Places of transformation
Leadership: A word from Mennonite Church USA leadersby Carlos Romero
Evidence of divisions and polarization is all around us. You can read it in the papers, watch it on the news, hear it from friends—and sometimes even experience it in the church. Historians and politicians talk about the loss of civility in our culture and society.
Even within this polarized society, people are drawn to those acts of caring that still happen. I was touched by a newscast I saw around Thanksgiving that told the story of a person who for the last 20 years had made it his mission—due to a time in his own life when he didn’t have food to eat—to provide food to those in need. It was clear he felt uncomfortable in the spotlight for simply doing what he described as "what is right to do."
While I'd like to think our church isn’t highly influenced by the societal trends around us, anecdotal data as well as recent research indicates that in many ways we are much closer to the general culture than many of us want to believe. I’m distraught when some of the same patterns of mistrust and polarization are evident in our denomination. Why do we live with such a spirit of mistrust? It seems we can never give people the benefit of the doubt of their good intentions.
Within this reality, I hope we do not lose our sense of hope—a hope that rises from a faith the
"world cannot understand." Faith has sustained Mennonites through many cultural, socioeconomic and demographic changes over the years. Even with the danger and upheaval of this world, as people of faith we live in the comfort of knowing, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Perhaps you are wondering why I write about culture and faith when, in my role as executive director of Mennonite Education Agency, you would have expected me to write about education.
By illustrating the challenges of today's world, I can better explain why I believe Mennonite Church USA, our immediate communities and the wider world need Mennonite schools, colleges/universities and seminaries.
Mennonite educational institutions are transformative places for students and the surrounding community. In a society that shows so many characteristics of fragmentation, our institutions are places that bring people together from diverse backgrounds and experiences and teach the value of a community of intellectual discernment by modeling it.
In a world of self-interest that places high value on individuality and "what is there for me," our institutions are committed to help our students understand their responsibility toward the wider community and for it to become an integral part of their lives and professions. This understanding of community is rooted in our belief that Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship.
Another way to describe this kind of community is how the Mennonite World Conference describes one of the core convictions of the Anabaptist world family: "The church is a community of those whom God’s Spirit calls to turn from sin, acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, receive baptism upon confession of faith and follow Christ in life."
We also live in a world of violence; much of the news these days describes act after act of violence around the globe. During times like these, we need our institutions as places that put forth the understanding that peacemaking is not just a viable option in the resolution of conflicts but also for everyday life.
We as people of faith believe God created all human beings and that we are called to "live in peace with each other and take care of the rest of creation" (from the summary of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective).
There are many other reasons (too numerous to mention here) why the church and the world need Mennonite education. Our Mennonite educational institutions help strengthen our denomination, our immediate communities and the broader world.
By helping the transformative experience of many, the world is being changed one person at a time. Like the person in the newscast, one person can make a difference in the lives of many.
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