We believe that the mission of the Church is to make disciples in all the world by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in evangelism and compassionate ministries.
Mission, and discussions about mission work, have been a common element of being an EMMCer from the very beginning of our Conference. The call to reach out, to evangelize the unreached, was a major theme that led four pastoral leaders and some 1,200 members to separate from the Sommerfelder Conference back in the 1930’s.
In our Conference history book, Search for Renewal¸ author Jack Heppner writes:
“The leaders of the Rudnerweider Mennonite church were concerned about evangelism. Those who had not responded personally to the gospel message needed to do so! There was a sense of urgency about this mission. To face eternity without having found peace with God was a matter of grave concern. Everything possible must be done to win them to Christ while there was still time!”
And our Conference acted on that conviction taking the words of Jesus from Matthew 28:19 as a directive to go, tell and disciple. Regular Mission Conferences, initially held in a tent at the Bergfeld church in rural southern Manitoba, were highly anticipated, conference-wide events. In 1940 this fledgling conference commissioned John Schellenberg, the first missionary to Africa, followed soon after by more international workers and others to reach into communities surrounding the churches. That outreach continues today with conference administered mission ministries, and through an Associate Missionary program providing financial and prayer support for workers from our conference serving with other mission agencies.
And this involvement was not limited to missions endeavors. Attention was paid to personal needs of others, to compassionate care. Perhaps it took the form of participation in Mennonite Central Committee or Mennonite Disaster Service volunteering, or in a ladies’ sewing circle and of course that auction sale which raised funds. It was a general outlook of helping others less fortunate. That spirit of sharing in the needs of others continues in many different forms today.
Certainly many things have changed since the missions enthusiasm of those early days. Technology allows us to receive news, good and bad, from around the world in a dizzying, unending stream barely seconds after events happen. Agencies large and small are recruiting team members to their ministries whether local, national or international. We are invited and encouraged, sometimes to the point of inundation and fatigue, to participate with our gifts and offerings. Short-term mission trips from North America to exotic locations funded to the tune of several billion dollars annually promise to change lives forever of participants and those they serve. Vigorous discussions abound supporting and offering caution as we go into such a world offering hope and help.
So now, some 80 years later, how do we understand that mandate to missions? As a conference of churches what is our response today when we read Jesus’ words, and hear about needs both near and far away? And since in many communities it is apparent that the harvest field is right around us, both with those born here and other newcomers from around the world, what should be my response, or your response? How does the mission statement above intersect with who I am, what I believe, and how I live it?
I would suggest that in keeping with our Statement of Faith on missions that we continue to “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”, Matthew 9:38. NIV. Perhaps also consideration could and should be given to our personal assignment as workers. After all, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus identifies us as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”. Already in the law book of the Old Testament the command is to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus repeats that for us calling it a command second only to loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, or everything we have. That leaves little wiggle room for any believer not to be involved in what we call missions.
How that works itself out is first of all a personal consideration between each individual and God rather than quickly handing it over to the missions committee. As we continue to fellowship with others in our congregation and our conference, as we recognize and practice the gifts Our Lord has blessed us with, as we look at the fields and the needs asking God for direction and clarity opportunities will come.
It may be as simple, and daunting, as inviting that neighbor over for coffee. It may be to consider involvement in one of the ministries of your church. Perhaps there is a pull to involve yourself in some life-changing move to a corner of the world that seems to have your name associated with it. In this, ask the Lord of the harvest what it is for you.
Whatever that turns out to be, let me share a quote from Dr. Darrell Kroeker who in his book Beyond Ourselves, How Can the Unreached Be Reached, calls missions “the greatest assignment and investment we could ever make in life. Why? Missions is about eternity.”
I return to Jack Heppner’s quote about the early leaders in our conference. Perhaps you and I need to to reflect on the sense of urgency they had, the recognition that those who have not found peace with God are destined for eternal destruction. Missions is about eternity. Does our personal life, do the ministries and priorities of our church, and are the activities of our conference in step with that understanding?
In the rush of our world, in the abundance of distractions that can pull this way and that, in the wealth of opportunities our lives face may we remember that for ourselves, and for others, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 NIV
Abe Giesbrecht Missions Facilitator
EMMC Confession of Faith
Part 11 of 12-part series
September / October 2016 The Recorder