Reflections upon my service with Mennonite World Conference

Iris de León-Hartshorn is associate executive director of Mennonite Church USA

For the last nine years I have served as the North American representative on the Executive Committee (EC) of Mennonite World Conference (MWC).

It has been both an honor and privilege and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve.

Mennonite Church USA made this possible by supporting my nomination and appointment the entire nine years, allowing me to represent MC USA on the General Council. So, I am thankful.

These last nine years have been a time of learning and engaging with so many people.  I’ve been able to renew some old friendships with international folk I met during my work with MCC and make many new friendships from across the globe.

MWC meetings held in Kenya, April 17-26, 2018 were my last as both a general council member and EC member. Saying goodbye to so many people who I have grown to love and care about as brothers and sisters in Christ was hard. I will carry with me the many memories of the various places we met and the experiences we shared together. One of my favorite stories that I often tell is the time Sandra Campos from Costa Rica and I decided to explore the area around where we were staying in Taipei, Taiwan. Neither one of us knew the language. Sandra and I communicated only in Spanish because she did not speak English. We decided to stop at a cute little café; we wanted some good coffee. We found people working in the café only spoke Taiwanese, so we were already off for an adventure. We ordered our coffee by pointing at items on the menu. The coffee arrived and was served black. Sandra wanted cream added and proceeded to try and tell the waiter in Spanish what she needed, but soon she reverted to sign language — to no avail. She looked at me and asked me to tell him what she wanted. I told her that speaking in English wouldn’t do any better. But I proceeded to describe cream in English, and for those watching, it must have looked like we were playing charades. I tried every combination of gestures to demonstrate pouring liquid into a cup. I finally had to resort to demonstrating milking a cow, and to my surprise that clicked, and Sandra got her cream for her coffee. We all, including the waiter, laughed so hard at ourselves.

I also had some awesome holy moments worshipping with the global church all over the world. There is something to said about meeting people in their context to really have a better understanding of who they are and what is important to them. Everywhere we gathered, the local Anabaptist community was always open to receive us and excited to share what God was doing among them.

After so much turmoil in our own church (MC USA) the meetings in Kenya left me hopeful. Tom Yoder Nuefeld led the Bible study for three mornings. He spoke on unity and diversity using the book of Ephesians. One of the images he used was the Holy Spirit as wind, and he described how the wind blows things together that really shouldn’t be together. He said some people may see this as destruction, but it actually is creation. As church, when we are with people different than ourselves, we must figure out a way to love each other and live with each other — this is reconciliation. Reconciliation is not about being church with people who think and look like us. Jesus speaks to that in Matthew 5:43-48.

The hard work of reconciliation and creating a “new thing” is unity in Jesus Christ and learning to love, forgive and extend grace as a transformative act of being church together.

Reconciliation can’t happen when people leave; it happens when we choose to stick it out together.

At the Future Church Summit last year in Orlando, someone submitted the line “church is messy.” I agree with that, and we also know that God is present in the chaos we often create.

I really appreciated Tom’s words. Issues we don’t agree on will always be with us in our local and global church. But our hope lies in Jesus Christ. Leaving MWC with these words of both comfort and challenge is a wonderful gift.