AKRON, Pa. — Twelve people were gathered closely in a circle as Yvonne Garber uttered a simple Swahili phrase: “Mungu Anajua.” Garber then shared the translation of this short expression — “God knows” — as she and her husband, Joe, elaborated about how they first discerned a calling to serve the Tanzania Mennonite Church: Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (KMT).
More than thirty years after their first interaction with the church in Tanzania, the Garbers are preparing to enter into a new relationship with KMT. The Swahili response — “God knows” — still seems fitting, as they venture into an uncharted ministry context.
Yvonne and Joe Garber are two of the eight new international partner delegates serving LMC — A Fellowship of Anabaptist Churches.
On February 15–16, these delegates gathered with both LMC and Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) staff at Mennonite Central Committee’s Welcoming Place in Akron for an initial orientation. EMM staff provided resourcing for the orientation, covering topics such as ministry philosophies, histories of respective partners, missiological and anthropological resources, and pragmatic education on international partnerships.
Tom Eshleman, the pastor of Groffdale Mennonite Church, also serves as LMC’s global delegate, relating to international partners and overseeing the new international partner delegate system.
Eshleman shared: “We are seeking to be more intentional and focused on nurturing these international church relationships where we experience so much mutual blessing. We need and desire to be influenced by our brothers and sisters around the world.”
This approach responds to a call for direct involvement by more leaders along with a more defined framework to facilitate these connections. The realities of a more globalized world require stronger relationships among the global church.
LMC’s goal for these international partner delegates is to assign a person or couple to “each of the areas where LMC has global relationships,” as indicated in a November 26, 2018, news release.
“In consultation with the national church leadership and with EMM personnel, we are identifying and appointing people who already have established relationships and calling them to represent LMC in a fraternal church-to-church relationship,” said Eshleman.
Currently, four partners have had delegates assigned:
— Conference of Mennonite Churches in Hong Kong: Glenn and June Kauffman
— Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Belice: Bill and Judy Houser
— Iglesia Evangélica Menonita del Perú: Steve and Beth Gibbs
— Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania: Joe and Yvonne Garber
LMC currently identifies a total of 23 countries where partners are located. Many of these partners have a connection with LMC through mission work led by EMM. Historically, LMC fraternal bishops would provide a connection to these partners.
Beginning in 2018, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) officially accepted LMC as a full member. Even with the importance of joining MWC, LMC still sees a need to focus on specific relationships with its international partners.
The diminishing presence of EMM workers among many of these partners, less connection with fraternal bishops, and fewer administrator visits from EMM’s Central Administrative Office mean that there is a need to find new ways to strengthen the LMC-to-national church relationships. LMC’s delegates will begin relating to those partner churches that are now autonomous.
EMM President Gerry Keener indicated that this model increases the opportunity for EMM to maintain its historic focus “on engaging new locations and people groups where the gospel has not yet taken strong root.”
Regarding EMM’s involvement with the work of the delegates, Keener stated, “EMM will help make the connections and introductions, provide missiological perspective, cross-cultural orientation, and contexts ... to help establish the relationships.”
The delegate role involves maintaining regular communication with their partner, working with relevant EMM staff for joint trips, attending significant events of the partner, engage with a new generation of that church’s leaders, coordinating visits to LMC regions from partners, among many other details.
While delegates bring a wealth of relational value to these global relationships, they will not make decisions on financial matters. Instead, their primary functions are to listen and engage with faith, discipleship, and church life issues pertaining to LMC and the partner.
Serving as volunteers for renewable five-year terms, LMC formally appoints these delegates, but the discernment process may include insight from EMM staff and leadership of the partner church.
International partner delegates are encouraged to raise their own funds for expenses. Eshleman indicated, “LMC writes letters on behalf of each delegate to their church district and to a list of identified friends and supporters.” As funds are received, LMC manages the financial accounts for each delegate.