Hope for future trumps angst, guilt of the past
Mission leaders from across North America gather to reflect on effortsBy Lynda Hollinger-Janzen Mennonite Mission Network
CHICAGO — Nelson Okanya cried out to God to grant desperation to the North American Mennonite church.
“Make us desperate to bear children of God. Give us the desperation of street children jumping into dumpsters to find something to eat,” prayed Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions, at the annual Council of International Anabaptist Ministries.
More than 60 administrators and scholars from 14 North American mission and service agencies gathered Jan. 16-21 for the conference.
Okanya’s plea came in response to a meditation by Randy Friesen of MB Mission, formerly Mennonite Brethren Mission and Service International. Friesen shared the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38, drawing out themes of barrenness, desperation and hope.
Friesen encouraged churches and missions to recognize their areas of barrenness and respond with the desperation Tamar demonstrated, so that hope can break into the world.
The barrenness of North American Anabaptists was illustrated through statistical studies, showing Anabaptist congregations are losing their children. Matthew Krabill, a graduate student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and Jamie Ross, a graduate student at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., reported their findings on the current generation of Anabaptist youths’ inability to articulate their own faith, much less share it with others.
Conrad Kanagy, a professor at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, shared results of a survey he led for Eastern Mennonite Missions showing a negative growth rate in Lancaster County churches and exploding expansion in mission-planted churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Most of those gathered agreed the study was accurate and grieved the failure of their generations. They also mourned the complicity of mission with colonialism and imperialism.
Two agency leaders born in Africa — Okanya and Hippolyto Tshimanga, Mennonite Church Canada Witness mission partnership facilitator for Africa, Europe and Latin America — took a compassionate and forgiving stance, urging participants to remember that early missionaries never heard of global citizenship and should not be held to today’s standards of awareness.
“I wouldn’t be here today without those missionaries,” Okanya said. “Mission has been good for my people.”
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