ORLANDO, Florida (Mennonite Church USA) — An array of international and ecumenical guests spanning four continents is enlivening this week’s Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando.
Moderator Patty Shelly and Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman officially welcomed the special guests at the start of Thursday’s delegate assembly session. Stutzman noted that the number of international visitors to the convention was “perhaps more than usual,” with some coming in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network.
“We are grateful to each of you as international guests who have graced our assembly with your presence,” Stutzman said. “We pray that your time here will be a spiritual encouragement to you.” He also invited their prayers for the U.S. church.
The largest group comes from Tanzania, with four representatives in attendance: Bishop Joseph Mutorela of the Northern Diocese in Arusha and the presiding Bishop of Tanzania Mennonite Church (Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania); Pastor John Wambura, general secretary of Tanzania Mennonite Church, from Eastern Diocese in Dar Es Salaam; Bishop Chriss Kateti; and Bishop Amos Joseph Muhagachi of Central Diocese in Dodoma, director of the Tanzania Peace Building Institute and current student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.
The Tanzanian church leaders said they have set an ambitious goal: reaching 1 million members by 2034, the year in which the Tanzania Mennonite Church will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding.
Two other guests also come from Africa: Bishop Victor UmohAbasi, president of the Mennonite Church, Nigeria, which has about 25,000 adult members in 45 congregations; and Oscar Siwali, a Baptist pastor from Cape Town, South Africa, who is director of the Southern African Development and Reconstruction Agency (SADRA), which works at peace education in schools, conflict transformation in communities and election monitoring and evaluation.
UmohAbasi said it was difficult for him to spend a week away from his “flock” to be part of the convention, but he felt it was important to make the trip.
“We need to connect,” UmohAbasi said. “We need to stay connected with our partners and make new relationships.”
Elsewhere, Europe is represented by Nohemy Ruth García, a long-time member of the Mennonite community in Burgos, Spain, where she serves as worship leader and was commissioned to write a song of peace to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the bombing in Madrid, which killed 191 and injured 1,800 in 2004. Garcia has shared some of her musical gifts at the convention, as well.
And from Asia, Kyung-Jung Kim is the former long-time director of Korea Anabaptist Center in South Korea. He left his position at the center to pursue graduate studies in Ontario, Canada, and currently serves Mennonite World Conference as the regional representative for Northeast Asia.
“We are very glad to have you here,” Shelly said at a dinner reception for the group Wednesday evening. “You enrich our meetings by your presence.”
Mennonite Church Canada had also planned to send a representative, but that person was unable to attend due to illness. Mennonite Church Canada executive director Willard Metzler did attend for one day before needing to return to Canada to speak at the triennial session of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for that body’s 500th anniversary celebration.
Three church-to-church guests are attending the convention from the Church of the Brethren, a sister denomination based in Elgin, Illinois, that shares Anabaptist roots with Mennonite Church USA. Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele, conference director Chris Douglas and moderator Samuel Sarpiya are spending several days in Orlando, particularly to observe the Future Church Summit and to “walk alongside” their spiritual cousins.
“We’re working toward a compelling vision in the life of our church, asking, ‘What are those pieces we can claim as a church that align with our core Brethren values such as service and peace and community?’” Steele said. “We saw in the Future Church Summit an opportunity to explore how we might engage the Church of the Brethren in a similar kind of conversation. We’re here to see what we might learn from the process that might help to guide us in our work.”
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