A Global Perspective


by Larissa Swartz

“You are the body of the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member.” 1 Cor. 12:27 (The Voice)

As North American Christians, we are privileged. We often recognize this, but it’s easy to forget—once we start counting, we come to realize in just how many ways. Whether with regards to food, education, utilities, church buildings & programs, medicine, travel, or freedom to worship, most things are easily accessible to us, even if on credit. We don’t need to rely on anyone else, let alone God, for anything if we don’t want to. We value our independence and freedom highly, taking it for granted and often not realizing what we’re missing because of it until we personally encounter another worldview.

As I have regularly interacted with international students, primarily from collectivist cultures, my worldview as a Christian has changed as my Western values have been challenged. If I could learn so much from non-Christians, how much more could I learn from my international brothers and sisters in Christ? This is what drew me into the community of Mennonite World Conference.

After Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2027 event in Augsburg, Germany this past February, I reflected on the value of the global church:

How is something or someone renewed? Romans 12:2 (NIV) keeps coming to mind: “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” How, then, do we renew our minds? We do this by dwelling on truth, found in the living and active Word of God.

Unfortunately, humanity is sick with a disease known as pride, which can lead us into legalism and self-righteousness and ethnocentrism, even when reading and studying God’s Word. I find it interesting that this verse comes right before the passage talking about the body of Christ. Our Father, in His mercy, has provided us with a cure to our pride: community – a global and local family made up of people from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, languages and genders.

Individually beautiful and unique people who think differently than we do. People that bring a different understanding of Scripture. People that have different experiences and stories. People to remind us and show us that none of us has everything figured out.

In order to be continually renewed and transformed, we have to be continually brought low and humbled, in order to receive instruction. In our humility, we allow Jesus to challenge our perspective and understanding of God over and over again so that the Spirit can renew us, producing His fruit in us and bring new life to our lives. The result is a third culture, a Kingdom culture that is formed when all of God’s children bring their culture to the table and allow Jesus to redeem it and the Holy Spirit to purify it so that it reflects the Kingdom of God in its own beautiful and unique way.

North American brothers and sisters, there is danger in thinking we don’t need the global church, or that our role is one of superiority or patronage. Nor is it healthy to completely disengage out of fear, albeit valid, of repeating the patriarchal tendencies of the past and unconsciously or consciously exerting disproportional influence. The reality is that we need each other. As the body of Christ, each member is a vital part and cannot function well without the others: “The eye cannot wail at the hand, “I have no need for you,” nor could the head bellow at the feet, “I won’t go one more step with you.” (1 Cor. 12:21, The Voice).

This idea of dependency rubs against our Western values. I think the North American church, while theoretically embracing the need for the global church, still has a long way to go in learning how to build interdependent relationships with our international brothers and sisters. It comes from a posture of sitting and listening and learning from others before jumping in with our theological knowledge and Western answers. This requires time and patience, things that don’t come easily in our time-conscious and efficiency-driven culture.

These kinds of relationships don’t just happen, especially given the required cross-cultural effort. Knowing my own weaknesses, as well as the tendencies of my culture, my concern for the North American church is that we will be so consumed with our own busy schedules crammed full of church activities, family life, work, school, and social events that we won’t take the time to sit and listen, to pray for, and intentionally engage and learn from our global church family (which is continually growing in the global south, but declining in the global north). The North American church often excels in reaching out locally and building community at the local level, even regional and national, but as the wider North American Mennonite church decentralizes and fractures, the danger of isolation looms ever larger, making a broader, diverse community more valuable.

Essentially, this conviction to value and embrace interdependent relationships in the global family is how I ended up volunteering with Mennonite World Conference (MWC) on the Young Anabaptists Committee. It’s the most natural avenue for me to be connected in prayer and fellowship with my global Anabaptist family.

