A Vision for Reconciliation

How did you become interested in the life of the church?

Kraybill: Growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA, my family was deeply involved in the mission of the church at the local level. Both of my parents gave tirelessly to the congregation, serving in many roles, from Sunday school teachers to janitors.

My uncle Nevin served as a missionary in present-day Tanzania. The stories he told when he came home on furlough were my introduction to the global church. That sparked my interest in the worldwide body of Christ.

Can you describe your call to ministry?

My primary call is to pastoral ministry. But over the years, I have combined pastoral ministry with work in theological education and academia. It has been a rewarding journey!

In what roles have you served over the years?

My studies took me to Goshen College, a Mennonite college in Indiana; Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey; and Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia.

Over the course of my ministry, I taught Bible at Summit Hills Mennonite Academy in San Juan, Puerto Rico, offered conflict mediation seminars while serving at the London (England) Mennonite Centre, and served as president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana. I also pastored a small congregation in Vermont.

What is your current ministry?

After retiring from the seminary presidency, I returned to full-time pastoral ministry, unexpectedly, with my home church, Prairie Street Mennonite, a multi-racial congregation in the heart of Elkhart.

The experience has been so life giving for me: shepherding, nurturing, and learning from one sustained community. I’m very glad to be serving in this role with these people.

How have you been involved in MWC up to this point?

In 2003, Mennonite Church USA asked me to serve as the North American representative to the MWC committee tasked with producing what became our seven Shared Convictions. I went to Zimbabwe to work with a group of scholars and pastors on reading and analyzing 34 confessional statements from various MWC constituencies. We distilled the core ideas that form our identity as a global faith family.

How did you come to be MWC president?

A few years ago, the search committee tasked with finding a successor for Danisa Ndlovu of Zimbabwe called me to ask if I would allow my name to be considered for the role.

At first, I resisted. As we had done before, my wife Ellen and I called together a group of Christians who knew us and knew our hearts for both the local and global church. We asked them to pray with us and help us to discern. Ultimately, they urged me to let my name stand, sensing that this new direction was God’s will.

Day-to-day, what does the MWC president do?

My role is not management, it’s governance. (We have a very capable chief executive officer in our general secretary, César García.) I’m strictly a volunteer who has the privilege of moderating the MWC Executive Committee and General Council, two groups that help us do the work of the global church.

I’ll meet with the other MWC officers – the vice-president and the treasurer – to do business: monthly (via Skype), face-to-face two or three times per year.

Perhaps the best part of my role is my opportunity to visit MWC member churches around the world! My intention is to spend time visiting local churches in various countries, learning to know the leaders and hear their stories.

Ultimately, I see my role with MWC as pastor, encourager: someone with ears and eyes open to the global church, and someone who helps foster the vision.

And what is your vision for MWC?

The core of our ministry is reconciliation. I want for myself and for the church to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. I want us to know the power of his resurrection, and to know that the energy for our global gatherings emanates from that core reality.

But that reconciliation with God through Christ is only one part of the reconciliation equation. Mission is reconciling work that includes both the dimension of calling individuals to faith – to salvation, repentance, forgiveness, and regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit– and the dimension of nurturing and repairing relationships between people in the church, outside the church and within the global ecology.

The biblical vision of God is to unite all things in Christ. As Anabaptists, we need to hold together individual conversion and peace and justice work. If we lose one aspect or the other, we lose all reason for our existence.

Former Courier editor Devin Manzullo-Thomas asks new Mennonite World Conference president J. Nelson Kraybill about his call to Christian ministry, his roles in his home country and around the globe and his vision for the reconciling work of MWC.

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