Posted: December 13, 2022
“Our duty is to bring peace and love.” These words, relayed from Indonesian by a translator at the closing worship service of Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly 17 in Indonesia, came not from one of the featured speakers but from the governor of Central Java. “Our founding fathers gave us this mission of peace,” said Ganjar Pranowo. “The truthfulness [of peace] has been embedded in every soul…. The choice depends on us.”
His message fit seamlessly into the event’s theme: “following Jesus together across barriers.”
Nearly a thousand participants – seated one chair apart in careful adherence to local health pandemic guidelines – attended the closing ceremony. Some 600 participants took part in the full event with some 400 locals attending one or more day.
Four groups of MWC leaders including a Global Youth Summit delegate spent four of the days with a local congregation. Each community – GITJ Jepara, GKMI Solo, GITJ Margokerto and JKI Ungaran – hosted one plenary speaker along with a dozen other MWC guests. The host congregations shared their life and ministry with their guests. Evening plenary worship was broadcast from these four congregations while the rest of participants gathered at STT Sangkakala in Salatiga and untold numbers watched online – live or later.
“Only by God’s grace”
There were plenty of barriers to cross.
Wi-Fi internet was consistently unreliable; the web-based translation app was difficult to use for on-site French- and Spanish-language participants.
Disruptions and distortions in the video feed, especially the first night, discouraged some online participants from tuning in again.
Logistical challenges frustrated guests as did a scourge of lost luggage and delayed or cancelled flights.
COVID-19 cases sent some participants into isolation. “Showing regard for each other’s health is an act of loving one’s neighbour, Jesus called us to do,” says Cynthia Dück, MWC regional representative and trained nurse, who supervised care. “We are grateful for our participants who sacrificially cared for each other whether through service or quarantining.”
The General Council meetings were truncated to prevent further spread and the registration process included a COVID test.
Members of the choir and the interpreter team were affected, requiring flexibility and grace from all the remaining volunteers.
“Only by God’s grace, we could finish from one service to another while clinging our hands to each other,” says Debra Prabu, international ensemble director. It was a masterclass in trust. “I learned to be more humble, to respect my worship partners, to set aside some of my time praying for them and to forgive more.”
Incoming guests were tested upon arrival. Some, to their surprise, tested positive and had to be quarantined, missing the bulk of the event.
“We learned to have changed plans and hope and pray something good would come out of it,” said newly invested president Henk Stenvers (2022-2028) at the closing worship. “We will work hard to make MWC a stronger communion…that works together for shalom.”
Thankfully – together – many barriers were crossed: from 58 countries around the world, Anabaptist-Mennonites came to worship and fellowship. Despite continued reverberations of the COVID-19 pandemic, friends – old and new – met face to face in Indonesia while many more joined online.
Participants cared for each other. They cheerfully complied with required mask wearing, although face coverings usually came off for photos.
Some volunteers became very familiar with the halls of the hotels, walking back and forth to deliver food to quarantined guests. “This service allowed me to share the love of Christ with people from different cultures, different languages and different ages,” says Gracia Felo from DR Congo.
The very identity of the church
A highlight of the plenaries for many was the 8-minute contemplative dance by Sufi dervishes to music by local church members at GITJ Jepara. The congregation works hard to build interfaith relationships that cultivate peace. “Relating to another faith or religion is not just a church method to make peace; it is a part of the very identity of the church, without which the church will not fulfill its own mission,” says pastor Danang Kristiawan.
Plenary speakers courageously named challenges for the church on mission.
Salome Haldemann reprised Ron Sider’s call to train – and practice – for active peace work and nonviolence (page 7).
Tigist Tesfaye Gelagle named the pain of racism and inequality (page 17).
Nindyo Sasongko challenged Anabaptists to address injustices in the world like colonial, racism, misogyny, climate change, sexual abuse (page 20).
In this majority Muslim country, both hosts and guests shared stories and teaching in plenary sessions, workshops and conversations about interfaith friendships.
The hospitality of Indonesian hosts covered over the logistical blips with smiles, good food – and a lot of dancing. Numerous performances of traditional and collaborative styles of Indonesian music and dance demonstrated that Anabaptist-Mennonites not only know how to sing but also how to move.
“I am amazed at how things just fell into place in spite of everything and how our Indonesian brothers and sisters took care of everything, even going the extra mile to make sure things work out the way they should,” says Jessica Mondal, coordinator of the Global Church Village (page 32-33).
On half-day tours, participants encountered Indonesian history and culture (page 28-29). Learning continued in workshops on Bible study, creation care and interfaith dialogue (page 26-27).
For the first time, an MWC Assembly was fully hybrid. Participants could register for an online experience that included not only exclusive access to the full plenary sessions, but also a chance to join workshops on Zoom, view vlogs from the Global Church Village and satellite sites and chat spaces to interact with other participants.
“I think this type of “hybrid” connectedness has great potential for strengthening the communion of Mennonite-related churches around the world,” says Ray Brubacher. The former MWC event planner organized daily inter-Mennonite watch parties in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. A different church served as host for each event, sharing worship singing from their own community and streaming the plenary sessions on a large screen.
Return to Jesus
The closing service highlighted all aspects of the Assembly program, including the children’s & youth programs (page 30-31). The morning’s emcee pastor Lydia Adi called up “The most important people in MWC” to share songs they had learned in the children’s program.
John D. Roth of the Faith and Life Commission and Christen Kong, Mennonite Church Canada delegate from the Global Youth Summit (GYS) spoke on Renewal 2022 (marking 500 years of Anabaptism).
“I invite persistently people into God’s Spirit. Jesus calls us to suffer together, to carry burdens, to journey together in a return to Jesus,” said Christen Kong.
And all too soon, it was at an end. Host pastor at Holy Stadium, Tina Agung continued the challenge in her closing prayer for MWC to “Be a messenger of truth to all nation sand a bearer of truth to all the world.”
—Karla Braun is editor of Courier and writer for Mennonite World Conference. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada.