By Joshua Jefferson, Youth Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Church
We were all drawn together on that cold, windy Monday evening, February 13, by the promise of fresh enchiladas and tostadas made by the members of Centro de Alabanza, along with some warm conversation with James Krabill of Mennonite Mission Network, to share stories about the church in mission. The topic of the evening was “Celebration of Shalom: Stories of the Church in Mission”, and so, after we finished a few tasty treats, James spent time sharing about his readiness as a missionary for plans to be interrupted by God’s unexpected appointments.
The son of parents who met on a church-planting mission trip, James grew up in a congregation in mission. North Goshen (IN) Mennonite Church was a Goshen College student-planted church in what was called an “immigrant community”, serving largely unchurched factory workers who had migrated from Kentucky and Tennessee. This early foundation prepared James for a lifetime of mission-oriented teaching, service and administration, including 20 years as a Bible teacher in Ivory Coast. He is currently Senior Executive for Global Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network.
Throughout the the evening, James shared Biblical principles about how the Cross brings reconciliation on a cosmic yet personal scale. He then reminded us that the ministry of reconciliation is God’s highest priority in the cosmos. At this point I leaned in, realizing how often this simple calling gets strangled by the tyranny of the urgent.
“Peace,” he continued, “is not the distinction of one tradition, but the very model and message of the church!” He finished by telling us of a friend who was once at an airport, trying to find a quick dinner before his flight. He stumbled up to the counter of a Popeye’s, and ordered a meal. “We’re all out of chicken,” the cashier replied. “But chicken is who you are!” the man responded. For Popeye’s, to be out of chicken is to be out of business. For the Church, to be out of reconciliation, is to be out of mission.
James told us about the history of his home congregation — Prairie Street Mennonite Church. Founded in 1871 as a presence in the city of Elkhart, Indiana, the congregation originally housed the Elkhart Institute (which later became Goshen College) and the Mennonite Publishing House in the late 1800s.
“People who have been connected with that congregation their whole lives think of this as the ‘golden days’,” James confessed. “They live in the past, rather than saying ‘What is God doing right now? How can we be God’s people today in this time and place?’ The neighborhood has completely changed; our context has completely changed. In 2017, we do not live anymore in 1871. We have people with doctoral degrees and some people who can’t read and write. We have some fairly wealthy people, and virtually, some homeless people! We have some English speakers, we have a growing number of Spanish speakers. We have cradle Mennonites, and other people who are just becoming acquainted. So how do we figure out how to be the church in 2017?”
Listen to James’ story of how an unfortunate misunderstanding has led Prairie Street to become a place of hope for their community:
At this point, we changed tables to meet someone new and to share about our experiments and obstacles encountered in mission. I had the privilege of sitting with Lynne Allebach, the lay pastor from Arise Community Outreach, and Fernando Loyola, pastor of Centro de Alabanza. We reminisced about our own unexpected appointments, and commented on the unique shape of the ministry of reconciliation in our different settings. At the end of the evening, James offered a few final remarks, namely that Christianity comprises about one third of our planet, and that Islam comprises about one fourth of our planet. This is paramount to the ministry of reconciliation. We must recognize the task before us now, for the life of the world!
(Hear the entire “Celebration of Shalom” podcast in our audio gallery.)