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Where to from here? A personal Lenten reflection.
January 27, 2003
Winnipeg, Man.—It is inspiring to be closely involved in God’s work through MC Canada.
It is especially challenging when one feels compelled to offer a personal reflection on an institutional issues. Readers will be sure to ask (and rightly so): As a staff member, how can I offer personal thoughts and still be objective?
Working for the church continually blurs the lines; my passion for peace and justice and healing and hope for all God’s people should not be coloured with perceptions of self preservation. So I struggle with the risks of writing this. In the end, I decide that the speaking out is worth the risk and will accept whatever criticism comes my way.
Many of my co-workers have said in recent weeks: The budget challenge is not about staff. It is about ministry. And it is the stories I hear regularly about God’s visionary people doing visionary ministry that inspire the most.
There is the 5&2 Anabaptist ministry in Chile that provides a 16 bed shelter for abused women and children, a café, which is also a place to work and learn, and a violence prevention program. There is an active Colombian Mennonite Church that so desperately works for peace in a decades-old civil war. Workers in Africa that offer a Mennonite perspective and a rare combination of compassion and education to the many afflicted with AIDS. Anabaptist bridge builders in the perpetually conflicted Middle East bring our unique interpretation of peace. There are deeply spiritual brothers and sisters in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Korea who are discovering with joy the Anabaptist alternative to mainstream religions in those places. And there is a deeply desired ministry of Mennonite renewal with our spiritual cousins in Eastern Europe.
Closer to home there are native ministry programs that seek to end the cycle of substance abuse and suicide that touches the lives of many of our aboriginal brothers and sisters. There are the many valuable faith formation and service initiatives that we now take ownership of as a national church: Mennonite Voluntary Service, Christian Education and Nurture and Youth Ministry, to name a few.
These are the ministries – ministries provided by people who themselves have made sacrifices– that change lives in profound and wondrous ways. And as we approach the time of lent, I wonder what symbolic sacrifice I can make, that will make a difference in some else’s life.
There are numerous inspiring scripture passages on the theme of sacrifice (1Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15; Philippians 4:18; Romans 12:1, Psalm 50:14; 54:6; 116:17; 141:2). But one that struck me in particular was Ephesians 5:2: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
As I reflected on this passage, I recalled some counsel from a member in Saskatchewan, lamenting the effect of the reductions in ministry:
“There is a simple answer to this problem. Divide the… error by the number of members and put the case clearly before each congregation. Ask them to make a contribution to blow the error from our minds and books and proceed…No one in a curling club, golf club, or union would hesitate to lay out 25 or 30 dollars if the club were in a desperate state.”
The mathematics of this advice is accurate; if each of our 37,000 MC Canada members gave $25 above normal giving next year, we could maintain our ministries in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Canada, and continue the provision of faith formation resources to our congregations here at home.
And so I began to ponder what a $25 sacrifice this Lenten season would mean for my frugal family. Here’s a short list:
The experts tell me it’s never popular to raise money for the purposes of financial recovery, and I can understand that. Still, a respondent from Ontario offered this reflection:
“Last night at our meeting we discussed (our) possible role with the recent financial struggles of MC Canada. I wondered: "What is (our) responsibility?" and suggested that the debt is ours, MC Canada is us, and we need to take some responsibility for what has unfortunately occurred. We recommended (to our) budget the (amount) asked for… I don't know what that means in terms of dollars and cents, but my feeling is that if we do our part, and if others do their part, MC Canada may find it easier to move along. I am hoping that (we) will be able to help out in some significant ways. Maybe MC Canada should calculate what share of the debt is ours? Maybe we could then respond in an even more significant way? How can we help?”
Such invitational counsel is inspiring indeed and reminds me that big gifts can still come in small packages.