MOUNT JOY, Pa. — Coming with first-hand reports of the huge earthquake in Mexico City and Syrian refugees in Turkey — more than 60 international mission leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas gathered at Mount Joy Mennonite Church September 19-22, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the International Missions Association (IMA).
Eastern Mennonite Missions, who helped found the IMA in 1997 along with Amor Viviente of Honduras, Meserete Kristos of Ethiopia, and PIPKA of Indonesia, hosted the gathering.
“I pray the Holy Spirit helps us tend these relationships,” Keith Weaver, moderator of Lancaster Mennonite Conference (LMC), said in the opening rally. “We want to increase the pool of discernment.”
Tan Kok Beng, a Mennonite pastor from Singapore and president of Asia Pacific Mission, a member of IMA, said, “The Holy Spirit is the drum beat of our lives.”
Coming from a devout Buddhist background, Kok Beng was disowned by his family when he started following the drum beat of God. Now after 57 years in a ministry of church planting and training mission trainers, he lives by the motto, “'Hear God and walk by faith.' We will not be able to walk by faith if we don't hear God's word," he said.
Kok Beng reported that since 1993 the graduates of Bethany International University in Singapore where he works have established more than 800 mission training schools all over the world. “I have no problem with money because I don’t have any,” he quipped, adding, “If the boss sends you, he takes care of everything.”
After a day of learning to know one another through international storytelling, worship, and prayer, IMA participants gathered with leaders of LMC for what Lloyd Hoover, bishop and LMC staff member called “an historic meeting,” September 21.
“You have brought Kingdom seed, and we look forward to you depositing it here among us,” Hoover said, before leading the group of leaders in a meditation on I Corinthians 2.
“There is so much more for the church, for the nations,” Hoover said, urging the group to “create space for God. We’ve become entangled in affiliation and structure questions. The Living Christ will not be recognized if not given space. Let’s posture ourselves for renewal.”
IMA participants and LMC leaders clustered in table groups to share challenges and opportunities with one another.
“While the rest of the world is ‘saber rattling’ and an unprecedented number of refugees are on the move, it’s beautiful to see people coming together here in another kind of a gathering,” said David Shenk, a global consultant with EMM.
Three afternoon workshops led by North American, African, and Asian leaders were “Plurality versus Particularity,” “Engaging the Younger Generation,” and “Biblical Responses to Immigration and Migration.”
In its final day — one devoted to prayer and fasting — participants shared and prayed for personal as well as regional needs: genocide of the Rohingya people, growing pressures on churches in India and Turkey, threats related to North and South Korea, natural disasters, drug trafficking and addictions, a contested election in Kenya, and the imprisonment of an Indonesian politician.
In his closing address, IMA president Yesaya Abdi said, “I’ve learned so much through the IMA. I never realized it would grow to become the rich international fellowship it has.” Then he reminisced about the myriads of ways participants from the 23 member organizations and other guests have shared lives, ministries, stories, and resources with one another.
“Don’t be a well. Be a river!” Abdi quoted his mother as he urged the group to flow into the world energized by the Holy Spirit of Jesus — a stream of living water.
"But when God has not spoken, we have to wait," he cautioned, quoting Kennedy Mbatia from Global Outreach Missions in Kenya.
Throughout the week Keith Weaver reflected with the group on statistics coming from the West – “The more education we have, the less sure we are of the uniqueness of Christ, the fewer children we have. Spiritually and physically. The more money we have, the less we give.”
“Thanks for walking among us this week. We need you,” Weaver said. In closing, he also introduced Tom Eshleman, pastor of Groffdale Mennonite Church, who has been appointed to serve as an LMC liaison with international partners.
“I’m experiencing renewal this week,” Eshleman said. “I will not be the same pastor I’ve been since spending this time with you who are running hard after God.”