NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – From July 5-10, in-person and virtual attendees of the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) assembly in Indonesia found many ways to live into the gathering's theme of "following Jesus together across barriers.' Physical barriers were crossed as Anabaptists traveled from across Indonesia and around the world to worship together. Cultural barriers were dissolved with food, music and dance. Language barriers were overcome through translators, hand gestures and ample amounts of grace.
For the seven Mennonite Mission Network staff members that attended the assembly, the sacred space of crossing borders extended well beyond the gathering itself. In the halls of universities, lively church sanctuaries, and across dining room tables, Mission Network staff joined Indonesian pastors and Anabaptist leaders to reflect on past partnerships, and imagine future shared ministries.
"We did a good deal of planning to meet with as many Mennonite Indonesian leaders as possible," said Mike Sherrill, executive director of Mission Network.
Sherrill, who led an assembly workshop on humility and hospitality in cross-cultural work, spent time both before and after the gathering traveling to Mennonite schools and churches on the Indonesian island of Java, connecting with members of the three synods of Indonesian Anabaptists that hosted the MWC assembly.
The three synods, Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (Evangelical Church of Java, GITJ), Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (Muria Christian Church of Indonesia, GKMI) and Jemaat Kristen Indonesia (Christian Congregation in Indonesia, JKI) all operate independently, but have begun to work together in the last decade through the joint entity Indomenno. Hosting the 2022 MWC assembly was Indomenno's biggest and most complicated task so far, with COVID-19 forcing the gathering to be postponed from its initial 2021 date. Earlier this year, all three synods sponsored a virtual education series in conjunction with Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Mission Network and MWC as a lead-up event to the assembly. On July 11, the day after the assembly concluded, over 40 pastors from the three synods met alongside Mission Network staff at GKMI Eben Haezer church in Pati, Central Java, Indonesia.
Sherrill recalled that conversations with synod leaders not only provided a chance to dream together about future collaboration between Mission Network and Indomenno churches, but also created space for the pastors to learn more about one another and their respective churches.
"I feel like it was a real blessing and an encouragement to get time with all of these different Indonesian Mennonite leaders," he said. "It was a just a joy to listen and be in conversation. Walking together in mission, we have much to share with each other and learn from each other. I think that there's lots that [Mission Network] can share and that the mission agency can also learn from them."
Representatives from Mennonite Mission Network and Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ, the Evangelical Javanese Church) fellowship over dinner in Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia, on July 3, 2022. Left to right: Joe Sawatzky, Teguh Karyanto, Teguh Sayogo, Martin Gunawan, Mike Sherrill, and Andios Santoso. Photo by Chialis Thuan.
Andi Santoso, the regional administrator of Asia and Middle East for Mission Network, said that he was encouraged to see Mission Network growing into a facilitative role alongside the three synods.
"I want to see [Mission Network] really have strong relationships and partnerships with the three synods," he said.
Santoso, who is originally from Indonesia, grew up in and worked for the GKMI synod before moving to the U.S. to study at AMBS. Following graduation, he began his current position with Mission Network. Travelling to Indonesia for the MWC assembly was the first time he had been back in three years. He cited Mission Network's previous cooperation with GKMI's mission agency PIPKA in sending workers to Mongolia as a foundation to build new possibilities on.
"I'm excited to see the future relationship between [Mission Network] and Indonesian Mennonites," he said.
Linda Shelly, the regional administrator of Latin America for Mission Network, learned about the history of Mennonites in Indonesia, and participated in church services and other activities in Banyutowo, Central Java, one of MWC's Assembly Scattered locations. These locations were separate from the main MWC assembly gathering location, and enabled attendees from multiple locations across the island of Java to participate in the assembly by receiving international visitors and joining in the main sessions virtually.
Sunday school youth and children of the GITJ Banyutowo church portray the dramatized story of Ibrahim Tunggul Wulung, founder of the Indigenous Javanese Christian movement in the Muria region of Java, Indonesia. He began his evangelistic work prior to the arrival of Dutch Mennonite missionaries and several of the churches he founded later became Mennonite. Photo by Linda Shelly.
Shelly also provided interpretation during the assembly scattered experience and some transportation assistance for the 14 women involved in the Movement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America (MTAL) who attended the assembly. The group led four assembly seminars, two of which are available to be streamed online. "The experiences of leading the workshops as well as participating in workshops gave powerful testimony to the value of the ministry of women in the Latin American churches and was inspirational for people throughout the global family of faith," said Shelly.
In addition to connecting with synod pastors, Mission Network staff met with nearly a dozen synod-connected organizations, including universities, seminaries, and mission and disaster relief agencies. Some meetings were a chance to formally sign memos of understanding to pursue joint ministries. Other meetings were opportunities to introduce Mission Network as an agency with a renewed focus on mutual mission partnerships.
"We were able to reestablish what [Mission Network] is all about," said Martin Gunawan, senior executive of operations with Mission Network. "Reclarifying our vision and mission and renewing our goal and dream to reconnect to Indonesia." Gunawan, who is originally from Indonesia, came out of the meetings, and the larger assembly, hopeful for the possibility of future partnerships.
"[Mission Network is] blessed with the constituents that believe in us, in our work to be that conduit … spreading the word and the work and love of God into the lives of others. [Our experience in] Indonesia just reminds us of that."
For more photos from the MWC assembly, click here.
Four Mission Network-connected MWC assembly webinars are now available to stream on-demand: