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Congregational Partnership Facilitator named for Eastern Canada
May 31, 2004
Winnipeg, Man.— Rebecca Yoder Neufeld has been named Mennonite Church Canada’s Missional Formation and Congregational Partnership Facilitator for Eastern Canada.
The half-time job will require Yoder Neufeld to encourage and invite MC Canada congregations to connect with missional church ideas and with partners in the global church.
The organized church is important to international church partnerships, said Yoder Neufeld. “It’s very important for the church to be visible and incarnated, and to be visible and incarnated, it needs to be organized in a way that allows it to do its work, that allows it to use the gifts of people… I think it’s crucial to be embodied and to have a corporate nature, not to be a program that individuals drop in on, but to have an organic community, a corporate visible life.”
That “corporate visible life” has strengths that are emphasized in the Mennonite Church, such as its peace witness, says Yoder Neufeld. Through church-to-church partnerships with Mennonite and Anabaptist faith communities in other parts of the world, congregations in vastly different cultures can begin to grasp the challenges and tensions of living a faithful Christian life. Yoder Neufeld sees the Mennonite Church as “…a community witness to the peace that God has made with us and that God invites us to reach out to others with..”
Yoder Neufeld has plenty of international experience and education to draw from. An early childhood in France provided her with abilities in conversational French and later French studies cemented the basics. As a young adult in Argentina, she became fluent in Spanish. She has also lived in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Jerusalem, Guatemala, USA, and Canada. She has taught theology in various places in Latin America, English as a second language in the U.S. and Canada, and has done immigration, resettlement, and paralegal work with Central American, Mexican, and Puerto Rican people. More recently she has worked in a variety of volunteer capacities, including the organization of verbal translation services at the 2003 Mennonite World Conference in Zimbabwe. She has a Master of Divinity (Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary) and a Master of Education with specialization in bilingual education.
But of all this experience and education, she says she was most personally transformed during her role as pastor to the Spanish speaking congregation at First Mennonite Church in Kitchener-Waterloo. Here she was able to fully integrate all her training and international experience in working with people to help bring “…understanding (to) the breaking down of cultural barriers” within the church. More recently she has been providing sabbatical relief by preaching at the Toronto Mennonite New Life church community.
Her new job with MC Canada will allow her to extend her transformation experience to many others in many more places. “I’m very much a teacher at heart, and the opportunity to work with congregations is attractive, as is the part of the job that has to do with making connections and partnerships between the global church and local congregations. I had the opportunity to have a lot of experiences within the international church, and those experiences have been so enriching and motivating for me that the chance to help make those kind of connections with and for other people is attractive. This job is very much within the part of church life that has to do with reaching out, because of its mission nature, and that is the part of church life that I’ve always been most interested in and motivated by.”
Her job won’t require blazing an entirely new trail. Yoder Neufeld succeeds Jim Loepp-Thiessen, who has been doing this work for the past two years. Loepp-Thiessen left the job in February to take on an interim pastorate at Avon Mennonite Church (Stratford, Ont.) and pursue other passions in church ministry.
Initially, Yoder Neufeld will do a lot of listening to congregations. But she is also looking forward to the “Missional Formation” part of her job title. “I’m looking forward to meeting congregations, to hearing about what they are already doing... I’m eager to do speaking and sharing rooted in the Bible and the churches’ experience throughout history, and sharing experiences that have been encouraging to me from other parts of the world.”
She also expects to connect closely with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC). “I very much think about my MCEC counterparts in missions and in peace. These are people I know and am looking forward to coordinating and working with.”
Asked if there is anything she would like to say to the Canada-wide Mennonite Church, she pauses thoughtfully. “Keep your sights way beyond your four walls,” she says, with a smile in her voice.
Rebecca is married to Tom Yoder Neufeld. They have two teen-age children, David and Miriam. They live in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.