“Walking with God…” Mennonite World Conference, July 21 to 26, 2015
Report to Evergreen Mennonite Church from Pastor Meg Lumsdaine
When we arrived at the Farm Show Complex on July 20 to begin setting up our EMC display for the Global Church Village at MWC, I understood that the setting for the Assembly would be different from that of the national Mennonite Church Convention. I knew that inviting approximately 7000 Anabaptists from around the world to one location would entail securing a massive venue, but it was not until entering the towering warehouse-like complex with its concrete walls, wide and open hallways and vast auditorium that it dawned on me that “we were not in Kansas City anymore”.
Volunteers on beautifully functional Amish scooter-bikes whizzed by Peter, Sophia, Brendan and I as we made our way to the equestrian arena where the Global Church Village displays were to be set up. There, we were given an enthusiastically warm greeting by Kate Kooker, the Display Coordinator. Shortly afterward, we were given another kind welcome by a woman named Becky who was the Supervisor for the children’s programs. These greetings, coupled with the friendly ambiance created by the volunteers in the huge room, mitigated any feelings one might have of being overwhelmed by the vastness of the venue and it seemed very appropriate that this large and plain space should serve as our to gather as a global Mennonite community.
On the first evening of the MWC Assembly, we joined Andrew and Karina and Addie Derksen-Schrock at dinner. I learned that Andrew would be volunteering as part of the medical team at the Assembly. I was aware that Karina had already been hard at work performing multiple tasks as a key leader of the language translation team. Karina’s dedicated and skillful work coordinating translation was highly valued by all. Later in the week, there would be more reunions with people from EMC. I felt endeared to Julianne Stutzman Mai’s mother as she explained about how difficult it was for her to take time away from the farm to be at MWC, and yet, she wanted to experience the Assembly with her daughter, at least for a day. We joined Linda and Darryll Graber and their friend, Harold – a charming and enthusiastic worker and supporter of MDS – for dinner later in the week. Peter and I were delighted to share a meal and conversation with Rebekah Maldonado-Nofzier twice during the convention. It was clear that Rebekah had embraced the global Assembly for everything it offered – reuniting with people from Bolivia and making new friends from around the globe.
Peter and I facilitated two successful workshops during the Assembly. The first, concerning robotic warfare and related matters, was attended by over ninety people and we received a lot of positive feedback on the information we presented. Our second workshop was a round-table discussion on Mining Justice. I spoke specifically about our EMC-sponsored journey to Colima Mexico, and Peter offered insights into the larger scope of mining’s ecological, societal, and military connections. We were grateful for the depth of knowledge and experience brought to the conversation by many people who attended this workshop. Among them were people with extensive experience from the Philippines, Haiti, Central America and central Africa. We appreciated Rick Derksen’s participation and valuable insights on the impacts of mineral extraction, based on his many years of experience living in Congo. Though the somber nature of this topic was palpable, many of us left with a feeling of inspiration, knowing that there are many around the globe actively engaged in the struggle to protect their communities, along with the local and global fabric of God’s natural Creation, from the dangers of extractive industries.
Each day of the Assembly took on individual sub-themes under the arc of the overall theme for the week: “Walking with God”. The daily worship themes – Walking with God; Walking in Doubt and Confusion; Walking in Conflict and Reconciliation; Walking in Autonomy and Community; Walking in Receiving and Giving; and Stepping Forward – served as the focus for plenary speakers. These themes will serve as the basis of a six-week sermon series that I will be presenting beginning August 16.
The opening worship began with a prayer from local Native American elders and a Banner Procession representing the different nations with Mennonite participants in attendance . Emphasis on a particular continent of the world offered daily thematic context to our music. We rose to our feet singing hymns from Latin America, and concluded our musical tributes with four-part harmony and North American bluegrass. Organizers of the Assembly thoughtfully presented participants with a spiral-bound collection of most of the hymns used. I recorded the numbers of many of these hymns and am thankful that some of these are included in our Mennonite hymnals. I plan to investigate whether additional copies of the MWC hymn books might be available with the hope that some of the musical selections heard at MWC might be sung during our EMC worship.
I appreciated the inspiring workshops I was able to learn from, and the information gathered there that I hope to integrate into my ministry at EMC. Likewise, I am grateful for the substantive conversation I had with Daryl Byler, Executive Director for the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU, on the subjects of peacemaking and nonviolence – particularly in the region of the Middle East; and reconciliation within the national and global church. Daryl also expressed interest in coming to EMC to speak. Sunoko Lin, who serves on the boards of binational MCC and West Coast MCC, as well as on the board of MMN, also expressed interest, during a cordial conversation I had with him, in speaking at EMC in the future.
By the end of the week, my heart was stirring with inspiration and gratitude for the work of the Holy Spirit in the Mennonite church. It is truly amazing what the organizers of this Global Assembly were able to accomplish. The week ran incredibly well, which created the context for the Holy Spirit to do its work. There were many moments when I found myself on the edge of tears as the enormity of gratitude in my heart came to the surface. Sometimes this would come in my interactions with people from such places as Switzerland, Uganda, Nepal, or India. Sometimes it occurred when hearing inspiring words from such people as Cesar Garcia, General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference, or at workshops in which people from across the globe spoke about the struggles, joy, and solidarity they felt within their Anabaptist community. Though it is true that the church as we experience it today has many challenges to overcome and conflicts to navigate with strength and grace, I come away from this experience as one who sees God at work in marvelous life-giving ways to bring His people a future filled with challenge, opportunity, and promise.