International attendees urged to find unity in diversity while “walking with God”
César García of Colombia, MWC general secretary, preached the opening sermon on the Assembly theme, “Walking with God.” MWC Vice President Janet Plenert translated. Photo by Jonathan Charles
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A – The 16th Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly opened July 21, 2015 in Harrisburg, Pa., with a parade of Mennonites from across the globe, confession of past treatment of Native Americans in Pennsylvania, music and calls to walk with God together.
A group of Native Americans from Pennsylvania marched in, led by a man drumming and singing. Jessica McPherson and Barry Lee recounted some of the history of Native people in Pennsylvania losing their land to whites. Mennonites later profited from this confiscation of land.
In a ceremony in 2010, Native representatives offered forgiveness to Mennonites who had confessed their regret for how their ancestors had treated Native people.
“We invite you in peace,” Lee said. “What is past is past; let’s move on together.”
Diverse representatives of the four hosting Anabaptist conferences (Mennonite Church USA, U.S. Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S., and Conservative Mennonite Conference) also welcomed attendees. More than 7,200 people from 56 countries registered for the gathering.
Danisa Ndlovu of Zimbabwe, president of MWC since 2009, said this assembly is the result of many prayers offered worldwide.
“We live in a time of great upheaval and change,” he said. Drawing from the book of Revelation, Ndlovu said, “The urgent need of our world today is for [our church] to be one body from many nations.”
César García of Colombia, MWC general secretary, presented the sermon, based on Luke 24:13–35. He recalled himself at age 17, a soldier in the Colombian army. Military service was obligatory and he did not have Anabaptist convictions at that time.
Is it possible, García asked, to walk together if we are not in agreement? He noted that in Luke 24, the disciples did not agree with each other and carried doubts following Jesus’ death.
“Walking,” García said, means a continuous action, leaving behind our fears and opening our hearts and being involved in the journey.
“With God” speaks of communion with God and with each other, García said. We will have moments of doubt and conflicts and prefer to walk by ourselves. But “we will recognize our need to walk together,” he said.
He was able to confess to his captain that he was a Christian and could not kill, he said, because four others his age had already confessed the same and been beaten. “I had found a new community with these four friends,” he said.
And with them he could walk with God.
By Gordon Houser
Gordon Houser is editor of The Mennonite, the publication of Mennonite Church USA. He is part of the Meetinghouse team of editors reporting on the plenary sessions at Assembly 16