The difficulty, however, is “How can I participate?” since relationship across distance takes a good measure of intentionality. How do we learn to depend on and value each other around the world? This is what we as the Young Anabaptists (YABs) Committee of MWC try to facilitate among young adults: bringing them together in fellowship, but also empowering them so their voice is heard in MWC and in their churches. We do this currently in three main practical ways:

  • Ongoing sharing of stories and prayer requests online (Facebook and Instagram). This happens as each continental representative networks and visits with churches and young adults in their region as they are able. If you would like your continental representative to come visit and/or speak, email us at yabs@mwc-cmm.org
  • The new annual YABs Fellowship Week (in June)
  • Our Global Youth Summit (18+ yrs) that takes place alongside MWC’s Assembly Gathered every six years. The next will take place in Indonesia in 2021 (start saving)!

The mission of maintaining a globally interdependent fellowship of believers is a tall order, but we—the YABs Committee—are dedicated to it, because we believe it’s worth it. The beauty of diversity in relationship is worth the mess it brings. We are always brainstorming new ideas for how to facilitate better long-distance communication and relationships between young Anabaptists so please don’t hesitate to contact us with any ideas or input you have!

The Young Anabaptists Committee is made up of a representative for each continent along with a mentor from the previous committee. They serve as volunteers and their work is funded through people who want to give towards the vision of empowering young adults at a global level. If you would like to give towards the work of the YABs Committee, you can do so here (specify for YABs). Please contact us with any questions, stories, photos, etc. at yabs@mwc-cmm.org

You can read more about the YABs Committee and their work on their website. Larissa Swartz serves as both the North American Representative and chair of the committee. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and works on staff with International Friendships Inc. (IFI) in Dayton, Ohio. If you want to read more about how our culture shapes the way we view Scripture, she would recommend the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.

A Global Perspective

Witness Working Group: Feedback Wanted!

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by Emerging Voices Initiative

The Witness Working Group for the Mennonite Church Canada transition process is well underway, and they need your help! Group member Claire Hanson has made a survey for youth and young adults to give their thoughts on the future of MC Canada’s Witness programs. If you fall into those categories (self-selected), please take a few minutes to fill it out!

CLICK HERE to find the survey (via SurveyMonkey).

This is not an EVI-specific effort, but in the spirit of growing conversation, we’re happy to share it!

EVI Home | Contact Us

Witness Working Group: Feedback Wanted!

Advent According to the Gospel of Mni Winconi: A Reflection on the Future of Mennonite Church Canada


by David Driedger

I confess that increasingly I can only understand the Gospel story, to the extent that I can understand it all, as the story of the Indigenous people that surround me. My ability to hear, let alone speak, good news is entangled in the church’s past ‘mission’ and present impact on Indigenous communities in Canada. For this reason I believe that moving into the future with any integrity means naming a commitment to ongoing relations with our Indigenous neighbours, traditional and Christian.

Inasmuch as this commitment is to the ongoing work of confession and repentance for past abuses it also means attentiveness and willingness to hear the good news as it emerges from their present actions. What follows is a testimony offered for the Future Direction of Mennonite Church Canada (both the interim council and the congregations invested in our future) in the belief that the blessing of our denomination is tied to the blessings present and possible for the Indigenous people with whom we share this land.

This commitment to hearing the good news of the Indigenous of Turtle Island has culminated in the resistance at Standing Rock particularly as the Advent season begins. The elders and water protectors at Standing Rock have declared a spiritual act of resistance in protection of the land and the waters. The events surrounding these acts have an uncanny resonance with Advent.

Advent begins with apocalyptic imagery. We listen to the prophets with images of longing that offer resistance to the overwhelming powers of the present. This longing is transformed into hope of something that can break through these seemingly unstoppable powers.

Oh come, oh come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel.

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25

Within those visions the nations and wealth of the world will stream to God’s holy mountain in which the people will gather that they might learn war no more.

