Mennonite World Conference by Ruth Plett
For many who are not familiar with the more intricate bits of Anabaptist theology, the word “Mennonite” conjures up images of bonnet-wearing, black buggy-driving farmers who sure know how to cook. Any such remaining images in one’s mind would have been erased had one attended the Mennonite World Conference (MWC), which was held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in August, 2003. The faces of those in attendance were of every ethnic origin imaginable, and in fact the Mennonite Church now has more members who did not grow up eating borscht or making quilts, from countries such as the Congo and Indonesia.
I was among the group that was blessed enough to have the opportunity to travel to Zimbabwe for Mennonite World Conference. The most interesting aspect of it was for me, at least, the Global Youth Summit (GYS). The GYS was a Meeting of the Minds such as I have never experienced before, a group of just over one hundred people – youth, specifically (though you’ll have to suspend your North American idea of youth for the moment and imagine a group of people aged 18 to at least 30) – entirely impassioned and articulately elaborating the challenges youth face in their respective corners of the world. From the nightmares of former child soldiers in Angola to living creatively within the tension of a materialistic and consumer-driven society in Canada, the challenges were as diverse as the smiles seen around the room…but also connected, like the challenge of how to live a congruent life, how to make one’s inside faith outwardly real, how to integrate it into your eating and sleeping life. The GYS was a vehicle for globally, as one world church family, discerning how the church can fit into all of this, how it can be meaningful for the youth, and how youth can be involved in the church. We were inspired to think of ourselves as leaders of today, instead of always leaders of tomorrow – because tomorrow never comes, and what will become of this legacy of faith if we are always being put off until later? Many young adults leave off church after high school youth group is over and don’t return until they have children of their own and decide it would be a good idea for the kids to go to Sunday school….but if the church is to be a true family, then should it not be relevant for everyone? Which is exactly what the GYS was setting about to do…make church a community in which we can all feel affirmed and involved, both in our small church families and the global body.
Since my return I have heard glimpses of this affirmation: people have sincerely wanted to hear about my “Zimbabwe experience”, hard as that is to articulate in a sentence or two, because they believe they can learn something from it, from me. One of the Paraguayan delegates is being invited to pursue church leadership in an Indonesian Mennonite congregation; a church in Zimbabwe is “twinning” with a church in Alberta. It is my hope that the fruits of this myriad gathering of people will continue, so that more people will realize that youth can be leaders of today; the time of youth needn’t be seen as a time of insolence or rebellion, but a time when people can be at their most vibrant – and imagine a world in which this vibrancy is used to nurture and create life and offer hope for our future…
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