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A Call to New Frontiers

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By Ethan Mast

Is your home fully dedicated to the Kingdom and what the King wants to use your home for? Is it set aside for Kingdom purposes?

These words, spoken by Jay Martin* on Missions Day 2014, joined with a chorus of Conference speakers calling CMC families to reach out with their homes. Jay, RMM regional director for the Mediterranean, addressed his question to three groups of people: those called overseas, those called to stay where they are, and those called to migrate to nearby urban areas. The overall challenge was particularly for more urban migration.

What if we went and lived in the pockets of immigrants who have come to our world? I think that’s something Jesus would do.

I have a dream: a dream that every CMC congregation, every single congregation, would take seriously the call to engage unreached people groups within your state or within your county; search for them until you find them; and then start your own relationship and ministry among unreached people groups. Start in your own Judea and Samaria, and see what God does.

"What a compelling challenge. Why don't some of us from all over CMC make our homes in needy urban areas, and let us use those homes in the service of God’s Kingdom."I love it. What a compelling challenge. Why don't some of us from all over CMC make our homes in needy urban areas, and let us use those homes in the service of God’s Kingdom. Now, where’s the show of hands? Who’s going to go?

Wait, stop the buggy. This is a bit much. We’re talking about the Conservative Mennonite Conference, aren’t we? Moving to the city sounds like a pretty radical shift. We don’t get called Conservative for our love of radical shifts. And I have to admit that I find it hard to picture most Mennonites I know really living competently in any city. I’ve heard corn doesn’t grow as high in vacant lots. And even for many of us who don’t make a living as farmers, Tracy Byrd says it best: “We know how to work, we know how to play, we’re from the country and we like it that way.”

Maybe this is just my problem. Over the last several years my family and I have traveled a lot, and we’ve hung out with more believers outside our own CMC community. It’s funny what they say about us sometimes. Did you know that Mennonites have a reputation among many Christians for withdrawing from the world – for escaping? This view was beginning to rub off on me, before I went to Conference. Now I know better again.

I was nervous about going to Conference. When I heard that the theme was going to be “Faithfulness in the Home,” I could only picture an entire weekend full of exhortations to protect our family from the world and its evil. More withdrawing. But to the contrary, and to my surprise, practically every speaker and discussion that I heard emphasized the need to make our homes a place of service in the Kingdom of God. I was encouraged by virtually every speaker and discussion group to make my home a place of advance into the world, not a retreat from it. And at various points throughout the weekend, before Jay’s Missions Day address, I heard people talk specifically of urban environments as the next place to make our homes.

And is urban migration really such a radical shift? According to Jay, it’s not such a novel idea. He reminded us of his ancestors who crossed the ocean to settle in Ohio, and later took the railway to its farthest extent into Kansas. “I think it’s in our DNA to move, to find new frontiers... I’m calling us as a Conference to go to a new frontier, and that is to go the city... to go to places where I think Jesus wants to expand his Kingdom.” Maybe sometimes we value tradition more than innovation, but let’s not forget that going to new places and trying new things is a part of our tradition.

So, yes, I believe that we can rise to the challenge after all. We’re ready. But it won’t happen automatically, and it won’t come easily. As a body together, we have to become learners. Some of us may need to learn a new trade. Some may need to learn a new language. Some need to brush up on their parallel parking. We need to start learning, and keep on learning for a while after that.

The more we can depend on one another, within our churches and within the Conference, the better equipped we will be. And for what it’s worth, let’s also find partners beyond the Mennonite backyard if we can. Let’s find out what others have already done successfully and borrow some pages from their books.

And, probably above all else, we need to keep in step with the Spirit of God. If any of us take one step in the direction of urban relocation as a response to God’s leading, we’re going to keep needing to depend on that same Spirit for every step that follows. Isn’t that next year’s Conference topic?

*Name changed for security reasons.