Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mission Alive 2008 celebrates past and present mission work.

The Mission Alive conference April 4-6 in Bridgewater, Va., was a celebration of past and present mission work in the Church of the Brethren. More than 125 people attended. (Go to for a photo journal from the conference.)

Sponsored by the Church of the Brethren General Board with support from the Brethren Revival Fellowship and Brethren World Missions, the conference was hosted by Bridgewater Church of the Brethren. The planning team included former executive director of Global Mission Partnerships Mervin Keeney and a steering committee of Linetta S.A. Ballew, program director of Camp Brethren Woods; Carl Brubaker, associate pastor of Midway Church of the Brethren in Lebanon, Pa.; Carol Spicher Waggy, former mission staff and member of Rock Run Church of the Brethren in Goshen, Ind.; and Larry Dentler, pastor of Bermudian Church of the Brethren in East Berlin, Pa.

The conference was an inspiring mix of thought-provoking presentations and relevant workshops, all held together by times of worship. The conference moved through a series of themes: the biblical calls to mission, celebrating a fruitful past, looking at leadership for transformation, cultivating faithful congregations, the challenges facing the church in mission, and cultivating a faithful future. The five times of worship were created and coordinated by Tara Hornbacker, associate professor of Ministry Formation at Bethany Theological Seminary, and Paul Roth, pastor of Linville Creek Church of the Brethren in Broadway, Va.The conference opened with worship, and moved directly into an exploration of the biblical basis for mission. Stephen Breck Reid, academic dean of Bethany Seminary, moderated presentations by Eugene Roop, former seminary president and Old Testament professor, and Dorothy Jean Weaver, a New Testament scholar from Eastern Mennonite University.

Roop highlighted the call of God in the Old Testament, noting that while such a call was rarely safe or comfortable, nevertheless blessing is to be found there. He also highlighted the Psalms as prayers that address the entire range of human experience, and urged attendees to realize that people in mission are a people in prayer. The call to share the Good News, making disciples of all nations, was clearly named as a dominant theme in the New Testament by Weaver, who described God as a sending God and the author of mission. Galen Hackman, former missionary and pastor of Ephrata (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, then shared a "report card" of how well Brethren have responded to these calls to mission.The celebration of a fruitful past included presentations by Ted & Trent; Rebecca Baile Crouse, former mission coordinator in the Dominican Republic and pastoral team member at Warrensburg (Mo.) Church of the Brethren; and a delightful multimedia review of mission work by David Sollenberger and A. Mack (played by Larry Glick). Representatives from the Brethren Church and Dunkard Brethren Church also shared some of their mission story. Paul E.R. Mundey, senior pastor at Frederick (Md.) Church of the Brethren, led a session about leadership for the missional church, and three reports came from people living out that vision in their local settings.

A discussion of challenges facing the church was led by Annual Conference moderator Jim Beckwith and Noffsinger. Along with the challenges, some encouraging news was shared, such as how current missions at home and abroad are making and deepening disciples, and how Church of the Brethren outreach to North Korea has resulted in an invitation for Brethren to participate in a new university there.

The event also recognized turning points for the denomination’s mission program. A special session was inserted into the conference schedule following the announcement of mission staff resignations. The session offered a time to meet with general secretary Stan Noffsinger and the Leadership Team of the General Board.

The conference concluded by looking to the future. A powerful presentation by Mano Rumalshah, bishop of the Diocese of Peshawar in the Church of Pakistan, explored the repressive situation of the Christian church in that primarily Muslim country. A video, "Burden of Faith and Pakistan Relief," showed the dire situation for many Christians, who are the lowest ranking people of the land and are often jobless. People in Pakistan still grieve the relatively recent killing of 17 Christians at St. Dominic’s Church. Rumalshah spoke of his deep appreciation of God who suffers with the people. There is a great deal of pressure to become Muslim, he said, and Christians are constantly being asked to convert.

Samuel Dali, a guest from Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) said he identified with the Pakistani challenge of living with extremist Muslims. He shared about the destructions of EYN churches in the northern Nigeria city of Kano, during Muslim-Christian violence. The question for the conference was clear: What are we doing to show our solidarity with the Christians who suffer? It was suggested that they need more than our sympathy: when one suffers, we all suffer, and we must act together.

Mission Alive 2008 concluded with worship, led by Robert Alley, pastor of the Bridgewater congregation, who preached on the theme, "For All the World."Those who attended the conference felt the strong call to move forward with mission. A quote from Emil Brunner, and a response stated by one speaker, summarized that feeling: "The church is meant for mission as fire is meant for burning." Forgive us for taking too long to decide how to stack the wood.--Enten Eller is director of Distributed Education and Electronic Communication for Bethany Theological Seminary, and also served on the assessment team for the Sudan mission initiative. Mary Eller and Louise Rieman contributed to this report.

Source: 4/24/2008 Newsline Extra

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