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Assembly Gathered: Random reflections


September 8, 2003
-Janet Plenert

Food for 6,000 plus conference goers was prepared in a huge outdoor kitchen. Dozens of pots like these, over open fires, were used to cook. – photo by Elsie Rempel

While in Africa, Plenert visited an orphanage near the home of Witness workers Lynell Bergen and Brian Dyck in Umtata, South Africa. It is estimated that in South Africa alone, 70,000 children per year are born with AIDS. –Janet Plenert file photo

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe— What a global world we are privileged to serve.

During my days in Bulawayo I was invited to visit Afghanistan, welcomed back to Korea, reminded I owe the churches in northern Mexico a visit. I was invited by the only Chinese Christian representative to visit Sichuan, China and encouraged to go to Angola as a missionary. I had a meeting planned for France, asked when I was going to visit in Colombia and was assured by my Brazilian sisters and brothers that we are missed and need to visit. Yikes!

Food is perhaps the clearest tell tale sign of economic disparity in the world. Twice a day we stood with several hundred people per line up to wait for the same fare of sadza, meat pieces in sauce, greens and sometimes rice. To many from the North, it was monotonous, heavy, greasy food served on less than hygienic plastic plates. Many foreigners could be found with coke bottles in hand, in front of ice cream stands and restaurants in the city.

But to the many Zimbabweans, Congolese and many others who understand shortage and hunger, they received with gratefulness a full plate of food twice a day. When I tired of eating on plastic plates with just a spoon, I thought about the church women sitting chopping enough greens to feed over 6,000 people, standing over tubs of cold water outside washing all those dishes – there was not a disposable dish seen on the campus. I wondered how long each day the women were preparing and cooking the food and washing the dishes.

While chatting with a colleague, a woman from Zimbabwe walked up and gently interrupted the conversation. She held out a newspaper wrapped package and said “This is a gift for you” I had never met her before. Together we unwrapped the package, revealing a lovely basket. Later that morning as 7000 people were crowding out of the meeting hall, a felt a tug at my arm. Looking around I couldn’t identify who touched me so I carried on. Again a tug. This time a young woman reached into her bag and said ‘this is for you’. She held out a package covered in wrapping paper. Again an undeserved, unexpected gift of complete generosity.

I attended a regional caucus for Europe, for North America and for Latin America. The first two had low attendance, were calm, organized, methodical. The business was attended to, the questions answered. The Latin American caucus was just plain fun to be a part of. Raised, excited voices, passionate commentaries, multiple persons talking at once, many hands raised when ‘order’ was being followed, multiple persons nominated for any given task. There was creative energy flowing, synergy happening, enthusiasm for mission, a new challenge of including the English speaking Caribbean representatives. Could it be, several were heard to joke, that MWC moved us Latinos to an upstairs room because we were too loud?

In the final session of the assembly I was overcome with emotion as we joined hands – 7000 black and white hands, Asian and European hands, Latin American and North American hands, and we sang “in Jesus we are brothers and sister. In Jesus we are brothers and sisters”

Janet Plenert is the executive director of International Ministries for Mennonite Church Canada.