Kolkata, India—Strengthening Anabaptist identity, learning more about Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and their responsibilities and proposing priorities for the future were the main issues that engaged Asian members of the MWC General Council at a training session for the Asia Caucus November 15-19, 2011 in Kolkata, India.
The event was attended by 32 persons, including 29 men and three women from 18 national churches in Asia and the Pacific. Only Vietnam and Australia were missing. Also attending was a representative from the Mennonite Brethren Conference in Japan, which is not a member of MWC. Serving as conveners were Cynthia Peacock (India) and Bert Lobe (Canada), with assistance from Shant Kunjam and Manjula Roul (both from India).
The time together was enlivened by singing, worship and story telling. “When we tired of sitting, we sang!” commented one participant. Song leaders were Agus Setianto of Indonesia and Irene Suderman of Canada. After singing “Jesus Loves Me” in every language in the room, Yoshihiro Inamine from Japan exclaimed: “This is not a joyful noise; it is wonderful!”
Each of the participants shared what God is doing in their churches and conferences.
Worship sessions were led by Shemlal Hembrom of Nepal, Amos Chin of Myanmar, Yukari Kaga of Japan and Shant Kunjam of India.
A desire to learn more about their Anabaptist identity ranked high on the list of interests named by participants. They expressed appreciation for the sessions on Anabaptist perspectives led by Robert J. Suderman and Bert Lobe of Canada, who had been invited for similar teaching sessions a year earlier in both India and Indonesia.
In discussions on the meaning of the MWC vision of being “a communion of Anabaptist-related churches” many expressed a desire to strengthen their identity as peacemakers in order to contribute to the wider Christian church and society. They said they want be a community of faith through loving and serving those inside and outside of the church, and equipping each other through the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
One participant commented: “Our vision should be expanded Mennonite churches…. We want to see churches involved in abolishing the caste system, dowry and corruption.” Anti-conversion legislation pending in four Indian states poses challenges for the vision of expanding the church.
Another highlight named by participants was the opportunity to gain a better understanding of their role as members of the MWC General Council, which meets every three years. “The challenge,” commented Cynthia Peacock, “will be to see whether what was learned will be communicated back to the local congregations, and how that will better bring about an understanding of the connectivity we have as a global church through MWC.”
Leading the sessions on MWC vision, mission and program priorities were Bert Lobe of Canada, Paulus Widjaja of Indonesia and the two Asia representatives on the MWC Executive Committee—Prem Bagh of India and Adi Walujo of Indonesia.
In anticipation of the next gathering of the MWC General Council in May 2012 in Switzerland, the Asian Caucus members proposed a number of priorities for the three years leading up to the 2015 global assembly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The proposals include strong encouragement to include inter faith dialogue as an MWC priority since inter faith relations are a reality for many of the congregations. Currently MWC engages in dialogue only with other Christian groups. Other proposals included: work camps for youth, focusing on Anabaptist identity, perhaps in a “mini Assembly” format; workshops on peace as foundational to the gospel, and leadership training; focus on women and their role in the church and its ministries, for example, the formation of a network of Asia women theologians; increased regional exchanges of pastors.
The participants also finalized a proposal for the merger of Asia Mennonite Conference, started in 1971, with the MWC Asia Caucus.
Ron Rempel, MWC news editor, from reports by Bert Lobe
Asia Caucus event framed by church visits
November 10-13. Cynthia Peacock and Bert Lobe visited with leaders from the Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in India. Peacock is chair of the MWC Deacons Commission and Lobe serves as secretary.
November 19-22. Various MWC leaders conducted a leadership training event for persons from 8 MWC member churches in India. These churches all participate in the Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India. The training was attended by 55 persons; 30 percent were women.
November 23-26. Two teams visited MWC member churches in four states—Orissa, Jarkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar. The purpose of the visits was to provide a face for MWC and to share stories of God’s work in congregations. One team included Cynthia Peacock, Sumana Basumata, Irene and Robert J. Suderman. The second team included Prem Bagh, Adi Walujo, Manjula Roul, Jessica Mondal and Bert Lobe.
November 27-30. A visit to Union Biblical Seminary in Pune (Maharashtra) by Peacock, Sudermans and Lobe capped the three week itinerary by MWC leaders in Asia.
Photos by Bert Lobe:
Participants in Asia Caucus training (from left): Prem Prakash Bagh* (India), Shemlal Hembrom (Nepal), Adi Walujo* (Indonesia), Kyong-Jung Kim (South Korea). The two marked with a star (*) are the Asia members of the MWC Executive Committee.