In East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1929, Joseph Raglin set the world record for bricklaying, by laying 3,472 bricks in 60 minutes — an astonishing rate of 58 bricks per minute. Raglin's record remains, as do many of the brick roads he expertly and painstakingly built alongside the Conley brothers: William, John and Elijah.
Bricklayers operate as a team. Preparation, planning and teamwork yield a lasting testimony to their work. At the front of my mind as I engage the calling to serve as executive director for Mennonite Mission Network is this nurturing of teams: teams that are efficient and effective and that internalize and mobilize the vision of the global mission agency.
We are laying fresh bricks for the road ahead, facing together the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020. As we do so, we will revisit God's calling on our agency by underlining the indispensability of the contribution of all staff in our shared pilgrimage. Walking together is an important component of building hope during these troubling times. "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair" (2 Corinthians 4:8, NKJV). We are not in despair, because we have a God who loves us and will never leave us. We are not crushed, because we are a community, with Jesus as our companion.
Drawing near to Christ through Scripture and prayer, and near to each other with mutual support, gives us the best hope of navigating these difficult terrains with grace. We are responding to the present, but we are driven by the future. Mission Network exists for such a time as this when we are wrestling with Covid-19, systemic racial oppression, and political unrest all at the same time.
These awakenings are preparing us for the future that God is calling us into. "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV). Let us breathe in deeply this reassuring promise.
At Mission Network, we believe in the power of Christ's presence to transform lives and circumstances. We believe the Holy Spirit empowers us and calls us to participate in God's mission in the world. It is a call to put faith into action out of love for the cultures and communities near and far. Paul Tillich wrote that the first duty of love is to listen. We must listen to the cultures, communities and individuals, and lift up the stories we hear.
We are at a watershed moment in history, truly on the threshold of unprecedented opportunities: to open eyes and heal hearts, to bring peace, to foster relational equity, and to join hands in dismantling systemic racism. In addition, increasing diversity within Mission Network will remain a high priority as we don't want to miss valuable opportunities for intercultural growth.
This is an exciting time to work for Mission Network, which exists to partner with others to establish and equip missional congregations and their leaders to engage their culture and the world with the whole gospel of Jesus. I am glad to be walking together as a team in pursuit of this sacred calling.