God is in the city! Let the church say, "Amen!" No doubt! The people of God are there! Where there is prayer, fellowship, worship and faith — God is there.
When Mennonite Mission Network receives a message saying, "Thank you for being there," we know we've fulfilled one of the most important goals of the agency. We feel like we are working toward Mennonite Mission Network's vision of witnessing to the gospel of Jesus — and we get to experience the kingdom of God in the presence and fellowship of one another.
COVID-19 showed up in the world, and we experienced this evil in various ways. Mission Network pondered the central questions that other agencies, churches and leaders everywhere were also considering: "How are we called to respond in the midst of such a tragedy?"
Through much prayer, the answer revealed itself: Circumstances and situations change, but nothing changes God. We discerned the reality that God remains present to those who have faith.
During the pandemic, Mission Network and its partners kept in touch with African American churches, through what we refer to as "God in the City," a funding project created to decree that God is in the city, because the people of God are there. This project offered grants to support African American church ministries, as well as participation in Mission Network's Youth Venture program. "God in the City" was designed to offer prayer and financial support for people to remain inspired, present and encouraged to continue their ministries beyond the challenges of the pandemic.
"God in the City" is one of many ministries that will fall under the umbrella of Urban African American Ministries (UAAM) 2022. These ministries are inspired by my collaboration with leaders of the Missional/Ministry Caucus Team (MMCT), a group within Mission Network that shares the organization's commitment to make room for opportunities to expand UAAM ministries. "God in the City" was also in collaboration with the constituent engagement department's cross-functional staff teams, which focus on North American ministries and service opportunities, with the idea that we are no longer generalizing UAAM ministries, we are specializing in it.
Mission Network has been blessed in witnessing God at work. People continue in ministries that have joined the team, showing up outside of their churches — in masks and ready to serve.
Participants in this team show that God is at work in their cities, neighborhoods and communities, through ongoing fellowship in response to the needs of younger and older members within their communities.
Immanuel Mennonite Church, a Mennonite church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, saw the need to encourage a neighboring church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (BAME) Church, through their community outreach. Bethel and Immanuel are located three blocks apart. Because BAME has been part of the history of the community and continues to contribute to that history in meaningful ways, Immanuel Mennonite Church committed itself to being visible in the community and to becoming a part of that history, as followers instead of leaders. They had been working to strengthen trust and relational ties with BAME for 10 years, and Immanuel wanted to secure their fellowship and collaboration. Immanuel Mennonite Church has responded to this partnership through shared services and shared funding to support their community.
BAME's pastor, Reverend Kim Young, is a community relations manager and the vice president of business development at America's Charities. She combines her experience in the financial sector with a passion for community justice, working toward and encouraging economic, relational, and spiritual sustainability for individuals and families.
This shared partnership came together through their desire to offer opportunities for the two congregations to gather together in worship and their commitment to offering financial training that builds families' financial stability, said Immanuel Mennonite's pastor, Matthew Bucher.
Various faith communities are connecting with children in their neighborhoods and offering offer art, reading and writing classes; providing literacy books; and making computers and internet available to members of the community. Ministers and lay leaders saw the need to be present and offer a witness that expresses God's provision for their community. Committed people were out in their communities sharing the hands, feet and love of "God in the City."
Mission Network was honored to witness "God in the City's" respond with the hearts and voices of God's people through our model of global ministry. Joining our work together, we experience and witness mission and ministry with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Through the "God in the City" funding project, Mission Network embraces the opportunity to share our vision and mission in the world. Alongside our partners, who support Mission Network's effort to share mission across the street and around the world, we're working to "Bring the Peace," as the Holy Spirit empowers us. The "God in the City" funding project has helped make a difference across the church. While funding has not been the drawing force of our relationships, our training and resourcing for faith communities is designed to motivate, support and encourage leaders in ministry. Again: we are no longer generalizing in UAAM outreach connections, we are specializing in it.
We are encouraged by the "God in the City" collaboration with African American faith communities. We experience the kingdom of God on earth through the hearts of committed volunteers, despite many challenges, like the pandemic. What an honor it has been to see God at work in the spreading of our wings together across the church!