The "Birthing and Cultivating Communities of Faith and Peace" event was held April 18 - 20 at Upland Peace Church in Upland, California. Photo courtesy of Stanley Green.
By Jane Morrow
Monday, May 20, 2024

In a world often fraught with division and discord, the quest for peace and faith can feel like an uphill battle. Against this backdrop, the "Birthing and Cultivating Communities of Faith and Peace" event — recently hosted by Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference (PSMC) — shone as a beacon of hope, drawing participants from across the United States and Mexico to the serene setting of Upland Peace Church in Upland, California.

From April 18 to 20, the gathering, co-sponsored by Mennonite Mission Network and Everence, proved a convergence of hearts and minds at the event, seeking not just inspiration, but a sense of belonging and purpose within the participants’ communities of faith.

The event presented a rich tapestry of teachings and testimonies, each a narrative of resilience, inclusion, and hope.

Drawing from the Old Testament and the New Testament, Mission Network Training and Resources Facilitator Joe Sawatzky led a stirring exploration of God's vision for a vibrant people of peace — calling Jesus’ followers comprised of Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, rich and poor, male and female. Shalom Mennonite Church (Tucson, Arizona) representatives David Bonilla, Marina Forera and Tina Schlabach illuminated accounts of multicultural congregation building. Stanley W. Green, executive conference minister of PSMC and former Mission Network executive, shared a history of the ways in which churches were planted in the PSMC, beginning in 1896 in Paso Robles, California.


From left: Reverend Femi Fatunmbi, Royal Dominion International Ministries; Dr. Sibonokhule Ncube, Mission Network; Stanley Green, Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference; Pastor Nehemiah "Nemi" Chigoji, Upland Peace Church. Photo courtesy of Stanley Green.

Workshops were led by David and Madeline Maldonado (College Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana) and Katerina Gea (Pasadena Mennonite Church, Pasadena, California). They provided practical tools and insights for cultivating and sustaining new thriving communities of faith. Mauricio Chenlo, Mission Network Training and Resources Facilitator, led a workshop based on Mission Network’s Sent curriculum on creating systems of call for peace church planters.

In addition, testimonies from leaders like Jonathan Landis (San Diego Mennonite Church) and Nehemiah Chigoji (Upland Peace Church) served as poignant reminders of the transformative power of faith in action, revitalizing their congregations and enriching the diversity of their worshipping community.

At the end of the conference, Sibonokuhle Ncube, Regional Director for Africa and Europe at Mission Network, delivered a message of empowerment. Ncube's impassioned call to participants to "live into their identity" urged attendees to embrace their roles as bearers of God's peace in a fractured world. The ensuing moments of anointing, received by nearly everyone present, served as a tangible symbol of collective renewal and recommitment to the values of love and compassion.

For many participants, the true essence of the conference resided not in its structured sessions, but in the spaces between - the shared meals, the moments of fellowship, the exchanges of ideas that blossomed into friendships. As one participant remarked, 

"I came to this event not knowing what to expect. The Mennonite Church has been in decline, and I have been discouraged for a long time. I leave today feeling encouraged and with fresh hope that we have a future as a church."

Events like the PSMC conference stand as testament to the enduring power of community, storytelling, and faith.



 

 

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