Global Communion and Why It Matters: Exploring our shared commitment to being a worldwide family
As Mennonite World Conference, we share a commitment to being a worldwide communion (koinonia) of faith and life. Together, we seek to be a fellowship that transcends boundaries of nationality, race, class, gender and language. Yet because of our diversity, each MWC member church brings a distinct understanding of the importance of global communion to its participation and investment in MWC.
The April 2015 issue of Courier / Correo / Courrier seeks to discern the variety of reasons why Anabaptist communities from around the world come together to form MWC. In the articles that follow, writers reflect on the question: Why does my local or regional fellowship need a global communion?
The Interdependent Existence
Growing up, my late mother had a grass-thatched kitchen with an orundu – a small garden containing all sorts of vegetables – located behind the kitchen. Orundu would also serve as a “testing ground” where any new seed could be planted to verify its ability to germinate and mature. Having been tested, the new crop could then be planted in the larger puodho, or farm.
A well-maintained orundu is not sufficient for the family; yet puodho draws from orundu in many ways. During my childhood, the family was fed from orundu as we waited for crops to mature in puodho. Orundu was easier to tend as it was within proximity than puodho that was larger but not close to the homesteads and required greater effort to tend yet gave greater yields.
When thinking about the connection between the local congregation and the global church family, orudnu and puodho offer compelling symbols, offering clearly not only the necessity but also the essence of the global in relation to the local. Most importantly, the imagery speaks to the ways in which the global depends on the local, and vice versa – what I call the interdependent existence.
The terms “global” and “local” are inherently interdependent, particularly within the church as a community of believers brought together by faith in God. As a pastor and Mennonite World Conference regional representative, my spheres of orundu are twofold: the Eastleigh Fellowship Centre (EFC), a small Mennonite congregation in the eastern part of Nairobi, Kenya, and the Eastern African Mennonite community. My tasks are challenging, taking into account that both are voluntary roles. However, the beauty of fellowship in Jesus Christ and the interdependence of local and global fellowships supersedes all the challenges therein.
At the EFC congregation, for example, we worship through songs of praise, fellowship, visitations, teachings and Sunday school classes in a setting where the majority of people are predominantly Muslims of Somali origin. This context is not only challenging but, at times, heart-breaking. Although we appreciate the composition of our region, recognizing that all people are God’s creation, in faith issues we need the fellowship of the larger community – a global community that transcends our local area in which we are religious minorities, a community in which we connect with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world. Our orundu stands to run dry unless we constantly draw courage, strength and comfort from God through the existence and strength of and encouragement from the larger community.
Our regional affiliations with the Eastern African Mennonite community facilitate our global connections. We share at the regional level so that we can better identify with the global community and participate effectively in it. Without the global community, the regional caucuses would have no meaning. They provide effective intermediaries between the local and the global. They are the glues that hold the global and the local firmly together. The Keyna Mennonite Church and Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (Mennonite Church of Tanzania) bishops, executive offices and various departments at national levels play pivotal roles in shepherding believers towards a common goal – being one body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
What are some of the benefits yielded by the connections between the local and the global?
One benefit is harmony. Sociologists have identified the concept of “other” or “otherness” as a force that divides people. This otherness is not innate but constructed. People decide what is “different” and exclude them. This can be very destructive in the body of Christ. As believers, we share a oneness in Jesus Christ, and that should be our focus regardless of differences in geography, culture and race, or at times of economic imbalances and political crises. We should embark on deliberate efforts to deconstruct any forces of “otherness” within the church so that the “oppressed other” can find space among us Christians as being the “gracious other.” For example, EFC’s existence in harmony with the predominantly non-Christian community should not go unnoticed.
As a global church, let us stand with the struggling minorities in areas where the gospel is threatened. It is time that we re-examine the relationship between theology and economics. The global church should steer its objectives towards the well being of its members. This is definitely a huge responsibility but Jesus made it clear that it is not easy to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3-4; Mark 9:47; Luke 18:24-25), yet we can do all things through Christ who enables us (Philemon 4:3).
Another benefit is identity. Having attended and participated in a number of MWC forums, I can attest that great effort is being put into cultivating a common identity. Formulation of theologies and theological terminologies that will instill unity rather than homogeneity is of paramount importance.
By participating in the global church fora, we are enabled and subsequently find the need to re-shape our social categories in order to enhance a common identity as the body of Christ. A common identity does not compel us to strive for homogeneity. Instead, it gives us room to rise above our comfort zones to a meaningful and worthy fellowship. We can meaningfully identify and attempt to positively reshape our social categories when we participate together as a global community.
Agreements, disagreements and negotiations are all healthy components in re-shaping our identity. We should not keep away from the fellowship in fear of these healthy conflicts, for doing so would be tantamount to closing doors to the very fellowship with God that we desire to cultivate. Ultimately, we adjust our behaviours and self-image based upon our interactions and our self-reflections about these interactions.
In conclusion, as we approach and continue to prepare for the next Mennonite World Conference Assembly this year, neither liberal, conservative nor middle-ground perspectives should linger in our minds. Instead, our watchword should be “fellowship of the Body of Christ.” We need both orundu and puodho, local and global. We need one another.
Rebecca Osiro is a pastor-theologian and the first woman ordained to ministry in the Kenya Mennonite Church. She is the MWC Eastern Africa regional representative and a member of the MWC Faith and Life Commission. In addition, she has represented MWC in the trilateral dialogue between Mennonites, Catholics and Lutherans.