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Reflecting on Mandela Day evokes a sense of grace unto justice on Mandela Day evokes a sense of grace unto justiceBy Joe Sawatzky<p><strong>​Editor's Note: </strong><em>Joe Sawatsky, a church relations representative for Mennonite Mission Network, was asked to reflect on Nelson Mandela, who is celebrated on July 18, an international holiday set aside to honor the leader who helped topple apartheid in South Africa.  </em><br></p><p><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;"><br></span></p><p><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">Nelson Mandela, who would have turned 103 July 18 —which is now an international holiday in his honor — is, rightly, an icon of forgiveness. Yet forgiveness, at the very heart of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, is fraught with controversy. Many allege that forgiveness delays justice by absolving oppressors without their repentance, by denying reparations for the oppressed.</span></p><p>In what follows, I recount two examples of forgiveness from Mandela's leadership that inspire me and place them within the biblical call for justice.</p><p>In 1993 — the year before the official end of apartheid, the separate and unequal system of White-minority rule in South Africa — Chris Hani, a beloved leader of the Black freedom struggle, was shot and killed outside his home. His assassin, a Polish immigrant, sought to derail negotiations toward a new government. </p><p>On the brink of civil war, Mandela, not yet the president, assuaged the nation's fears in a televised address. Without denying White culpability, Mandela generously framed the struggle as a multiracial pursuit of justice, seizing upon the fact that a White woman had reported the killer's license plate to police. In Mandela's words, "A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin." </p><p>Extending grace, Mandela's words kept the country on track toward its first free and fair elections that were held on April 27, 1994. </p><p>In 1995, barely a year into his presidency of the new, democratic South Africa, Mandela — in a kind of positive appropriation — enlisted a cherished symbol of Afrikaner culture in a nation's still precarious pursuit of truth, justice and reconciliation. In pre-game ceremonies, before their championship match against New Zealand, at the rugby World Cup, Mandela donned the cap and jersey of the Springboks, South Africa's national team. </p><p>This was no small gesture. The figure of Mandela, gliding across the turf at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, cut a swath of historical irony. Mandela, the representative of Black South Africa, who once despised the Springboks as symbols of its oppression, offered himself to White South Africa in shades of green and gold. The mostly White crowd at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, who once despised Mandela as public enemy number one, now acclaimed him as their president, in growing chants of "NEL-SON, NEL-SON." </p><p>Following a dramatic and improbable Springbok victory, Francois Piennar, the team's captain, reciprocated Mandela's grace. In his postgame interview, Piennar corrected the reporter's claim that more than 60,000 South Africans, who were present in the stadium, had provided "tremendous support." "We didn't have 60,000 South Africans," Piennar exclaimed, "we had 43 million South Africans," referring to the total population — Black and White together.</p><p>Powerful as they are, neither of these events eliminated racism and injustice from South Africa. Indeed, forgiveness is powerful, but it is vulnerable. Grace is given, but it is not always accepted. Love is extended, but it does not automatically produce repentance. Even so, we remember these acts as calls to action, to allow grace to flow through us for the healing of an unjust world. Aware that some would put God's grace to the test by continuing in sin, the apostle Paul pleaded, "Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!" (Romans 6:1-2 NRSV). Rather, having accepted Christ's forgiveness, let us walk with him in newness of life.  <br></p>
