Editor's note: Mennonite Mission Network's four International Ministries directors share their Thanksgiving reflections regarding engagement with partners around the world.
John Lapp, senior executive for International Partner Engagement and interim director of Asia and the Middle East
I have grown to cherish my global relationships, especially those in Asia and the Middle East. Some of my most anticipated experiences are the opportunities to put mission-focused heads together during Mennonite World Conference gatherings — both the grand global conventions, which meet every six –years,, and the smaller gatherings of the mission commission and other smaller events. I am thrilled with the networking that builds the backbone of our global Anabaptist community. The church consists of its people.
But, those gatherings are only part of creative programmatic networking. In Asia, we have long worked within international evangelical consortiums, one current example being JCS International in Mongolia. And, a major element of that multi-dimensional relationship is our connection to Mongolia Mission Partnership, a vigorous resource-generating group in Ohio. Another important network is Mennonite Partners in China (MPC), which began as a network of Mennonite colleges in China in the 1980s, known as the China Educational Exchange. Now, also active in connecting with the Chinese churches, MPC continues to pioneer creative relationship-building in the challenging trans-Pacific political environment.
Bringing like-minded people together — or bringing people with needs together with people who have resources — is truly the mission of God. I give thanks this year for the opportunity to participate in God's networking mission.
Sharon Norton, co-director of Africa and Europe
I am grateful for the resilience of our mission workers and partners during the pandemic, especially as it continues to cause massive losses around the world; for some, the losses are very personal. Additionally, some of our workers have faced visa issues and financial difficulties. Some of our partners have struggled for basic survival. All of us have been heartsick about racial injustice, which continues to rob people of their lives and dignity.
One of my pastors once told me that you must always keep the vision in front of you, because there will be times when the challenges and difficulties make you want to give up. For many, this year has brought them to a place of needing that vision, fresh and present. I'm grateful to God for giving us the capacity to see what is not yet reality, to hope and work for a more just and loving world, and to go beyond our own perceived limits, to be community for one another. We are stronger together, and I have seen that in both Europe and Africa this year. God provides!
Linda Shelly, director of Latin America
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricanes Eta and Iota, I feel gratitude for the faith of Latin American Mennonites, which sustains hope and joy. We have seen repeatedly, in desperate situations, how people reach out to help others and, in doing so, build up their own hope for what God will do amid so much suffering. The recent Andean regional virtual gathering was focused on joy. The planners talked about how it is not normal to be joyful in times such as these, and it is when people see that a pandemic doesn't stop our joy that they notice and want to be part of God's mission here on earth.
I am also grateful that we are in an era in which the internet is so much more accessible to people throughout Latin America than it was even a few years ago. It is possible to have virtual gatherings, workshops, worship and communion services. Friendship, creativity and prayer are shared in WhatsApp groups, which are able to connect people, who, in many cases, are isolated from others — even within their own cities — due to COVID-19. Connecting virtually is not the same as warmly greeting each other with hugs and kisses,then sharing food and coffee together. Yet, we recognize the value of being able to bring together, on the same screen, people who live in distant lands, and we are grateful for the sense of connection this brings.
Steve Wiebe-Johnson, co-director of Africa and Europe
I participated in the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM) annual partnership council meetings November 5-14. The first meeting was held via Skype in Burkina Faso, with people participating from Burkina Faso, France, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo and the United States. The second online meeting was held for participants in Sierra Leone, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola. To conclude the council, we all gathered for a final, joint meeting. The biggest decision made in these meetings was to affirm new executive coordinator leadership for the future.
Though AIMM will officially announce our choice very soon, I want to affirm how much hope lives in my heart after participating in this amazing, Holy Spirit-led process. I am deeply grateful that, even though we were physically distanced by thousands of miles, we drew close in heart through a unified discernment of who should guide AIMM's next chapter of ministry.
The COVID-19 pandemic did derail our usual way of meeting, but it did not derail our sense of what has always been true: no matter what is happening in our world, we are part of God's mission, which God is guiding for God's purposes. I am grateful this Thanksgiving for how God's people are partnering with God in countless and creative ways during uncertain times.