Swiss churches host continental conferenceBy Mennonite World Conference
SUMISWALD, Switzerland — European Mennonites were encouraged to reach across borders at their continental conference May 17-20.
The Mennonite European Regional Conference, known as MERK, is held every six years. This year’s gathering preceded meetings of the Mennonite World Conference General Council near Basel.
MERK drew 855 people to a recreational complex in Sumiswald in the heart of the Emmental region, where Anabaptists have had a long history. Most participants were from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain, but the group included delegates from smaller European conferences and visitors from the MWC General Council and Commissions. About 36 countries were represented.
“Borders — they are everywhere around us and in us,” said Louise Nussbaumer, president of Association française Conférence Mennonite Mondiale (the French association of MWC) and former MWC executive committee member. “It is argued that they protect us; in fact, they isolate us and leave us alone and poor. Social, political, ethnic or cultural boundaries block relationships.”
The gathering included plenary addresses by European leaders Lukas Amstutz and Ruth Raab-Zerger of Germany and Philippe Gonzalez of France.
Participants were often reminded that to reach out is an act. Many personal stories from Europe and beyond punctuated the plenary meetings.
Some were spectacular, but all bore witness to the faithfulness of God when people were ready to reach out their hands.
Morning Bible studies by Anne-Cathy Gerber of France and Jeanet van Woerden of Germany explored two subthemes: “Because God Provides an Opening,” on the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4; and “Because God Gives a Chance to Each One,” on the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
Esther Braun of Langnau, who provided administrative support in the months leading up to the conference, summed up the theme: “In order to reach hands across borders, one has to let go. One has to be detached from one’s expectations, prejudices and fears. One has to avoid jumping to interpretation or being rigid in one’s beliefs that one’s own way has to be right. When — with God’s help — we are free in this way, other barriers (religious, cultural or linguistic) will not seem so impenetrable and scary.”
Mennonite Mission Services, a program of the Swiss Mennonites, sponsored an aid project for the marginalized Roma people of Serbia and Albania. Each participant was asked to bring knitted socks, underwear, school kits and emergency health supplies. They responded with 190 school kits, 54 pails of emergency health supplies and more than 500 pairs of knitted socks.
One elderly woman came, bright-eyed, with 20 pairs of socks she had knit.
“Finally,” she said, “there is something I can do with my hands, and I do it with all my heart.”
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