“Looking Back in History to discover the Future”

Strasburg Mennonite Church
Renewal Meetings, November 11, 2012
By Nelson Okanya

Historical connection between Strasburg Mennonite and EMM:
 For seven generations, Lancaster county Mennonites had been the “silent in the land” after their ancestors fled the persecution in Europe.  The persecution shaped their behavior in many ways but perhaps most notable as all trauma victims; they learned to band together and not to trust the rest of the world. As a result, they spoke German amidst English speaking world, dressed distinctly and closed themselves off from the larger world.  But the Holy Spirit is not to be closed off, the winds of the spirit blows wherever it chooses as Jesus told Nicodemus in (John 3:8).  The winds of the Spirit ignited a vision for missions in the heart of an eleven-year-old boy right here at Strasburg Mennonite.

The story is told that while sitting on the pews here on a Sunday morning, John H Mellinger listened to his pastor read Matthew 28:18-20:

“ Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 Listening attentively to the sermon, John noticed that the pastor only emphasized the second part of the text, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” but said nothing about “going and making disciples of all nations.”  Given their social context at the time, the pastor did his job, he reinforced the call to teach and the church perhaps took the text as an encouragement and affirmation to remain separate and not be contaminated by the world around them.  This perhaps is what obeying Jesus’ teaching was all about! But how come an eleven-year-old boy dared to ask the unthinkable? To think about “going” to their community leave alone the world must have been a frightening thought but God chose an eleven-year-old boy to ask a daring question about the first half of text that expressly called on the church to “go.”

Could this be the working of the Holy Spirit to awaken the church to God’s missional purposes?  “The spiritual awakening among Mennonites led to the loosening of traditional forms and normative behavior, creating space for renewal.  The founding of EMM in 1894 was prompted by the work of the Holy Spirit that had dismantled tradition and separatism.” Writes Elizabethtown sociology professor Conrad Kanagy in “Winds of the Spirit.”

This is the beginning of Eastern Mennonite Missions. On September 15, 1894 at the invitation of then 38 years old John Mellinger, twelve men gathered at their home to pray and to talk about their convictions for missions and twenty years later in 1914 Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities was registered with John H Mellinger as its first president.  It has been 118 years since EMM was registered and its impact has been felt in six continents in over forty countries.  Today EMM continues to send missionaries around the world and continue to be involved in missions here at home.  Like my predecessor John Mellinger as the seventh president of EMM along with our staff and our missionaries under the direction of the board we are asking a new question, “will our children have faith” or put differently, “will our faith have children”?

EMM has identified three strategic corporate priorities:
1. Reaching the unreached-
2. Developing missional leaders
3. Mobilizing partners for missions.

Until late 1800s, Lancaster Mennonites were distinct from the rest of the society a condition that perhaps was brought about by their ancestor’s persecution in Europe.  Today, what in your opinion makes it difficult for you to be involved missionally in your community?

World Missions experience today:

Three Visits From Outer Space
Professor Andrew Walls, a well-known missiologist, pretends that an alien from outer space makes repeated visits to Planet Earth at different stages of world history. And writes, “If we were that alien, what have we seen on a “fly by” that occurred at the end of the First Century AD? As we looked down from our space ship through our spiritual goggles, we would see a robust strain of Christianity flash out of the Middle East. It lit a path all the way from Jerusalem to Rome. By the time of our first “fly by,” one million believers were involved. Some would be slaves, some from royal household of Caesar. What would catch the observant eye, however, is that while there was this one blinding pathway of spiritual light, the rest of the planet in Africa’s interior, Asia, and Latin America remained in total darkness with not a spark of spiritual hope to be found.

The second visit to Planet Earth would not come until the beginning of the 20th Century. Around 1905 we would find the landscape of Christendom totally redefined. The stronghold of Christianity would no longer be the Middle East. In fact the light that had shone so brightly in places like Palestine, Turkey, and Greece had all but flickered out. Instead the bright spots of Christianity had moved to Britain, Western Europe and especially over into the New Worlds of North America, Australia and New Zealand. These “bright spots” in the so called “Western World” now made up 95% of all the Christians in the world – and from them boatloads of missionaries were pouring out into the far-flung reaches of the planet.

Our third “fly by” takes place a whole century later, in 2004. Again the landscape of Christianity has changed dramatically. The lights are still low in the Middle East and throughout Central Asia. Lights, which had once burned brightly in the Western world, are still shining – but the luster of those lights has somehow dimmed. In fact in some countries like Canada, New Zealand, UK and Australia where a fire once blazed, the flames are lower now, and in other places the logs that burned brightly a century ago are reduced to a flicker.  The amazing thing, however, is that the sparks of the Gospel have jumped
to other parts of the world. Now the fire burns in Chile, Brazil, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Nepal, Korea ñ– and especially in China! In fact, where 95% of the believers had been in the Western world in 1905, now over 70% of the believers on Planet Earth are in Africa, Latin America and Asia.”

This depiction of the world Christian movement ought to jolt all of us particularly here in the USA.  With our congregations we are exploring what it means for the church to be missional while also still being engaged in cross-cultural missions to reach those who have yet to experience the Christian witness.

The missional church:
For the church to be missional it needs to be a community that live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God’s missionary people living a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s