Roosting, or flying free?,-or-flying-free?Roosting, or flying free?By Laurie Oswald Robinson <p>​<span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">When our foster daughter, Symphony, was in our care for two and a half years, I often said this to her during the tumultuous twos: "Symphony, we pick and choose how we are going to do handle things." </span></p><p><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">To my shock, one day as I was melting down from a bad hair moment, she said, "Mommy, you know we choose and pick."</span></p><p>Well, I didn't know whether to laugh because she switched around the words, or cry because she had hit the nail on the head: <br></p><p><strong><em>I could choose my attitude, and pick a new way to be.</em></strong> </p><p>So, too, Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, in his convention finale message, called us out: we can choose to let our dove, the symbol that graces our Anabaptist documents, fly free into a Holy-Spirit led future; or, we can let that dove roost on past practices and present struggles. </p><p>He boldly proclaimed my favorite line of convention messages: "Our documents won't save us, they really won't. What will save us is a renewed focus on the lordship of Jesus Christ" and the modeling his sacrificial love toward one another. <br></p><p>We can choose to roost; or, we can pick a new attitude that leads to a new way of being the healing and hope of Christ in God. </p><p>We <strong><em>can roost or we can choose to </em></strong>embrace Jesus who is enough and big enough to free our souls that tend to clutch control and power, hold onto unhealed wounds, and hide idolatries of unbroken sin patterns. </p><p>We <strong><em>can be paralyzed or pick a new mode of movement:</em></strong> to launch off our agenda-laden and earthbound stages into the skies of our call to live out peace, justice and reconciliation within the infinity of God's grace. </p><p>As Glen flew across the stage in a lighted cape, I didn't know whether I should laugh, or cry. In that whimsical, wacky, and wonderful moment, our brother in Christ was modeling what it means to pick and choose Jesus above ourselves: to embrace Jesus as the eternal source of our freedom and our flight, rather than fickle illusions that risking change brings disaster. </p><p>His serious sermonizing taking flight into the playful unexpected symbolized, for me, that there is something much more dangerous than choosing transformation: choosing to chain the dove rather than to fly free, and high. <br></p>
Befriending those babies those babiesBy Laurie Oswald Robinson <p>​<span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">After listening to Safwat Marzouk unpack the Exodus 1-2 story about how Pharoah's daughter rescued Baby Moses from the Nile, I am rethinking the phrase, "random acts of kindness."</span></p><p>Safwat's perspective on her rescue of Moses was that it was anything but randomly and mundanely hidden, albeit compassionate. Her choice was subversively radical and a snub to the most powerful person in Egypt, indeed, her very own father, likely the most influential male in her life. Hers was not a random act, but a resistant one; a revolutionary one, and it reversed the trajectory of fear of the "other" (i.e. Egyptians and Israelite) into an embrace. </p><p>How many times in daily life do we see "babies" floating down the river of our day and turn our head the other way? </p><p>One does not need to be a revolutionary to enter the flow of what God is doing in the daily grind: </p><ul><li>settling a conflict with someone who thinks totally opposite than we do on an important topic – listening to, rather than loathing, the other;<br></li><li>withholding judgment on someone we feel is too conservative, too progressive, or just too – fill in the blank;</li><li>seeing ourselves as above the struggles of friends and family who we think brought their troubles upon themselves;</li><li>celebrating a co-worker whose gifts are being recognized when ours own go unnoticed;<br></li><li>and embracing, rather than shaming, ourselves when personal weaknesses arise. </li><li><br></li></ul><p>How many times do we revert to indifference regarding the issues in our immediate neighborhood because it is far away from the marches for justice we see on our smartphones and other digital devices. We can't go march in a city far away, so we raid the fridge for another munchie before surfing more You Tube. </p><p>I often shy away from the edge of the daily river so that I won't catch the sight of a reed basket holding someone different than myself. Or hear the cries of someone who is suffering and marginalized. Or witness the impotence of someone with power who is vastly lonely because mutuality is too vulnerable. Or fail to see the silent wound I inflicted on someone by spurning a heart offering me risky, naked authenticity.</p><p>The question is not whether God's river is flowing throughout our seemingly random, daily lives; but rather: are we willing to defy the tyrannies that would hinder us from radical and revolutionary acts of getting wet, no matter how tiny, or tremendous? <br></p>
