​Santiago Espitia, director of the Seminario Bíblico Menonita de Colombia (SBMC), talks with students as they end the first "bimester" and prepare for a new round of classes. Students across Colombia and neighboring countries signed up for SBMC's new online, three-year degree program in Biblical and Theological Studies, which started in August. Photo by Paola Bischoff.

By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Friday, November 6, 2020

Directors of Mennonite Mission Network's service programs reflect on how service opportunities pave a stronger pathway for the future Anabaptist church.  

On March 24, at the outset of the shut-down in the United States, Mission Network's Executive Cabinet released thousands of dollars of emergency funds to help its partners throughout the world. Mission Network sent out "care packages" of monies which were a portion of the agency's reserves. 

"When we released money to be used for COVID, we put it in a standing fund for which we rotate money in and out as we make decisions on responding to major global crises," said John Lapp, senior executive for International Partner Engagement (IPE) which is one of Mission Network's divisions. 

That fund consists of some previously unused donations that were available for refugee-specific COVID-19 projects, in addition to the March allocation of $20,000, he said. Additional donor contributions earmarked for COVID-19 relief were also added to this fund. And in August of this new fiscal year, the agency buoyed the standing fund with an additional $10,000. 

In a recent report to the agency's board of directors, Lapp wrote, "The IPE team remains positive and engaged as we, together, listen for God's direction in creatively initiating and responding with global partners in this ever-more-connected global context." 


In that same board report, Mission Network's regional directors focused on how they are striving to follow God's direction in an ever-changing landscape. Steve Wiebe-Johnson and Sharon Norton, co-directors for Africa and Europe, shared how they are joining Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM) in reformatting meetings that previously happened face-to-face. 

They wrote, "AIMM is gathering people within each country to meet in one place. The plan includes having local representatives gather and including time for spouses to be together. Marriage workshops, Bible studies, and other activities will affirm and encourage the leaders. The national gatherings will join an online transnational business meeting each day so participants can hear from the other locations and to participate in decision making."

Latin America

Linda Shelly, director for Latin America, reported that the Seminario Bíblico Menonita de Colombia (SBMC) enthusiastically launched their new on-line program. The Caribbean Coast region has also embraced working with the Missional Discipleship Initiative for discipleship training, including 24 leaders and youthes in four cohorts. 

"Although traditionally Colombians and others in Latin America have expressed a strong cultural preference for face-to-face and classroom learning, it's encouraging to see how so many people in the midst of the current reality are choosing to adapt and embrace on-line opportunities now," she wrote. "At the same time, we are aware that the possibility of connecting to the internet is not equal. The coordinator of the Caribbean Coast region asked if a sister church could help with partial funding for technology so that their most remote church could participate with the region and those funds were sent."  

Stories in the series:

Introduction: A tale of two worlds and one God of abundant hope

Story 1: Distributing care packages; reformatting ministries

Story 2: Providing an emotional-spiritual "vaccine" for isolation

Story 3: Praying and caring for supporters

Story 4: Persevering in Christian Service programs

Story 5: Dismantling systemic racism






​Laurie Oswald Robinson is editor at Mennonite Mission Network.



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