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IMPaCT makes an impact

   
 


Five international Mennonite pastors traded joys, concerns, and challenges with their Manitoba host pastors during IMPaCT (International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together) this past June. l-r: Carlos Gallardo (Chile), Agustín Melguizo A. (Spain), Alvin Neufeld (Paraguay), Deusilene Milhomem C. M. (Brazil), Beatriz Barrios N. (Uruguay).

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A communion service and prayer circle remembered the guest pastors from Cuba who were unable to attend.

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Deusilene Milhomem C. M. (Brazil) and her translator Janet Plenert share a light hearted moment during the children’s feature at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church’s worship service.

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June 23, 2006
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Throwing together 11 Mennonite pastors from 3 continents and 6 countries for 10 days is bound to create some interesting challenges and new insights.

IMPaCT took place from June 3-16.

The obvious tendency is to consider how different pastoring in Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Spain, and Brazil is from pastoring in Canada. The surprise, pastors found, was how many similar challenges they shared across geographic and cultural lines.

The event – dubbed IMPaCT by its organizers – stands for International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together, and was sponsored by Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church Manitoba and Canadian Mennonite University.

Planners deliberately created an opportunity for Anabaptist pastors from different contexts to reflect, worship, play and learn together. “We want to become a global church. Bringing Anabaptist pastors together to talk about the challenges and joys of being the church in different cultures will have a significant multiplier effect to this end,” said Janet Plenert, executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Witness and part of the planning committee. That goal was more than exceeded. The event is expected to bear fruit for years to come: early on, Latin American pastors were already inviting and urging their Manitoba hosts to attend Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay in 2009.

The international pastors were recommended by their corresponding national church bodies in each country. The Manitoba pastors were especially selected because of their minimal international experience and contact.

Despite language challenges, the guests and their hosts quickly connected with one another. In an introductory time of sharing testimonies, Carlos Gallardo from Chile talked about his faith journey into radical Anabaptism. His host, Norm Dyck of Graysville Mennonite Church observed that his own prayers had been answered: God sent him someone who is radical and who would invite a radical understanding of faith.

In a personal conversation, one guest spoke of hearing a voice during prayer time, foretelling of a significant, long distance trip in the future. The voice was so out of context, it was ignored. A week later, an invitation to join IMPaCT arrived, raising the pastor’s anxiety level. As the departure day drew near, uneasiness increased. The day before departure, a friend not seen in over a year arrived spontaneously on the IMPaCT candidate’s doorstep to pray together. The friend said, “God will do great things in the next 2 weeks.”

Great things indeed. Alvin Neufeldt is both a part-time pastor and president of the Evangelical Mennonite Church in Paraguay. His congregation has surpassed its goal to invite one new person to church for each day of the year. The supply of newcomers is easily outstripping the capacity to respond, he reported. His challenge is magnified because unemployment causes high turn-over of experienced and gifted disciples and emerging leaders in his congregation.

For the first four days the group gathered for morning worship, meditation and reflection on scripture – a different theme based on the Confession of Faith was chosen for each day – singing, sharing about one another’s pastoral joys and concerns, a field trip, and a pre-supper time of de-briefing and ‘hot issues’ of the day. Although all the pastors spoke either English or Spanish, the challenge of language translation often turned humorous near day’s end when a weary translator would be caught simply repeating the speaker in the same language. One participant observed initial concern about the language barrier was evaporating. “[Sometimes] I forget that we can’t speak the same language and I just start speaking to someone!”

Though the goal of sharing the good news across the countries have much in common, the challenges vary.

Carlos Gallardo shared a story about the last pope’s visit to Peru. When the Pope met with the indigenous people, they presented him with a Bible. ‘Here is your book back. When your people came to Latin America they taught us to pray with our eyes closed. We did that. When we opened our eyes, we had a bible, and you had our land. Today we are giving you back your bible, because we think that the values and the precepts contained in it are more needed by your people than by our people.’ The colonial conquest of the church continues to plague both today’s church and wider society in Latin America.

Regardless of country, most pastors agreed that barriers to developing gifts in the body include the attitude of perfectionism, busy people with competing priorities, low self-esteem, church structures that focus on us needing to fill positions, and a lack of focus on the core identity of the church. “This is such a wonderful event! I had no idea our struggles were so similar to churches in other countries!” said Beatriz Barrios.

Alvin Neufeldt seeks to build up new leaders by publicly giving them permission to make mistakes. When there is a new worship leader or someone preaching for the first time, he introduces them to the congregation by saying, “Today s/he has the opportunity to make big mistakes! And that is part of our community life.”

Following a conversation on empowering and releasing congregational gifts, Gallardo reflected, “I have been looking for perfect gifts in my congregation, and you have shown me with your words and stories that this is wrong. I have discovered a weakness in myself. I want to thank you for helping me discover this. Thank you so much.”

A closing communion service specially acknowledged two missing guest pastors from Cuba, who were denied entry visas by the Canadian government. A prayer circle formed around their photographs, propped up on empty chairs.

Marla Langelotz, host pastor (Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church) observed that, “The world often tries to polarize us and make us choose sides, and it is our task to find alternatives.”

Despite the missing guests and the translation process that often slowed down communication, Norm Dyck summed up the experience well. “For my congregation, Impact has broadened our horizons, pushed us out of the nest, and challenged us to try out our wings.”

The event concluded with each guest pastor participating in and preaching at the worship service of their host pastor’s congregations.

Next year, IMPaCT will be hosted in Mennonite Church Alberta.

For a photo essay of the Manitoba IMPaCT event, click on IMPaCT Photo Essay (www.mennonitechurch.ca/news/2006/6/impact.htm).


Sidebar: Notable quotables

“Church and faith in our community have become optional.” – host pastor

“It is said in Latin America, ‘The church is the only army that kills its wounded.’” – guest pastor

“Finding our place in the body of Christ is liberating.” – host pastor

“Consumerism is our new Baal.” – guest pastor

“We should not over-estimate our place in the body – but neither should we under-estimate it.” –host pastor

“We are a church that is liberal with tradition but radical in our understanding of the gospel.” – guest pastor

“You don’t just wake up one day and say ‘I’m a heretic’. It takes a long time to become one!” – guest pastor