By Marie Voth, First Mennonite Church and SEED Committee
Sent 2016 was a church planter gathering produced by Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Mission Network (MMN) March 31 to April 2. Amor Viviente Iglesia in Metairie LA hosted the gathering, showcasing their worship team, catering meals, and providing a warm welcome for all participants.
Sent 2016 participants included current church planters, interested church planters, MMN and MC USA staff, area conference staff and mission committee members, and academics. Music, sermons, presentations, and prayers were in a combination of the participants’ native languages- Spanish, French, Creole, and English. Participants were a good mix of men and women aged 20 to 70+ from urban and rural settings across the country. Though there was a great variety in the way people expressed theology and worship, everyone was drawn to the Anabaptist expression of Christianity and are looking for authentic ways to live and share the Gospel.
The gathering featured worship music led by Amor Viviente Iglesia’s worship band in Spanish and English. They set a good example of how to lead worship music in multiple languages. Speakers both inspired and educated, calling for participants to live into God’s calling for their lives and churches and reminding participants of the historical and theological grounding for their work. The large gathering speakers included Karl Bernhard, pastor at Amor Viviente; Bishop Leslie Francisco, pastor at Calvary Community Church; James Krabill, Director of Global Ministries at MMN; Sara Wenger Shenk, president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; Mauricio Chenlo, Director of Holistic Witness at MMN; and Sarah Jackson, director of Casa de Paz in Aurora. (Ask Sarah about celebrations and how she got all the participants to wear birthday party hats!) Sent 2016 also included workshop sessions for more academic and practical discussions in small groups. There was time during meals and breaks to connect with old and new friends and partners.
So, what next? At the end of the gathering, participants suggested ways that MC USA and MMN could better support their church planting work. Ideas included future Sent gatherings and finding ways to support church planter networking and training both in-person and virtually. At MSMC, the SEED Project and conference leaders received reports from the gathering and are processing the information and ideas. While the practical ideas from Sent 2016 will be helpful, the more exciting possibilities include the ways we can continue to connect with others doing similar work on local, conference, and national levels.
MMN article about Sent 2016: https://themennonite.org/daily-news/sent-2016-draws-over-100-church-planters/