What I found at PA 2015 and will take home with me:

Photo: Heiki Martin
Release date: 
Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Paulus Hartono, Indonesia

Being a part of the throngs at PA 2015 made Paulus Hartono of Indonesia reflect on his early life and how unlikely it is that he found his way to this place. Now a Mennonite pastor and highly active in peace work in Solo (Surakarta) Central Java, Indonesia, with its strong Muslim community, Hartono grew up in a Buddhist family. “In elementary school, I learned about Islam. My friends went to the mosque, so I went, too, and eventually I became an imam. I realize now that I was feeling the call to be a pastor, but I didn’t know Jesus.” When he became a Christian and was baptized in 1984, “I took the name ‘Paulus.’”

Commitment to peace

From the beginning of his life as a pastor, Hartono’s commitment has been clear. “We started our congregation in 1994 with 40 members and the vision of being a peace church.” Several North American Mennonite agencies gave him inspiration for putting his vision into practice. “In 1997, I learned about Mennonite Central Committee’s relief, service, and development work. And at the same time, I was influenced by Eastern Mennonite Missions’ cultivation of witness and global missions.

“In 2002, I learned about Mennonite Disaster Service. In 2005, soon after the tsunami hit Indonesia, we started Indonesia MDS: Mennonite Diakonia Service. We combine witness, relief, development and conflict transformation in that work by our church.

“In 2007, I attended Eastern Mennonite University’s Conflict Transformation and Trauma Healing trainings. We’ve adapted those ideas for Indonesia and combined them with our witness and development efforts.”

Writing the gospel with our lives

“Now in 2015, we have two Mennonite churches in Solo, with a total of 400 members. Our Mennonite churches are actively helping to bring reconciliation between Muslims and Christians. We have many relationships with our Muslim neighbours, including a radical Muslim group who are participating in a special class we’re offering on conflict transformation and disaster relief.

“The President of Indonesia is right now seeking reconciliation with Papua, a part of our country where the Mennonites have a program for conflict transformation and trauma healing. He has asked our help in working with Papua in peaceful ways.

“I believe that the church must make relationships with Muslims so they can read the gospel from our lives.”

Paulus led two workshops during PA 2015: “Walking in Tragedy: The Global Church in Disaster Response” and “Interfaith Peace Dialogue and Practice in Indonesia.”

“Being here with many pastors and in this atmosphere of spirituality has given me much courage,” Hartono reflected quietly.

Barbara Hege-Galle, Germany

Barbara Hege-Galle of Bammental, Germany, first attended a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly in 1984 in Strasbourg, France, where she led the children’s program. But she was so tied up with her duties that she got only a small taste of the adult part of the global event.

“I decided to go to the next Assembly in 1990 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, so I could participate – and after that, I knew it would not be the last MWC Assembly for me!”

Since then, Hege-Galle has been part of MWC in many ways: as a member of the General Council, of the Deacons Commission, of the coordination committee of the Service Network, and now as a member of the Missions Commission.

In her day job, Hege-Galle is the executive director of Christliche Dienst, the Mennonite Voluntary Service program sponsored by the Mennonite churches in Germany. And she is on the leadership team of the Bammental Mennonite Church, where she is ordained as a lay preacher.

A view beyond congregations

Why does she not want to miss an MWC Assembly? “Because this global get-together gives us a view beyond the little space of a Mennonite congregation. This gathering motivates me.

“I got really inspired to focus on our Anabaptist specifics this time. Not because of any of our particular traditions, but because of what we believe. We have a strong sense of peace in Jesus. If Jesus gives people like Paulus Hartono strength and courage, we can each do more than just be part of a quiet, peaceful congregation.

“In my work, I now have partners in other countries – and I meet them here. We in Germany are working with these sisters and brothers as I assign 18–20-year-olds to service projects in their countries.”

Communal spirituality

What will Hege-Galle take home with her from PA 2015? “When I have a sermon to give, my experiences here will be part of it in some way. I’m not sure how yet. We have teachings in our congregation, and this will be part of them, too.

“One of our leaders is very deeply committed to practicing and teaching meditation, with a focus on what God is telling you. But some say that’s too individualistic an approach, that we need something more communal.

“Here at PA 2015, I’m beginning to glimpse some of what we might need. It’s just an idea at this point, and not fully formed. I like this emphasis on meditation, but it’s not the only way of spirituality. I was reminded of that here.”

