As a local band played “You are the most high God,” international guests from the global Anabaptist family swayed and sang at this year’s Renewal 2027, “The Holy Spirit transforming us.” They met at Nyamasaria Primary School’s auditorium in Kisumu, Kenya, and headquarters of Kenya Mennonite Church (KMC).
This annual event, in which Mennonite World Conference (MWC) commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, took place between meetings of the MWC executive committee, commissions and networks and the triennial delegate meetings of the General Council.
“The global Mennonite church is connected as the true vine to Jesus Christ and dependent on God the gardener,” said Gordon Obado, one of the masters of ceremonies, welcoming the international guests to Kenya.
A church born of the Spirit
Strengthened by the East Africa revival, KMC exemplifies the theme: “The Holy Spirit transforming us” (translated into Swahili as Roho Mtakatifu Hutubadilisha Maisha).
In the 1930s, two 12-year-olds from the Mennonite church in Shirati, Tanzania, and Rebeka (“Speedy”) Kizinza—a person of peace whose urgency to share the good news motivated her hospitality and fast walking—carried the gospel into regions where it was not known. They inspired others to do the same.
“Across Kenya, at cooking fires, people gathered around the Word of God and repented of their sins,” said Tanzanian-born, now-retired Eastern Mennonite Missions worker David W. Shenk.
Shenk distilled four revival principles: focus on Jesus while meeting regularly with Christians; confess sins; be dependent on Jesus; and be joyful.
The revival continued: “As the Spirit of the Lord works in the church, we become more and more like Jesus,” said Francis Ojwang, told the group.
“God is calling people from the Global South to bear witness to the gospel,” said Nelson Okanya, a native of Kenya, now president of Eastern Mennonite Missions, based in the U. S.
Addressing the assembly, MWC General Secretary César García said that Renewal 2027 is calling Anabaptists to “a spirit of repentance and renewal and a commitment to remembrance of the past to renew our relationship here and now.”
A Spirit of power
“Why does it matter to us that the first Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit?” asked plenary speaker Elisabeth Kunjam (from India, and a member of the Deacons Commission). Reflecting on Acts 2, she observed three reasons the 2,000-year-old event is significant today: the Holy Spirit continues to empower the church; the church is diverse and inclusive in nature; the church displays a foretaste of the kingdom of God.
The problems facing our generation call for the church’s active intervention, said Kunjam. “The Holy Spirit’s empowerment . . . within the global Anabaptist family is needed for the church to raise up a standard that bears a witness to the world.”
“Where does the Holy Spirit go? The Holy Spirit goes where people are waiting,” said plenary speaker Alfred Neufeld (from Paraguay, and a member of the Faith & Life Commission). He presented an overview of understanding of the Spirit in the early church, among the first Anabaptists and today.
“God has not given us a spirit of weakness, but dunamis, a powerful spirit,” he said. “Dear friends, let’s enjoy this [agape – costly love/love of enemies] spirit of the Lord.”
A spirit of transformation
“In the book of Revelation, testimonies defeat the enemies,” said Barbara Nkala (a regional representative from Zimbabwe).
Nkala, Jürg Bräker (from Switzerland and a member of the Deacons Commission) and Oscar Suárez (from Colombia and a member of the Young Anabaptists Committee) shared testimonies of the Holy Spirit working in local churches. They spoke of the Spirit bringing unity despite diverse opinions in Switzerland; re-uniting a broken family and supporting conscientious objection in Colombia; and bringing physical healing and mission inspiration to women in Zimbabwe.
Leaders with strong spirits
Philip Okeyo, KMC moderator and bishop, led a ceremony to honour retired leaders of KMC, whose bodies may be weak, but spirits are strong.
Echoing the words of the other retired bishops, Musa Adongo thanked God for the blessings received. Joshua Okello encouraged the church to carry on the work of sharing the gospel.
Reflecting back at the later General Council meetings, Rebecca Osiro, MWC vice-president and ordained KMC pastor, said the small national church had challenges in finding the capacity to host the international event. But it was a great honour to be in solidarity with the global church in Kenya. “We feel encouraged and strengthened that we come to this reality today.”
Local choirs interspersed the presentations with songs and dance. A group of Sunday school children aged 4–14, a ministry of KMC Women Fellowship in Kisumu, presented songs, dance, and a special poem composed for the event titled, “We are here to celebrate.”
In closing, MWC president J. Nelson Kraybill, echoing Galatians 3:28, declared, “We are no longer Greek, nor Jew, Kenyan nor American, we truly are one in Christ.”
“May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord who is alive, give you strength so you may continue to spread the gospel of Christ,” said Samson Omondi, KMC general secretary.
Kenyan children perform a poem, with song and dance at Renewal 2027 at Kisumu, Kenya. The Mennonite World Conference event focused on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. (Photo by Len Rempel)
At Renewal 2027 at Kisumu, Kenya, Oscar Suárez addresses the assembly in Spanish, with the help of translator Riki Neufeld. (Photo by Len Rempel)
Members of the global Anabaptist family gathered for songs, testimonies and biblical reflection as they celebrated the Holy Spirit at Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2027. (Photo by Len Rempel)