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Canadian, U.S. mission leaders hear common message, challenges


Nov 4, 2003
-Tom Price

Denver, Col.— Nearly three years into a partnership between Mennonite Church denominational mission structures in Canada and the United States, those charged with oversight continue to find unity in purpose and ministry.

The Christian Witness Council, which oversees Mennonite Church Canada Witness, and the Mennonite Mission Network board of directors conducted concurrent meetings here Oct. 23-25. In their times together, they reviewed their partnership, the ministries they share and the challenges facing one another.

Leadership of the mission organizations is finding a strong sense of unity in their shared past as well as in their common future. (Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network succeeded the General Conference Mennonite Church’s Commission on Home Ministries and Commission on Overseas Mission and the former Mennonite Church’s Mennonite Board of Missions.)

“I’m so happy for the strength and vision I see here,” said Christian Witness Council member Ernest Epp, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, noting in particular his admiration for the way U.S. Mennonites have spoken clearly against the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.

“I was very pleased and thankful to be part of this meeting and to see how, in a very quiet way, both groups are working together,” said Bill Hochstetler, of Iowa City, Iowa, attending his first official Mission Network board meeting.

In the third in an annual series of meetings alternating between each country, leaders reviewed a common covenant and operating agreement between the two organizations. They heard reports on international ministries, many of which are shared between Witness and the Mission Network.

The mission leaders also exchanged counsel on the changing shape of Mennonite mission internationally in the wake of the formation of a Global Mission Fellowship in August at Mennonite World Conference.

“If we take this seriously, it can have a very significant impact in how we envision doing things,” said Janet Plenert, Witness’ director for international ministries, who was elected as the North American representative to a five-member committee overseeing planning for the Global Mission Fellowship. “It may mean that we need to cut some strings attached to the work we’re doing. … It means we won’t have the opportunity to lay down all the rules as we often have done. It will shape our understanding of accountability and expectations for accountability.”

Added Stanley Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, “for the first time in the history of mission, we will have true partners with the ability to contribute” from every continent. “Our congregations will increasingly be called on to bring resources – whether people resources or financial resources – that will be partnered with resources in the South. This will mean we will have multicultural mission teams that come from the global South and North America,” he said. “Ultimately, together, we will all be enriched by this engagement.”

The Mission Network board and the Christian Witness Council also were enriched by a presentation of the history of the missional-church movement by agency leaders Green and Jack Suderman of Mennonite Church Canada Witness.

Being missional, Green said, “is not about who the church sends out, but the church itself as a sent people. It’s not about mission activities, but mission as the central activity of the church.”

Suderman noted the missional-church framework being at the heart of Mennonite Church Canada since its 2001 assembly in Abbotsford, British Columbia. “Many voices have suggested that it would have been more difficult to achieve the organizational changes of the last 10 years had it not been that the proposed structural changes were closely linked to a sense of renewed vision for the church,” he said. “We have heard much about the important role that the missional vision has played in generating both anticipation and patience.”

In their presentations, Suderman and Green emphasized that the missional journey did not mean that congregations and area conferences did more activities, but that they instead experienced a more profound shift in the way they view the world through the lens of God’s purpose in the world. The era of Christendom, which gave the church a position of privilege in public discourse, is over.

“Either our church will embrace its missional role in this non-Christendom context with renewed identity, energy and purpose, or it will become increasingly irrelevant in the life of our people and society,” Suderman said.

“I think we have felt that our relationship continues to be enriched as we have got to know each other better and better,” Metzger said.