Breathing in the expanse of God in the expanse of GodBy Laurie Oswald Robinson<p>I imagined the expansive prairie night sky as Dr. Meghan Good gave the sermon July 7. She opened her message on "Jesus is the Peace" by describing this: space is rapidly expanding as planets, galaxies and stars move away from each other faster than the speed of light. As a result, eventually, people standing in the middle of a wide wheat field will look up and see only darkness.</p><p>She used this metaphor to discuss how she is noticing how human beings seem to be on the same trajectory of spreading further and further apart. She said our hope in this scenario is that what God has planned for the climax of all time is to bring all things together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).</p><p>In the harrowing, violent times we are living, it is the person of Jesus who will provide the powerful gravitational pull towards healing and wholeness in our reconciliation work. Jesus is pivotal to that peacemaking, because Jesus IS the peace that brings us together in the work, provides the presence in that work, and empowers the peace that the work is meant to evoke.</p><p>She encourages us to be as sure of God as we are of doing good. To understand how inseparable peace is to Jesus.</p><p>Paul's hope in Ephesians and ours, whether on home computers in Kansas or Pennsylvania or Oregon, or near the Cincinnati stage, is that in Christ, God is reversing the great cosmic scattering and reconciling all things to God's self. Before bed, go outside wherever you are to gaze at the night sky, or the city scape. Breathe in the expanse, view the stars or the flashing billboards. And remember that Jesus is drawing us together to offer the light and heat of his healing and hope, not the blaze of our own fires that will eventually burn out.<br></p><p><br></p>
Convention worship connects through screen and stage worship connects through screen and stageBy Laurie Oswald Robinson<p><em>​The following is the first in a blog series detailing the virtual MennoCon21 experience.</em><br></p><p>A couple of lines from the song "Waymaker" sung during opening worship July 6 struck me as I joined virtually from the Kansas prairies in Newton: </p><p><strong><em>Waymaker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness,</em></strong></p><p><strong><em>my God, that is who you are. … </em></strong></p><p>Indeed, that is who God is – the Waymaker for a first-ever dual convention that is unifying folks from home and folks in person. That takes a Miracle Worker, a Promise Keeper, a Light in the Darkness. A light that permeates every space where people are joining the experience. </p><p>Yes, light is emanating from the computer screens across the United States, as well as from the lights on stage in Cincinnati. These lights are but a symbol of the light of Christ, the Light in the Darkness and Promise Keeper in a world pulsating with pandemic, pain, and perplexity. </p><p>And yet, because of excellent planning, the giftedness of God's people, and the grit of trust in our Miracle Worker, MennoCon21 is happening. </p><p>May it help us all grow deeper roots of peace so that more abundant fruits of peace may flourish beyond the chats rooms and convention halls.<br></p>
Sharing stories of healing, seminars of hope,-seminars-of-hopeSharing stories of healing, seminars of hopeBy Laurie Oswald Robinson <p>​<strong style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;"><em>Editor's Note:</em> <a href="">Here</a> <strong>is a roster of times and places where you will find the in-person and virtual seminars listed below. </strong></strong></p><p>The first chapter of the Gospel of John warms our hearts with the reality of God's incarnational embodiment in our world: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us" John 1:14 (NRSV). God didn't write "I love you" in the lofty blue sky with cursive white clouds. Instead, God spelled "I love you" through a baby, born in a cow's stall, whose life would end with nail holes in his hands. Ours is a gritty — albeit grand — faith that brought God down to dust so that we could be raised up to our destiny as God's children. </p><p>Jesus, human and divine, modeled what it means to follow in his footsteps on paths, often muddy, on paths often steep, on paths often leading to seemingly dead ends. But the paths always lead us further on in faith, from death into life. </p><p>MennoCon21 planners are following these challenging pathways in creating a churchwide gathering, including virtual and in-person elements. Mennonite Church USA Executive Board staff members have trod many uphill pathways on the way to Cincinnati, Ohio, and out of the pandemic shutdown. </p><p>Mennonite Mission Network is joining the Executive Board's hybrid vision by providing both virtual and in-person seminars that reflect how the agency shares in God's global mission. Below are 10 expressions of the embodiment of the healing and hope of Jesus.  </p><p><br></p><p><strong>Note: <em>Seminars</em></strong><strong><em> labeled as "adult seminar" are open to everyone. They are geared towards adults, but youth are welcome to participate.</em> </strong></p><ul><li><strong>Adult, in-person seminar</strong></li></ul><p><strong>"Future Driven Partnership; Pursuing God's call at Mennonite Mission Network,"</strong><strong><em> </em></strong>by Mike Sherrill, executive director, Mission Network. <br></p><p>Sherrill says, "Mission Network is responding to the present and innovating for the future. We exist to equip and empower the church to be a holistic witness to Jesus Christ, across the street and around the world. 'For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline' (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV). This truth draws us toward inclusion and partnership, as we put God's love into action for people of all cultures. We are all pilgrims on a sacred journey. Together, let's discover God's urgent call on each of us and our church." <br></p><ul><li><strong>Adult, in-person seminar </strong><br><strong>"Stir Up Peace: How Nonviolent Direct Action Creates Change," </strong>hosted by Sharon Norton, Mission Network's co-director for Africa and Europe, with Jonathan (organizer and advocate) and Sarah Nahar (scholar and spiritual activist). <br><br>Following Jesus means seeking God's kingdom and righteousness. It takes deep love, creativity and faithfulness to commit to seeking change nonviolently. Nonviolent direct action is a strategic response to violence, oppression and injustice that uses tactics that don't depend on the threat of violence to achieve justice. Seminar participants will get a taste for how to directly seek change in their communities, using tactics that carefully consider timing, context and public perception. Mennonite Mission Network will also premier the video curriculum created with the Nahars, called "Stir Up Peace: How Nonviolent Direct Action Creates Change."<br><br></li><li><strong>Adult, in-person seminar </strong></li></ul><p><strong>"Peacemaking in Africa with Muslims and Christians," </strong>by Christy Harrison, a nurse midwife and Mission Network worker in Muslim-Christian relations; Peter Sensenig, a teacher and  Mission Network worker in Muslim-Christian relations; Nehemiah Chigoji, pastor of Upland Peace Church in Upland, California, and director of the Nigeria Anabaptist Resource Center in Jos, Nigeria; and Sharon Norton, Mission Network's co-director for Africa and Europe. </p><p>Come to hear stories of peacemaking, through sports, midwifery and day-to-day interactions between Muslims and Christians in Africa. Sensenig taught in Zanzibar and Tanzania, where students of both faiths talked about peacemaking in their own lives. Harrison interacted with Muslim women and babies in the maternity ward and in her neighborhood. Chigoji, an immigrant to the U.S. from Nigeria, travels back and forth between the two countries. He uses his intercultural skills wherever he preaches and models the gospel of peace.  The seminar leaders want to challenge people to envision themselves as active participants in God's mission of peace in their context.<br></p><ul><li><strong>Adult, in-person seminar</strong></li></ul><p><strong>"Two-Way Mission,"</strong> by Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer, Mission Network workers <br></p><p>Many of us have had eye-opening experiences, through living in other countries or relating to people whose contexts are different from our own. How can we integrate what we have learned from one setting into another? Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer migrate between the global south and global north each year, being in the Ecuadorian rain forest with Indigenous people, as well as doing life in Goshen, Indiana. Learn how our diverse experiences in varied contexts can help us see, hear and live with authenticity wherever we may be.</p><p><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">Jane Ross Richer shares her thoughts about the seminar: "Diverse experiences are the gifts we receive by stepping outside of what's comfortable. These gifts help us to see from another's point of view. … To be the gospel, we must go beyond thinking properly about Jesus to experiencing reality like Jesus. Jesus reveals humility, intimacy and union both in his relationship with the divine and in his relationships with people from all walks of life."