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Editorial: Our Disciple-Making Mission

The Church is at a crossroads. Due to the changes and restrictions of the current pandemic, we are being invited to consider new ways of fulfilling our mission together.  

As Mennonite Brethren, we recall our beginnings in Russia during the 1860s when our movement began as a result of revival. We met in homes to read Scripture, worship, and break bread together. We lived on mission regardless of the cost, sharing our renewed faith in Jesus freely with family members and neighbors.

By 2020, we have become a global network of churches, united by a common mission of making disciples in the way of Jesus. We have a strong heritage of Biblical teaching in the context of gathered worship services. Small groups and Sunday School classes have provided additional teaching, fellowship, and prayer. We’ve done well, but the world is changing. During this crisis, we are being given an opportunity to re-evaluate our methods and to refresh our disciple-making mission according to our new reality. 

I’ve learned some valuable lessons from my friend Claude Tamba-Tamba. A few years ago, when violence overtook his homeland in South Kivu, Congo, he and his family began a hectic journey. From Congo, they fled to Uganda where they ended up in a refugee camp. From there, they were given an opportunity to go to the US, where they finally landed as refugees in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Along the way, Claude planted churches wherever he went, regardless of the context. But when he arrived in Sioux Falls, he felt immobilized by culture shock. Suddenly, he didn’t know who he was. He only knew that he had nothing.

 As Claude cried out in prayer, he heard God say, “You have me, and I am all you need.”

As Claude cried out in prayer, he heard God say, “You have me, and I am all you need.” That day, Claude and his wife decided to turn their bedroom into a sanctuary. Every day from then on, they prayed and fasted together and cried out to God. After several weeks, God brought another family to them, and together they began praying in their living room. Soon, other families joined them as well and the group moved to larger spaces as it became necessary. Before long, the gathering had grown into the hundreds as they continued to meet for prayer and worship, both in larger gatherings and in homes. Their faith in God’s all-sufficiency reminds us that we too can ask God for a new beginning, whatever our context!

Many Christ followers like Claude and his family are renewed in their faith as they re-discover their missional identity and calling. Are we in the midst of a similar renewal today? Are you crying out to God?

I love how God has been using our short-term mission programs like SOAR, ACTION, TREK and Disciple Making International to disciple thousands of participants, both young and old, over the past thirty years. We have emphasized discipleship-in-mission training, which means creating a context that is Gospel-centered, Spirit-led and team-based. When people experience that same kind of intimate community, as well as the clarity of witness and the discipleship accountability, lives are transformed. How can we experience more of that kind of discipleship in our local churches? 

Discipleship movements are often characterized by small missional communities that feature close relationships, vibrant spirituality, and genuine hospitality and sharing. As these groups grow, they multiply. Often, a few of the leaders take on coaching roles and oversee multiple groups. 

In places like North Africa and North India, we are seeing this model of church more and more, especially where government and religious opposition require a more flexible, family-based approach. In a similar way, the current pandemic is demanding a creative response from our churches here in North America. With restrictions on the size of our gatherings, is God calling us to re-organize ourselves into small missional communities?

In many ways, this is what we find in the Book of Acts where the Early Church is described: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47). What an inspiring story of togetherness and mission effectiveness! How can we experience this kind of community and unity in our expressions of worship and witness today? 

As MBs, do we understand ourselves collectively as a mission? We exist as a disciple-making mission, but do our structures, whether locally, nationally, or globally, serve that mission well? In both Canada and the US, we are working toward collaborative strategic plans within our national conferences that are focused on mission. We are learning to listen together and work together that the world may know Jesus! 

I’ve been challenged by the way the Khmu Mission Conference in Southeast Asia functions in their disciple-making mission. When I spoke at a Khmu leaders conference at our training center in northern Thailand, I went to bed in the evening after a full day of teaching. The next morning, I heard that the Khmu pastors in attendance had spent half the night discussing the material that I had taught on. They were intent on working it through so that everyone understood and could apply what was taught. I was so impressed by their sense of togetherness and their commitment to every member of the community, to ensure that even the youngest were able to grow and contribute. That conference has been one of the fastest growing church movements around the world in recent years. 

These unusual times of crisis challenge us all to think differently about how we express the mission of the Church. I believe the Lord will give us wisdom and grace to live this disciple-making mission with renewed fruitfulness and faith as we discern this together. 

In this issue of Witness, we have focused on how our global family is finding opportunity to make disciples during the changes and challenges of today’s world. We pray that you will be encouraged to live on mission right where you are and to get involved in our collaborative efforts among the least reached around the world. Thank you for your ongoing prayer and support!

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