November 18, 2011 at Lancaster Convention Center
Personal faith Journey:
Good evening! Let me also greet you in the way I grew up greeting people in church in East Africa, “Praise the Lord!” The Lord surely is worthy to be praised for his love endures forever. As I stand here before you tonight I am humbled by God’s call and the affirmation of that call by the church at different stages of my life. I am grateful for my parents who nurtured me in the ways of the Lord by living their lives in such away that clearly left an impression on me that they took their faith seriously and that their faith mattered in their daily living.
Tonight they are not here because of the difficulty in obtaining visa these days to come to the U.S. But they assured me of their love, prayers and support on this special day, they asked me to pass their greetings to you. Mom prayed for me this afternoon and dad reminded me that this night is about the Lord who is present with us and to the Lord be all the glory.
I am also grateful for my wife Jessica and our two lovely sons Barak and Izak who continue to inspire me as a husband and a father to seek to live my life faithfully by their unconditional love for me. Jessica and I are looking forward to celebrating our tenth anniversary next month. It has been a wonderful journey of love, affection, support, mission and growth in faith and service.
I am also thankful for the many mentors that the Lord brought into my life to help guide, speak into my life, correct me and encourage me to pursue God’s calling. There are a number of you in this room tonight and you know who you are. Thank you for embodying Christian leadership and faithfulness to the Lord for me.
Our family has been in Lancaster for almost two months and let me say that Lancaster County is one of the best-kept secrets. We have enjoyed the warm welcome we have received from EMM staff and local congregations as well as the community. We are enjoying life in Lancaster! Kudos to you for being here tonight for I hear that there is an exciting match tonight featuring our very own Lancaster Mennonite School in the AA finals. I believe you known which team is the best! And may the best team win!
Six people have now served as EMM presidents over the course of a century and a quarter. I am grateful for their faithful service and particularly for the service of my predecessor Richard Showalter. I pray for him and Jewel as they take time to rest and reflect on decades of service with EMM and as they look to other ways to continue serving the Lord.
This evening we were treated to some glimpses of the past. As we know, past is prologue.
We heard from John H. Mellinger EMM’s first president through the acting of Roger Weaver. You heard the question he raised about “going and making disciples of all peoples.” John did not get an immediate answer to his question but it was precisely that lack of immediate answer that led to his own transformation and set him on a journey that marked the beginning of a new phase of ministry for Lancaster Conference. It was that journey that led to the eventual formation of Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (EMBMC), which was also referred to as simply the Eastern Board.
The Call of the Gospel:
EMM’s story did not start with the Sunday school movement of 1894, or with the in cooperation in 1914, or with the pioneering work in 1933 and 34 when the pioneer missionaries were escorted by nearly 500 Lancaster Mennonites on a chattered a train to New York to see them off to the world. This story started over two thousand years ago when Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the earth and began his message thus;
“The time is fulfilled! God’s kingdom is arriving! Turn back, and believe the good news!” (Mk. 1:15)
Jesus lived out this kingdom message and taught his disciples to follow him and embody that kingdom message for all people. In accordance with God’s will, Jesus was put to death because his kingdom message was counter-cultural and was deemed dangerous by the powers that be. But the story did not end there. He was raised from the dead and defeated the power of sin and death and he commissioned his followers saying;
“All authority in heaven and on earth, has been given to me! So you must go and make all the nations into disciples. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. And look: I am with you, every single day, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
It was this story that compelled Lancaster Mennonites to respond to God’s vision given to the young Phoebe Yoder that EMM sent forth missionaries beyond the continental United States. This story compelled pioneer missionaries to leave the comfort of their homes and their precious farms to venture into the unknown world in Abrahamic fashion. They went young and old, and were not deterred by the unfavorable living conditions in the African continent or the tough economic times at home and some of them never returned. That story continued on through the ministry of subsequent missionaries whose lives touched my parents as well as me and many other lives in our inner cities, our communities and many other locations and places around the world. That is the story we are gathered here tonight to hear again. In partnership with you we will continue to tell this good news through your churches and through EMM as your mission agency.
My own life journey took a different turn when EMM missionary Carl Hansen spoke into my life when I told him about my intentions to attend a medical training college and he challenged me that I may be called to the healing ministry but that this healing is to happen through the church. I can affirm that he was right.
God’s healing story continues to be told and embodied both here at home and around the world through EMM workers and staff in partnership with congregations. As we continue to tell God’s story, there are both challenges as well as opportunities. Please allow me to name just a few:
1. The negative effects of the Economic down turn which has had impact on people’s savings and investments
2. Job loss and continued joblessness
3. Numerous non-profit organizations that compete for support
4. The church’s story is no longer the only story and the church is struggling to make its message relevant
• The fast changing world of technology and 24hour cable news
• The strong power of sound bites and disregard for facts
5. The loss of institutional loyalty and denominational identity. Young people particularly are joining churches that are accepting of them and meeting their need not necessarily those that share their theological convictions. Because of this, there is substantial loss of financial and institutional support for the work of denominational agencies and churches are refocusing on local projects as they struggle to survive and help their members bond together into meaningful communities.
6. We just downsized and cut an equivalent of 9FTEs. For these people this was not simply a job, it was their calling.
1. Relationship based giving and support
2. Limited resources compels us to make Strategic choices in terms of what we do as mission agencies and churches
3. Freed from the assumption to control history, we are free to live faithfully entrusting history to God.
4. We are free to creatively tell the Christian story in relevant and exciting terms that generates interest and commitment after all there is no better story than the church’s story.
5. It is exciting that local congregation no longer delegate mission work to mission agencies but rather seek to live as missionaries in their homes and communities.
6. Partnership and mutuality based on shared vision and conviction rather than denominational and institutional loyalties.
7. The opportunity to listen to each other and discern how God might be calling and sending us both as local congregations and your mission agency
8. The opportunity to establish mission centers in our neighborhoods and around the world.
These are exciting times to live: We are on the cusp of a new era the ways of the past no longer effectively work and the future is yet to be shaped and defined. It is exciting because we are free to innovate, to think outside the box and experiment with new ways of doing church and missions. I believe that the gospel is the greatest story ever told and I am excited to explore relevant ways to tell it with passion and conviction in partnership with local congregations. We are charged with the responsibility to tell a better story than apple products or Google can tell. I believe that the Christian story is matchless in terms of its hope and life transformation. In the same way the fog horn sounded as pioneer missionaries left in 1930s, the fog horn tonight signals the beginning of a renewed mission vision, passion and partnership. Let us go forth and tell this good news and embody it for our families, our neighbors and for all the people around the world!