</span></p><ul><li><strong>Adult, in-person seminar</strong></li></ul><p><strong>Adult, in-person seminar </strong></p><p><strong>"Becoming Carbon Positive," </strong>by Jerrell Ross Richer, professor of economics, Goshen (Indiana) College <br></p><p>We live in an interconnected world, one where the actions we take affect people all over the globe. How can those of us living in the industrialized nations of the global north become pro-active when it comes to climate change? Environmental economics students at Goshen (Indiana) College are developing mechanisms to do just this. Equip yourself to become carbon positive by learning how to offset greenhouse gas emissions and take better care of God's creation.<br></p><ul><li><strong>Youth, in-person seminar </strong></li></ul><p><strong>"Changing the Narrative: Climate What?" </strong>by Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer, Mission Network workers<br></p><p>"Fear not!" the angels still say. Come hear stories about Indigenous youth, who are leading the way with creative solutions in the Ecuadorian rain forest. The Cofán people in the village of Zábalo live off the land and take conservation into their own hands. Human impact on the climate has changed the current upon which the economy, human rights and the natural world rides, creating opportunities for collective action and community empowerment. Join a conversation with the Ross Richers, who serve in Ecuador, and hear how ordinary people like you are changing the world.<br></p><ul><li><strong>Youth, in-person seminar</strong><br><strong>"I Fight Authority, Authority Always Wins," </strong>by Eric Frey Martin, recruiter and Church Relations staff member, Mission Network<br><br>Many authority figures that we were brought up to respect — police, pastors, political leaders — sometimes turn out to be untrustworthy. Furthermore, as we dig into history, our economic systems, the lands that we live on, even the laws we must obey are fraught with injustices and often based on systems of white supremacy, classism and nationalism. What do we do with all of that? How do people of faith interact with the authorities in our lives, especially the ones that seem to be carrying out injustice? When we look at how Jesus approached power, authority and injustice in his own life, we can find hope and guidance.<br><br></li><li><strong>Youth in-person seminar</strong><br><strong>"What You Do Next Matters," </strong>by Eric Frey Martin and representatives from Mennonite colleges <br><br>This seminar will be for high schoolers contemplating what comes next, after graduation. We will talk about the different options youth have to connect their faith and vocation. For example, what are the advantages of a "gap year" and what could you do during that year? Our aim is to set up an inviting space where youth can hear about the many possibilities available to them through Mennonite programs and schools after high school.<br><br></li><li><strong>Youth in-person and virtual seminar</strong><br><strong>"Shaping our Stories: Sharing Our Stories," </strong>by Eric Frey Martin <br><br>During this seminar, we will look at how we tell stories — not just the verbal ones that we tell our friends — but the narratives we shape around who we are and how we  project ourselves to others. We will look at how these stories we tell and project shape who we are and how our stories can impact others. We will look at sharing our stories as a way of sharing God with others.<br><br></li><li><strong>Adult, virtual seminar</strong><br><strong>"Breaking a Mission Mold in Africa," </strong>by Joe Sawatzky, Church Relations representative for Mission Network, and panel <br><br>Listen in as Sawatzky interviews James Krabill, Jonathan Larson and Thomas Oduro, editors of a new book of testimonies on the more than 60-year relationship between North American Mennonites and African Initiated Churches (AICs). Learn firsthand from participants in this fascinating and path-breaking chapter in the story of Christian cross-cultural engagement.</li></ul><p> <br>Sawatzky says he hopes this seminar will help people see that "the Jesus-way of mission has always involved mutuality, the giving and receiving of gifts, the creation of a new humanity of justice, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. There have been faithful approximations of this vision throughout time, of which the Mennonite/AIC history is one example. I hope that people will feel Christ's call to know and make him known, even to the ends of the earth."</p><p>Sawatzky notes that we live in a time in which more than two-thirdsof the Christian population lives outside of Europe and North America. "This dramatic growth in the so-called 'global south' occurred as people began to receive Christ in their own languages and cultures, and critique their cultures through the mind of Christ," he said. "Learning about this mission dynamic at work in other societies can help the church in North America to distinguish elements, in its own context, which lead toward Christ from those which deny Christ."<br></p>