“The [MWC Assembly] workshops provided a very rare opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to meet and share their stories and experiences of the great things God has accomplished through their ministries,” says Francis Ojwang, a church leader from Kenya.
He was one of more than 220 people from some 30 countries who presented 159 workshops or affinity gatherings at the Mennonite World Conference Assembly in Pennsylvania in 2015.
“At workshops, people can engage with experts from our global family on issues of specific interest,” says Estifanos Gedlu, Assembly 17 workshop coordinator. The small-group format allows for an exchange of ideas through conversation. Attendees also meet other members of the Mennonite family who are learning about the same issues.
Some 120 people attended Francis Ojwang’s workshop Forward in Faith: History of Kenya Mennonite Church from 1942 to 2012 on a book of the same title. He believes most of the attendees were service workers from church mission and service agencies who’d lived in Kenya and Tanzania.
“It was indeed a great surprise seeing people, some whom I had met many years ago, those I just heard about, and those I was meeting for the first time,” he says. “I could not believe what I saw!”
“They were captivated by the stories [in the Kenya history book],” he says. As they flipped through the pages, people exclaimed about people they recognized or places they had been. “I was greatly motivated and encouraged,” says Francis Ojwang.
As a result of the workshop, he received invitations to speak at local churches. “I managed to present in two of them [after Assembly].”
He also connected with John Roth of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism. John Roth taught Francis Ojwang how to make the book available online and suggested he re-edit the content to submit as biographies for GAMEO (Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online).
“The interest was keen overall,” says Dorothy Jean Weaver, USA. The New Testament professor presented two Bible studies on power and nonviolence, and one workshop on travel for transformation, which she presented to the youth summit and during the main Assembly. “I had a wonderful time doing all of these workshops,” she says.
“During the workshops, our discussions were animated and valuable,” says Jonathan Bornman (USA), who presented on Christian-Muslim relations. “I learned about other places and how people there approached the issues.”
Presenters report they made connections that resulting in ongoing correspondence, in some cases to this day.
At an MWC Assembly, some of the workshops are given by MWC leaders. They focus on the work of the commissions or on fellowship for networks like the Global Mission Fellowship, women’s theologians, or MCC alumni.
However, many of the workshops result from proposals submitted by specialists in MWC member churches around the world. They share their expertise on topics from peace work, to children’s ministry to archiving church documents.
“Mixing with representatives from the global Anabaptist family during those days remains a positive memory,” says Jonathan Bornman. “We are all excited about meeting in Indonesia!”