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IMPaCT building global Mennonite church
May 23, 2008
KITCHENER, Ontario — Fifteen pastors were drawn together from April 24 – May 5, 2008 for a life changing and life giving experience. IMPaCT – International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together – drew seven international pastors and eight Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) pastors into deep discussion about what it means to extend the peace of Jesus Christ to the world around us. International guests arrived from Ukraine, United Kingdom, Burkina Faso, Congo and South Africa while MCEC pastors came from both urban and rural congregations in Southern Ontario.
IMPaCT is a program of Mennonite Church Canada Witness and is held each year in partnership with an Area Church. This year the program was co-sponsored by MCEC and participants were able to connect with congregations in Southern Ontario, Ottawa and Montreal. Each session was held in English and in French.
Upon his acceptance into the program, Vasya Shevchenko from Ukraine began six weeks of intensive English training. Both Vasya and Leon Pula, from South Africa, preached in English for their first time during their stay in Canada.
Through Bible study, congregational contact, casual conversation and simply having fun, participants developed and nurtured relationships with each other. Focusing on The Lord’s Prayer and on peace, each individual pastor brought a unique understanding and perspective from their own ministry setting.
When asked to share their reflections on Mennonite congregations in Canada, some of the international pastors took note of the commitment and the generosity of the Canadian congregations through their interactions with their host congregations, as well as the community of congregations represented at the MCEC Annual Church Gathering in Leamington, ON on April 25-26. The international guests encouraged the Canadian church to foster a greater use of prayer and the Bible in their congregations. They also observed the benefits and the resources available to Canadian congregations through the area and national church structures.
Many of the international pastors experience a sense of isolation in their ministry as they may be the only Mennonite Church in their region or perhaps even their country. Several pastors expressed appreciation theological conversations with colleagues and to provide and receive support and encouragement from each other.
Steve Schumm, pastor of Hamilton Mennonite Church, shared his hope that his fellow participants would have a sense of community fostered by the IMPaCT program. He spoke of the inspiration he experienced from his fellow pastors in knowing that they would now be holding each other in prayer as they continue to minister in their home settings. Hendrike Isert Bender, co-pastor at Nith Valley Mennonite Church, profoundly stated that the world had become a little smaller and God’s people a little bigger through this experience.
As the pastors broke bread together in their final worship setting, it was evident that although a week earlier they had been strangers, that was no longer the case. Their final worship moments were holy as each participant took the opportunity to pray for their exchange partner. Prayers in French, English, Russian, and Afrikaans united in a common, spiritual voice to God.
Each pastor has now returned to their ministry setting. Congregations will benefit from hearing the stories and sensing the changes in their pastor as each continues to sort through the impact of the time spent together.
Sidebar: Pastors Questioned at Peace Tower
One way in which IMPaCT pastors explored the theme of “extending the peace of Jesus Christ to the world” involved a visit to Ottawa and the Ottawa Mennonite Church.
As the group passed through security in a tour of the Peace Tower as part of a visit to the Parliament Buildings, IMPaCT participants Claire Osinkosky (Preston Mennonite Church, Cambridge, Ont.) and Claire Traore of Burkina Faso, required special screening.
Both women were wearing identical T-shirts bearing the theme words of this year’s program - “Seek peace and pursue it. - Psalm 34:14” – a gift given to each participant at the beginning of their exchange experience.
The security guard called his supervisor to ask if the T-shirts would have to be removed, since items bearing political or religious statements on T-shirts are not allowed. After a brief interchange, both women were allowed to continue on the tour – t-shirts intact.
Reflecting on the situation, Claire Osinkosky offered these insights: “I did think it seemed ironic that the words “Seek peace and pursue it” from scripture would be considered controversial in the Peace Tower. As I walked through the Peace Tower, I realized that it was a monument to peace won through the self-sacrifice of soldiers in wars. The kind of peace that we embrace does not come through power and military engagement, but through the self-sacrificing love that Jesus demonstrated. We proclaim in five words that there is another option, that God’s love can make a way where there seems to be no way.”