Being the global church

October 27, 2010 | Viewpoints | Number 21
Barry Lesser |

I was privileged to participate in the 2010 International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together (IMPaCT) program this year in British Columbia. It proved to be a very valuable experience in learning and building relationships with other pastors from Asian countries. Four Mennonite Church British Columbia pastors hosted four international pastors from China, Macau and the Philippines.

North American planning and scheduling was put to the test before the two-week experience began. Due to difficulties in obtaining visas to come to Canada, the original roster of invited pastors needed to change. Our first lesson of IMPaCT was learning to be patient, and also to be flexible, both qualities which we in our schedule- and productivity-oriented society find very difficult. Being patient allows us to take the time to build relationships and learn from one another.

My reflections on the experience of IMPaCT focus on two personal lessons I learned:

• First, that our lifestyle in Canada isolates us from the daily realities that our global church partners face. We are privileged to be able to travel around the country and to many places around the world with relative ease. Canadian Christians need to exercise understanding and grace towards the difficulties global partners experience just to come to our country.

As the privileged part of the global church, we have a responsibility to keep informing ourselves of the situation of the global church community, and this perspective needs to come from the global partners themselves. People from non-Canadian countries can help us to see the world from their point of view. Through inviting an assessment of our Canadian lifestyle and our ministry efforts, we can learn that what we intend with our good will may not be what is experienced by those who are the recipients of it.

• Second, I learned that we need to both give and receive words of encouragement, and to tell our stories more personally and less factually. In the many conversations I had with my IMPaCT partner, Mariano Apilado from the Philippines, I was invited to share my story of who I was as a person within the story of Mennonites in Canada. I could tell the factual Mennonite story, but I was challenged to be alive in the story.

That caused me to dig deep into my personal life story in a way that was different from the way I usually spoke of who we are as Mennonites. That pattern was to speak collectively, and I became lost in the collective “we” of our history. And yet the exchange of personal stories were the ones that inspired and encouraged my guest the most. The personal stories of some of my church members did the same.

We have begun a valuable relationship, personally and in our congregation, with a member of the global church beyond Canada. Now it is up to us to build that relationship, and to be inspired and excited by our global brothers and sisters to be the global church.

Barry Lesser is pastor of Yarrow United Mennonite Church, Chilliwack, B.C.

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