Mthokozisi Ncube and Morgen Moyo, Zimbabwe

Two Brethren in Christ high school administrators from Zimbabwe were first-time MWC Assembly-goers at PA 2015.

Mthokozisi Ncube, from the Eiluphileni Bible School, came for “fellowship and to learn what others are doing. I’m not only Zimbabwean,” he commented. “I’m an Anabaptist and part of an international family. I wanted to sit down with my brothers and sisters and learn about their experiences and how God is working in their lives.

“The Friendship Groups [which met every day following the morning worship service] are a good way to learn to know people. We’ve made friends. We’ve exchanged email addresses. We’re hoping to extend this fellowship.

“I’ve been encouraged to become more involved in mission, and to be at peace with myself and my family, the people I live with. That’s what I’m taking home.

“Oh, and I’ve been reminded that doubt is not always negative. It can be healthy.” [Walking in doubt and conviction was the theme on 22 July 2015.]

Interacting and learning

Morgen Moyo is the principal of Mtshabezi High School. He’s been deeply blessed by the singing at PA 2015. “I’ve had a desire to find out how other people worship. I want to learn from them. I’ve had that opportunity here in our Friendship Group. I’m interacting and learning.”

Said Ncube, “And I have really appreciated the young speakers during the morning and evening worship services. We will take that idea home.

Oneness of spirit

“I discovered something else. When we walked the streets in Harrisburg, no one greeted us. But whenever we walked into the dining area at PA 2015, people always looked up, smiled and welcomed us. Always. I never felt different. There is a oneness here.

“In fact, one thing I haven’t liked is walking into the restrooms here at the Farm Show Complex and seeing myself in the big mirrors. Then I see that I am different. I hadn’t felt it otherwise!”

Celebrate differences

Moyo has a suggestion for future Assemblies. “Why not offer food from different cultures throughout the week? On Africa Day have African food, and so on. It might be hard to do, but why not?!

“There’s been lots of good planning and organization for this event. We especially like the lack of emphasis on glamour.”

But then the world’s inequities surfaced for Ncube as he thought of returning to the realities of home. “Of course, emails often don’t reach us. Not all communication gets through. Out in the countryside, it’s hard to get messages. We hope our new friendships and connections endure anyway.”

Todd Friesen, USA

Todd Friesen is pastor of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. A month after PA 2015, he reflected on the experience of attending the Assembly for a full week.

“What would our churches – and our youth – be like without these glimpses of the global body of Christ, and the experience of being part of something much larger than just our local congregation?

“A week like this breaks our provincialism and our sense of American exceptionalism. This event is kind of an immunization against those attitudes, although we’re still susceptible to them.”

Impact on youth

“We can’t minimize the huge formational impact of these Assemblies on our young people. I attended the Assembly in Strasbourg in 1984 as a 20-year-old. The singing and worship left a major impression on me. I am so grateful that our congregation made the investment to have our youth group participate in PA 2015. It was such a positive experience for them.”

A brush with eternal realities

“I love how we travelled from continent to continent through the morning and evening worship services. Heaven will be more rich and more diverse than we imagine. We got brushed by eternal realities through this experience with the global church.

“For those of us who went to Kansas City [site of the 2015 Mennonite Church USA Assembly], too, why did PA 2015 feel so different? At PA 2015, the focus was on worship, our shared stories, fellowship, and service. We were there simply to be together around our centre in Christ.

“And I learned that in the middle of our great diversity, it’s probably best to start by worshipping God together, serving others and telling our stories rather than focusing on our differences or debating the things we disagree about.”

Ongoing echoes in the mind

“The voices of the young speakers in the morning worship services will stay with me.

“I heard new and rich insights into particular passages of Scripture.

“We were so blessed to welcome international guests into our congregation on Sunday, the final day of PA 2015. Then we all –including those who hadn’t attended Assembly Gathered – could experience that every believer has precious insights to share and serious blind spots to overcome.”

An enduring gift

“My fellowship with these global believers has made them my spiritual and emotional conversation partners, even though I’m not talking with them. I often have a sense of what they think, of what they would say or do, and I can draw upon that.”

Phyllis Pellman Good is a writer and editor for Mennonite World Conference.

Photos of Paulus, Barbara, Mthokozisi and Morgen by Merle Good. Photo of Todd Friesen by Marilyn High.

This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier October 2015