabaptism in Switzerland in 1525. The Mennonite world at that time was largely confined to Europe and North America.
Other Mennonite World Conferences followed, held about every five or six years, often to celebrate a historical occasion, and, over time, to consider themes of interest and concern to Mennonites as a whole. Fellowship and support for each other became more important.

The word “conference” accurately described the activities of these early get-togethers. The name has stuck, although there is periodic discussion about using the term “communion” instead of “conference.”

As fellowships began to form around the world, MWC began to recognize ways national churches could become resources to each other. MWC began to develop programs that are year-round and ongoing to bring the global family into greater relationship.

Today, in addition to its global assemblies, MWC sponsors World Fellowship Sunday, nurtures solidarity and networking among its member churches, publishes periodicals, encourages the publishing of the Global Anabaptist Shelf of Literature, includes commissions that support the faith life of MWC member churches and more. All of this contributes to our becoming a global communion.

As the founder of MWC said 90 years ago, “We are stronger when we are together.” In the midst of persecution and suffering, MWC brings hope to a world that needs to see that in Christ, it is possible to find an interdependent, multicultural community that loves and serves in the way of Jesus.

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