I just completed a week in Paraguay on my fraternal visit to the Spanish and German Conferences. I spoke in chapel at IBA – Instituto Biblico Asuncion. It’s a vibrant, growing school, providing a solid foundation of Christian discipleship and leadership.
I shared from 1 Cor. 12, noting how our global community reveals dramatically how diverse we are! I suggested that their educational experience may challenge them with diversity through lectures, readings, assignments and even their colleagues. With that, I pointed out three “visions” to protect:
1. Protect your vision of Jesus Christ (Verses 1-3). All gifts to the church and individual believers come from Jesus through the Holy Spirit. I told the story of “Uncle John” who had a vision of Jesus standing in his bowl of soup. I met Uncle John in Thailand in 2011, and again in February. Some striking elements of his story: his sister was encouraging him to turn to Christ; he had prayed “If you are real, show me”; he didn’t recognize the person standing in his soup bowl; others (perhaps 5-6) saw it and didn’t recognize the figure either and thought it was a demon, since they were animists; his sister identified Jesus for them. This vision helped Uncle John turn to Christ. Now he is a pastor of a Mennonite Brethren church.
When I was in Germany last October, I told this story to a group of MB pastors. One brother sat with his head down, shaking it back and forth, saying “Impossible”. But it happened!
2. Protect an honest vision of yourself (Verses 14-24). I noted we have to guard against two problems. The first is “putting myself down.” We compare to others, and if we perceive our gift is “inferior” we think we have no place in the body – nothing to contribute – and withdraw. (Verse 14: the foot can’t say, ‘Because I’m not the hand, I have no use.’). The second is being proud and independent. (Verse 21: the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’). Very gifted people may be tempted to try to do it all themselves. Our calling is to discern and identify our gifts and accept who we are. These gifts are given for us to use together – and really for God to use according to his will.
In our global community, some groups seem to be “super-resourced” and struggle to know what they might need from others. Other groups seem to be “under-resourced” and feel they don’t have much to offer. Part of my role as Director of ICOMB is to bridge that gap, I believe.
In the Congo, which has a large MB conference (over 100,000 members and a vibrant mission), people have felt they don’t have much to offer, largely because the economy of DRC is very poor. But a unique gift has emerged from their disadvantage. Women have become entrepreneurs to generate family income. Through the years they have gathered to make and sell all kinds of products. When they gather they study the Bible. Over time, leaders with teaching and communication gifts have emerged. These women are part of a group known as “African Women Theologians”. And they have taken up pastoral roles in the church. In Kinshasa, for example, of the 60 MB churches, about 20 are led by women.
I admitted to the students that this is controversial. In other parts of our MB world, people are shaking their heads and saying “Impossible.” But it has happened.
3. Protect your vision of God’s goal for you. Christ gives gifts for a reason: that we build up unity (12:25), love (12:25 and chapter 13), and maturity (Eph. 4:13-16). All this is to build up the Church – and the Church is God’s witness to the powers (Eph. 3:10) and the world (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20).
I challenged the students to use their time to discern God’s calling and goal for them. Whether they go into church ministry or otherwise, they have a calling in Christ, and their gifts enable them to build up the church and its witness.
And what do we do with gifts we “don’t think we need” or think are “impossible”? If they came from Christ – who are we to say “I have no need of them!”? Instead we need to seek God earnestly for his intentions and purposes…and follow through!
Beloved Reader: both these gift-stories are controversial for some Mennonite Brethren – but not for others! God will guide our global community (“ICOMB”) to the goals he has in mind for us. But we must keep our eyes on Christ who gives gifts – to trust he knows what he’s doing, and to work together in love.