That insight blessed Massamba, a Congolese pastor, when he met fellow believers from Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time at the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) gathering July 21–26 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In the Congo, Massamba had heard of Anabaptists, but he was a Baptist pastor when he came to America and began a church. He and the church affiliated about six years ago with the Mennonites from Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.
“When I first got here, I asked whether there were others from the Congo, and soon, I had met 15 to 20 fellow believers from my homeland,” he said “It didn’t take us long to organize into a choir, and we sang together several times.”
A witness to their bonding was Sandy Miller, director for Church Relations for Mennonite Mission Network. She is connecting with Massamba as part of Mission Network’s growing vision to strengthen its relationships with immigrant and Racial/Ethnic churches in the United States.
“Sandy is a gift to me and my family, who were once strangers in a strange land,” he said. “The minute I first met her, I knew God had put her in my way. She has been a friend to my congregation.”
“Mission Network strives to connect with the whole of God’s creation, at home and around the world,” Miller said. Recently, it’s been the “home” part of the equation that is inspiring Miller and her team to develop new initiatives.
“We want to provide safe places for immigrant and Racial/Ethnic groups to discuss challenges and vision from the perspective of their contexts,” she said. “We want to hear what works and doesn’t work for them, and how we can better collaborate in fulfilling their dreams.”
For example, Ann Jacobs, a member of Miller’s Church Relations team, took leadership in organizing a gathering in Elkhart, Indiana, for African American Mennonite congregations. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary co-sponsored the event with Mennonite Mission Network, and John Powell, regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Conference, served as facilitator.
“Our ministry in these settings is to listen and to absorb the truth of people’s experiences,” Jacobs said. “When people know they are listened to, and genuinely heard, they gain a greater sense of identity and belonging, and they can better heal from the trauma of the past.”
Because Pacific Southwest serves many immigrant congregations, it is especially grateful for Mission Network’s efforts, said Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower, Pacific Southwest conference minister.
“Many of our immigrant pastors don’t have strong connections to their own country, and are in various stages of understanding Anabaptism and Anabaptist values,” she said in a late July telephone interview.
“I hope that the relationships Mission Network is facilitating with Pastor Massamba and others will help their congregations integrate more fully into Mennonite Church USA, become more active participants, and to be more at home here.”
Al Motley and his son, Alvin Motley II, receive communion from John Powell at the African American Mennonite pastors gathering. The father and son are bishop and youth pastor respectively at The Way Thru Christ Community Fellowship in Townsend, Delaware. Photo by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
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