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. – Isaiah 2:2-4

And the nations have come to Standing Rock, the nations of the world represented by various tribes, religions, cultures, and causes (with military veterans being the latest to join putting down their guns with a commitment to ‘fight’ in the nonviolent ways led by the water protectors). The prophets say that the wealth of nations will flow to this mountain in that time as well, and it has with millions in monetary support as well as gifts of various sorts coming in; these gifts offered in honour of this vision for peace (Isaiah 66:12).

Advent is marked by signs. At Bethlehem they followed a star and to Standing Rock they have followed a river and the Black Snake (from the Sacred Stone website: When we refer to the pipeline as a black snake, we are referencing an old Lakota prophecy that speaks of a black snake [zuzeca sape] crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation).  This is an important reminder that in the Ancient Near East the stars were political symbols, and a shift or sign in the heavens reflected a shift in the powers of the earth. And so at Standing Rock the political, the natural, and the spiritual have converged in signs and wonders.

Around the world we watched as a buffalo herd came to show strength and support to the water protectors. We watched as the US empire doubled down in its power electing Donald Trump who heralded the ‘good old days’ of law and order (for white people). As Adrian Jacobs tweeted,

The eagle spoke concerning Trump.
sparrow spoke concerning Bernie.
buffalo spoke concerning #NoDAPL.
The colonizers did not listen.

The signs were given.

And then we heard news of the birth of a child.

mni-wiconiWe heard good news. A woman with child came to the camp to be counted among her people. There was no room for her but she came to make room, to make a supportive space for other women there. She gave birth alone to which she later testified that the spirits of her ancestors surrounding her; this cloud of women calling her blessed. And she has named her child Mni Winconi, Water is Life.

I do not claim anything profound or original in these observations only to say that if ever I have felt the weight and presence of signs and wonders it is now. If ever I have got a sense of what it means to have the privilege of overhearing the Gospel, even at a distance, it is now. It is hopeful, deeply hopeful. With word of the pipeline now halted and under review we should hear resounding in our ears the words of Mary’s song,

Creator has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

But as much as it is hopeful it is frightful because the Gospel is clear about the how the powers of this world will respond. As Adrian Jacobs reminded me, there are many ‘Rachels’ who will no doubt continue to weep (Jer 31:15 // Matt 2:18) in the events to come perhaps at Standing Rock or in other Indigenous communities.

It is with the testimony at Standing Rock, the witnesses of Idle No More and the countless communities of resistance and resurgence (I think of Meet me at the Bell Tower and Bear Clan Patrol here in Winnipeg) that the Mennonite Church needs to continue to attend to; to pray for ears to hear and eyes to see. The work of Mennonite Church Canada will no doubt be more than our work of Indigenous Relations, but somehow I simply cannot imagine that it will be less; I believe that our faithfulness to the Gospel depends on it.

David Driedger is Associate Minister of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, MB. His web presence can be found at https://davidcldriedger.wordpress.com/.

Advent According to the Gospel of Mni Winconi: A Reflection on the Future of Mennonite Church Canada

Dyck: MC-MB Connections


by Matthew Dyck (photo from canadianmennonite.ca)

On Friday July 15th, a small group of CMU students, staff and faculty gathered in Marpeck Commons. They were there to discuss the Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church Canada gatherings, the way the church functions, and the culture that surrounds it. Andrew Dyck (no relation) initially extended the invitation to discuss what cultural and societal trends are currently affecting the church. This question was raised in a paper I wrote on the cultural factors that were affecting the MC Canada, specifically regarding the Future Directions Task Force. Cheryl Pauls, Terry Shellenberg, and Gordon Zerbe were present from the administrative side of CMU. Gerald Gerbrandt, John Brubacher, and Andrew Dyck rounded out the faculty involvement, while Andrea De Avila and I represented the student body.

