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God: Working in ways we cannot begin to imagine
January 12, 2004
Winnipeg,Man.- Former enemies worship together. Ash trays outside the front doors of a church offer respite for recovering addicts.
These and other stories of changed lives and changing congregations highlighted the final session of the one-year missional leadership study course sponsored by Mennonite Church Canada.
Pastor Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen told the powerful story of West Abbotsford, a congregation of older members that has opened its doors and arms to residents of two nearby addictions treatment centres. "It was a church that wasn't sure it really had a reason to exist anymore," she said of the congregation that now has "butt cans" outside its front doors allowing smokers to take a quick break. "God has given so much compassion, so much flexibility to the elderly people in our church. I just stand in awe," she adds, noting how they in turn have inspired her. Representatives of the congregation are now seeking to rezone a nearby property so they can open a transition house for recovering addicts.
Lay leaders, pastors, and others interested in learning about leadership in the missional church have been studying, discussing, and inspiring each other through four three-day sessions throughout 2003.
Ferd Funk, pastor at Springfield MC in Winnipeg, passionately told his story of personal renewal through a recent Learning Tour to Colombia organized by MC Canada. Funk told the story of a Colombian congregation that welcomes men who have chosen to leave various paramilitary groups in a country that has been locked in a bitter civil war for over 50 years.
These men, seen as deserters and wanted by their former commanders, are frequently on the run, and live in constant fear for their lives and the lives of their families. Some were once enemies, fighting and killing on opposite sides of the conflict. "For now," says Funk, "the greatest victory is that dogs and cats eat out of the same plate. The lives of men and women who were once enemies are being transformed by the power, the love, and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. This is what happens when justice and peace embrace."
Native church leader Norman Meade told the story of a struggling aboriginal congregation that is picking up the task of leadership from within its own membership. The Manigotagon Community Chapel in Northeastern Manitoba is 45 years old. It lost its leaders in last year's cuts to MC Canada ministries. Meade, a soon-to-be retired provincial government employee has chosen to return to his home community and take up the mantel of leadership in Manigotagon. He is confident that the congregation will thrive. Of a recent worship service, he said, "Eight people participated... some preach, some pray, some teach, and together we are one.
"We have come a long way in 45 years, but we have a long way to go," he said, asking the gathered group for continued prayer support for the congregation.
For some participants, it was the helpful tools that can be used to process congregational change and renewal. Billy Chiew, youth pastor at Vancouver Chinese Mennonite hopes that the future for his congregation will mean renewed enthusiasm. He hopes that people will "really get excited once again about God, about what He is going to do... I believe God is doing things all the time." He believes his experience in the study course will make him an instrument of renewal in his ministry work.
For others, the study course was an affirmation of their own sense of direction and leadership in their home congregations. Ed Olfert, pastor at Grace Mennonite in Prince Albert, Sask., said, "In many ways we were a missional church long before we knew the language. This has certainly sharpened the understandings and given us permission to go with even more passion in some of the directions we're going."
"These 80 hours (of study) have been a tremendous encouragement that God calls us to go towards hope, to name hope, to get alongside hope and to have that energize us," Olfert added.
Stories as told by Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, Norman Meade, and a closing reflection by moderator Henry Krause, are available in MP3 audio format:
Planners hope to offer Missional Church Leadership study courses in other area conferences in the future.