Jesus with Skin On

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?

Jesus with Skin On

“Late one stormy night, a small voice was heard from the bedroom across the hall. “Mommy, I’m scared!” Mom responds sympathetically, “Honey, don’t be afraid, I’m right across the hall.” After a short time, with thunder snapping in the distance, the little voice says again, “I’m still scared!” Mom replies, “You don’t need to be afraid. Close your eyes and pray. And remember that Jesus is always with you.” The next time the pause is longer—but the voice returns along with a little child standing next to her bed: “Mommy, can I get in bed with you and Daddy?” As Mom is just about to lose her patience, her little boy catches her eyes and says, “Mommy, I know that Jesus is always with me, but right now I need Jesus with skin on.”

Every time I hear some version of this little story, I smile at the humorous way that its simple truth is conveyed. There are critical times in life when we need the presence of another person to serve as the physical presence of Jesus—someone to be “Jesus with skin on” for comfort, strength or some other significant need we have in that moment. I imagine many can relate to this child’s desire!

In a similar manner, there are other spiritual truths that need some “skin on,” some concrete embodiment, in order to become real to us. For Brethren in Christ (BIC) congregations in Canada, the Mennonite World Conference provides this embodiment of the important truth that we belong to a church family that spreads around the world. We know that followers of Jesus everywhere are made one through faith in him; however, we can experience this precious truth in a practical way since MWC puts “skin” on it for us. As MWC embodies the reality of our global fellowship in Christ, our BIC Canada congregations are strengthened in important ways.

First, our witness for Christ is strengthened. Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. As you spend time in our cities, walk our streets, visit our shopping malls or go into any number of our schools, you will soon observe a rich mosaic of people groups, languages, faiths and cultures. With hundreds of thousands of new immigrants coming from every region of the globe each year, this diversity only increases. As we lovingly reach out to our neighbours and co-workers with the message of Jesus, our BIC congregations are increasingly reflecting this diversity. The truth that the Gospel bridges all ethnic and cultural divisions is made real and visible through congregations that actually reflect the demographic reality surrounding them.

Our engagement with MWC expresses this same commitment: in Christ we become one global family. MWC provides our congregations a concrete avenue by which to realize and reveal this truth. In turn, this strengthens our witness to the peace possible in Christ. Those coming into our congregations from various backgrounds can see that the reconciling message of Jesus is more than mere words.

Second, as we engage in the programs and activities of MWC, our process of discipleship is also strengthened. In BIC Canada we are convinced that a core way to become more like Jesus is to cultivate mutual, compassionate relationships locally and globally. MWC provides the opportunity to be in proximity with others that otherwise might seem distant. The spiritual formation that comes through being in community with others – hearing their stories, learning of their joys and sufferings and seeing truth from their vantage point – is provided through MWC. The global family is often more seasoned in kingdom truth than those of us who have only lived in Canada. 

One of our congregations recalls the visit of Anabaptist friends from southern Africa that helped them discern aspects of spiritual warfare the congregation was experiencing and then encouraged them through intercessory prayer and worship. Our sisters and brothers who have had to wrestle much more with suffering, with poverty and with persecution have so much to teach us as we share life together. This interaction allows for a course correction, on a personal and congregational level, as we align with realities that are discovered through friendships within our global family.

The way we live our lives, spend our time and money, invest our energies and embrace the suffering that comes into our lives changes as a result of coming close to and being family with those from around the world. The more we engage in global fellowship, the more natural it seems to embrace the deeper change that needs to happen in our lives, and in our churches, in order to be more like Christ.

We are blessed to belong to MWC – “Jesus with skin on” for the congregations of BIC Canada.

Darrell Winger served as bishop/executive director of Brethren in Christ Canada from 1997-2004 and 2009 to 2013, and the general secretary of Brethren in Christ North America from 2004-2006. For several years, he also served in leadership with the International Brethren in Christ Association. Currently, Darrell is pursuing a PhD in political theology at Toronto School of Theology.