Why have an Assembly?

Former MWC president Danisa Ndlovu (2003-2015) spoke with MWC about hosting the 2003 Assembly in Zimbabwe, his home country. This interview has been edited.

“Circumstances tend not to favour expectations. You don’t choose what is happening at any given point in one’s life. Even so we remain a church.

“For the church in Zimbabwe to see people from around the world, gathering in this one place and worshipping God together as if there were no challenges at all, it left a lasting impression. You can’t fail to hear someone hail back to that conference.

“The Mennonite World Conference Assembly did not only affect the Brethren In Christ Church but the church in general. To this day, people speak about that conference: it was a miracle. It demonstrated what it means to be church in spite of all the challenges.

Three major challenges for the Zimbabwe Assembly:

  • Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe.
  • The international community considered the president to be holding power illegitimately.
  • SARS outbreak in parts of Asia and North America.

Hyperinflation

“We carried a lot of paper that was useless. A roll of toilet paper is more valuable than the money we are carrying.”

Only those who’d lived in Germany in the 1920s had experienced a similar situation.

“We had to help people appreciate that this is the context in which we are living. Therefore it is good to come as brothers and sisters from around the world and be part and parcel of what we are experiencing in Zimbabwe.”

Plan B was to meet in South Africa, but “it was not in our hearts and minds.”

“For the global church to come see, taste, experience that, it was good. When we talk about suffering, church people can relate.”

Politics

“I wrote a letter to churches [who were concerned] that they were boosting the government’s authority [by coming]. No, I responded: they were being invited by Zimbabwean church – by brothers and sisters – to walk alongside the suffering church at that time.”

“The letter was received very well.”

Pandemic

“Regarding SARS, our approach was ‘wait and see.’ It never ended up being an issue.”

Today’s challenges

“Global warming is being experienced…but while this is a challenge, we can find ways of demonstrating that we are aware of the implications. I don’t think we can stop travel: it is part of human interaction.

Also, for me thinking about the mandate we are given (Matthew 28:19) – we must take the gospel with us. God knew we would be travelling up and down.

“We need to find ways of dealing with the climate. However, we shouldn’t stop coming together. That is not wisdom.”

Inequality

“We can say to ourselves we are going to have a conference at such a place; but we may not be in control of the outcomes.”

For the 2006 EC meetings in Pasadena, Danisa Ndlovu’s wife Trezia was denied a visa.

“Those are the realities we live in. There are challenges, issues of prayer, issues of advocay. That does not stop us from gathering.”

Online meetings

“All of us do feel the pain of not coming together. We are a meeting people. Nothing replaces face-to-face meeting. Nothing replaces hugs. Nothing replaces that kind of interaction.”

“We need to accept the circumstances, but at the same time find those things that bring joy our hearts, those things that enable us to continue to be connected.

“On a video call, I can see your smile; I get the consolation that I am talking to you. I think it is the next best way of interaction.

“Let’s talk, let’s share, let’s have a feeling of how each person out there feels like. Those stories are important to all of us.”

“Challenges are not there to destroy us but to bring the best out of us.

“In this global pandemic, God is growing all of us and maturing us. We need to listen to what God is saying and move in the centre of his will.

“Let’s continue to rejoice together in the Lord in spite of the challenges.”

 

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