The discussion moved between topics, from the effects of Post-Christendom on the authority of the church and how it affects how we teach, to the effect of identity politics on the way discussions of doctrine are presented. We were discussing theories, but we were all concerned about how the theories would affect the church in practice. It was interesting to note how although the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches is a slightly larger conference (37,000 to 31,000), there was a significantly larger presence at the MC Canada Gathering (estimated 500 attendees at MC, estimated 200 at MB). I continue to be impressed by MC Canada’s ability to lean into the unknown and change as a group. Coming away from these discussions so far, I simply hope that the congregations and congregants of the MC Canada will be able to keep supporting the leaders and structures that they are moving towards. The conversation continues.

Matthew Dyck studies at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), pursuing a BA with a major in Social Science, and minors in Communications and Bibilical and Theological Studies. His home church is Fort Garry Mennonite Brethren. He attended the 2016 Mennonite Church Canada Assembly because of a paper he wrote for Rodney Reynar’s Qualitative Inquiry in the Social Sciences class (click here for a pdf).

For more on Matt’s experience at Assembly 2016, check out this Canadian Mennonite article.

Dyck: MC-MB Connections

Martens: Women in Ministry


by Carrie Martens

My experience of women in leadership has spanned Mennonite Church Canada, the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and Mennonite Church USA. I have to say that while each of these denominations has rather different understandings of women in leadership on paper, in practice I’ve experienced a push/pull reception to women in leadership in all four.

In each of these spaces I was invited into ministry as either a pastoral intern or paid pastoral staff. So the invitation to participate was clear. And yet, my lived experience felt much more conflicted. In some cases it was explicit, such as being asked not to speak openly about a preaching class I was taking or being told by a member that my ministry was to children and she would walk out if I were to preach. In others, it was more subtle; it was the casual mention that certain congregations or conferences were simply not options for women applying for ministry positions. It was the whispered caution to avoid being alone with a particular male church member (this caution is all too common and indicates an unhealthy environment for all women).

Currently, I minister in a congregation with a longstanding tradition of women’s leadership and I often find myself attending to gender balance from the other side of the spectrum. And yet the push/pull reception to women in leadership remains. Even though it’s not evident in my own congregation, it seems strikingly obvious at an Area Church and Conference level that there is a lack of women in leadership positions.

In July at the MC Canada Assembly I heard Anneli Loepp Thiessen voice her concerns from the floor during a delegate session on the Future Directions Task Force Recommendations. She named that the lack of gender diversity that she saw in leadership frightened her. She noted that it seemed like we hadn’t come very far from her mother’s early days in ministry. I share Anneli’s concerns.

I also heard three comments that gave me pause. One came from Mennonite Church Eastern Canada moderator Paul Wideman, who named that, as moderator, he does not represent his own personal views. Rather, he represents the views of the constituency and the diverse group of individuals who sit on the various councils of MCEC. The problem with this argument is the assumption that the individual is a blank sheet of paper or a conduit through which the constituency communicates. This simply isn’t true. Regardless of demographic, the moderator can only hear their constituency, understand their experiences, and voice their concerns through the lens of the moderator’s own life experience. This means that who we have in leadership does matter. So if we care about women’s voices in our Area Churches and in Mennonite Church Canada then we need to have women in leadership who will bring a lens of female experience (broadly defined) to their work as representatives.

The second comment I heard came from Ryan Siemens, the Area Church Minister from MC Saskatchewan. He spoke passionately about the fact that countless women are asked when trying to find someone to say yes to leadership in the Area Church and MC Canada. These positions are open to everyone. Anyone can say yes to these roles. To my ears this sounded like the problem we have with women in leadership is that women just don’t say yes. This doesn’t ring true to me. In my experience as a woman and as a pastor, I generally find that women are incredibly likely to say yes, but they are also incredibly likely to be juggling multiple roles. However, if women are being asked and are declining these positions to this extent, then we need to be asking why.

The third comment I heard came from a young adult from a church in SK. She implored us to work toward diversity in leadership right from the outset as we transition to a new structure. She indicated that yes, finding leaders from New Canadian churches can be difficult, but if we really value diversity, we will make it happen. I suspect that the same is true for gender diversity.

Seeing women in leadership positions and experiencing their gifts and their mentorship were key in helping me to imagine my own place as a leader in the Mennonite church. I’m concerned with current lack of gender diversity in the Area and National Church. I’m concerned that young women may not be seeing a place for themselves as pastors, council members, moderators, task force leaders and as something more than a token under-20 member on a committee. It is past time for us to put an end to the push/pull invitation for women in leadership.

Some things to consider moving forward:

  • Do we really care about having women’s voices in church leadership?
  • If women are being asked for particular roles and they decline, why is that?
  • Are there aspects of the role that make it challenging for a woman to say yes (this could be asked for many other peoples as well)? And if yes, how could we shift things to make their presence possible?

Should we require councils to have a minimum number of women and men (for example, a council with 8 members should have at least 3 women and 3 men) to ensure some gender balance?

Carrie is Pastor of Faith Formation at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, Kitchener, ON. We are grateful for her reflections-please reply and share!

Martens: Women in Ministry

Wallace: Hope in the Mundane


by Cynthia Wallace

Earlier this month I had the privilege of addressing the gathered body of the 2016 Mennonite Church Canada Assembly. In a nutshell, I said: our Assembly’s theme passage from Jeremiah 31 arrives in the middle of a story of unexpected loss. Its lesson (and in this I learned a great deal from Walter Brueggemann) is that in looking honestly at the past and present—lamenting losses and confessing failings—we find freedom to cultivate hopeful imaginations about the future. Looking back also showcases God’s faithfulness and God’s tendency to surprise us, both of which we see in the incarnation and resurrection of Christ.

At the root of all of this is a hope that is tenacious and open-eyed, a kind of hope writer Rebecca Solnit describes as “an embrace of the unknown.” Hope, she writes, “locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.”

My prayer for those gathered in Saskatoon was that we would claim such hope, believing that despite our disagreements and uncertainties about the future—or maybe even because of these tensions and uncertainties—we could trust that God was, is, and will continue to be working redemption in the world and inviting us to join in the process.

To be honest, though, I spent most of my time at Assembly nursing a one-month-old and chasing a toddler. Even after hearing updates from those who were more present, my mind is foggy: the mundane realities of my life as a parent of very small children stand in the way of any crystalline analysis. As I’ve struggled even to find the time to write this over the last weeks, I’ve felt that I am probably the least qualified of commentators.

But a small possibility nudged me the other night as I rocked a fussy baby: our best hope may be in the mundane realities.

Here’s what I mean. The delegates passed this year’s major resolutions by a large majority, but the BFC and FDTF decisions were hardly unanimous, and they were far from offering blueprints for what comes next. The discussions in workshops and on the floor were (necessarily) limited and expressed significant differences of opinion. I witnessed moments of brave speech and brave listening, but the major work of imagining the church to come is still ahead of us.

Our hopeful imaginations and practices of brave listening and brave speech must take root beyond the Saskatoon Assembly: they must be like seedlings sent out from this prairie riverbank. Some of this work is energizing, but much of it will be difficult or tedious or without obvious short-term gains—in other words, mundane. I believe that we are called to the joyful, risky, creative work of prayerfully imagining, scheming, dreaming about where we go from here and how we get there. But with whom will we do this creative work?

I hope that we will do this work together, across dividing walls of age and gender and culture and opinion. That means listening when we are more comfortable speaking, and speaking when we are more comfortable listening. It means patient and at times painful conversations between local churches headed on different paths. It means speaking and thinking well of those with whom we disagree. It means inviting folks of differing convictions into our dining rooms and kitchens (or accepting others’ invitations!), and breaking bread and sharing drinks and accidentally touching each others’ hands in the sink as we wash the dishes afterwards.

I don’t wish to paint too glowy a picture. Daily faithfulness can be exhausting. Yesterday I swept the kitchen three times before lunch and changed a dozen diapers. In the last six weeks I’ve never slept more than three hours at a stretch. But sometimes I catch glimpses of the people my children are becoming, and the radiance of those possibilities leaves me breathless. My mundane care allows two new humans to flourish. Behold! I want to crow sometimes. New creation!IMG_2645

God is likewise at work on a new creation, forming and reforming a covenanted people, reconciling all things. Others may offer sharp analysis of the 2016 Assembly or grand visions for what comes next—and I hope they do. But what I have to offer just now, from where I am, is this: I hope for faithfulness in the small things. I hope that we will have eyes to see the radiance shining through the fractures in our institutions and in our daily lives. I hope, most of all, that we will let ourselves see what a messy, beautiful people the church already is—and let ourselves dream together, freely and joyfully and with tenacious hope, of what a messy, beautiful people we might become.

Cynthia Wallace is Assistant Professor of English at St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, and a member of Warman Mennonite Church. You can find her sermon at Assembly 2016 opening worship here. Photos used were provided by the author.

Wallace: Hope in the Mundane

Anderson: FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations


by Sara Anderson

Last November, a group of Christian settlers belonging to various denominations from the Haldimand Tract (and elsewhere in Southern Ontario) spent three days together with Indigenous folks from the Six Nations of the Grand River, with the goal of talking about “what’s next for the church and Indigenous communities.” While it was clear that everyone attending had vastly different levels of knowledge of some of the issues facing Indigenous communities in Canada today, the learning that we were able to accomplish through visits to the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford, participating in a traditional territorial welcome, and sharing meals and stories with each other, allowed us to come away with a sense that we had begun to build a relationship with some members of the Six Nations community. There continues to be interest in strengthening this relationship through further gatherings and retreats. This to me stands out as an example of how Christian settlers can begin to build long-term relationships with their Indigenous neighbours.

I would like to hear a more consistent call and commitment from Mennonite Church Canada for more education and relationship-building with Indigenous neighbours within area churches and various congregations. Some congregations are quite far along in this journey of reconciliation, while others are further behind. Continuing to identify this as a priority I think will be key to keep congregations aware of these issues and hopefully will inspire them to build relationships with their local Indigenous neighbours and other settler allies.

I’d also like to see Mennonite Church Canada promote more opportunities for liaising with other organizations (both Christian, settler, and Indigenous) who are already on this journey. Reconciliation in the Canadian context between Indigenous peoples and settlers almost requires an ecumenical attitude, and I would love to see Mennonite Church Canada encourage area churches and congregations to be aware of and engage with other groups who are working towards the same goal.

However, I would also have a word of caution for settlers. Too many times in Canadian history have Indigenous people heard commitments made, and then saw those commitments subsequently broken.  It may be a disservice to Indigenous peoples to give them voices in our churches without these strong and sustained commitments accompanied by continued learning and growing, in addition to our actions as allies. As a national church body, area conferences and congregations, we will need to think carefully about the long road ahead and what it would mean for us to commit ourselves to building these relationships through both easy and difficult times.

As for FDTF specifically, I worry that without a national vision for the Settler-Indigenous relations program in Mennonite Church Canada constantly being re-articulated and re-evaluated based on on-going relationships already cultivated within the program, some area conferences and congregations might never make settler-Indigenous relations a priority; or they may have wildly different and contradictory approaches to this relationship. The Indigenous Relations program is an important resource for area conferences and congregations across the country to access, and it is a resource based in cultivating relationships that have been years in the making. While it is important that area conferences and congregations build relationships with local Indigenous neighbours, if they are uncertain where to begin, the Mennonite Church Canada Indigenous Relations program is a proven resource that they can take advantage of.

Sara is a member of Ottawa Mennonite Church and works in the Indigenous Rights program at KAIROS Canada. She is a Master’s candidate in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton Univerrsity. The above reflections are a summary of email correspondence between Sara and EVI. Click here to read the full transcript.

For more on FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations, see Moses Falco’s post from earlier this week.

Anderson: FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations