It’s been 25 years since a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) assembly has been held in North America, but next year Mennonites from all over the world will congregate in Harrisburg, Pa.

Some Manitoba Mennonites want to take the opportunity to be good hosts. They wonder, what’s the point of a family gathering if half the family can’t make it?

A group of young adults from Mennonite Church Manitoba are fundraising to bring Mennonites from the Global South to the upcoming assembly who otherwise may not have the opportunity to come. They’re calling it the Quarter Century Project.

Gerald Ens, 24, and Megan Klassen-Wiebe, 26, are leading the fundraising campaign, along with Kathy Giesbrecht, the associate director for leadership ministries at MC Manitoba.

Sharing the table

The fundraisers are selling three different versions of bread cloths with artistic designs printed on them. They can also be used as pieces of art.

“We picked bread cloths because they have a symbolic meaning, says Klassen-Wiebe, who attends Charleswood Mennonite Church in Winnipeg. “They symbolize the sharing of bread, sharing the table with the Mennonite family around the world.”

The bread cloths were designed by Kayla Thiessen from Steinbach, Man.; Lisa Obirek, a Canadian Mennonite University student from Winnipeg; and Nicole Lea from Matheson Island, Man. For inspiration, they used Micah 4:1-5, which is one of the verses that will be used at next year’s multinational assembly.

Thiessen’s bread cloth shows people coming from all over the world to Jerusalem and God’s Word emerging from that place. Obirek’s shows three mountains to represent a Trinitarian God; in the verses, all creatures are welcomed to the mountain. Lea’s shows a medicine wheel with a cross in the centre, because God binds all the nations of the world together.

The bread cloths cost $15 each, but that only covers the cost of printing them. The organizers hope people will also give generously to MWC, to help low-income Mennonites get to the assembly.

Giesbrecht reached out to young adults in the summer to brainstorm fundraising ideas. She says her passion for supporting brothers and sister from the Global South began when she attended the MWC assembly in Winnipeg in 1990.

“That was the first time I had really seen the global Mennonite fellowship,” she says. “I think it reminded me how important it is as churches who work with a peace understanding of the gospel, that we stand together.”

“This is an opportunity for us to engage again,” Giesbrecht says.

Taking steps toward unity

Their fundraising isn’t just an effort to be good North American hosts; it’s also about taking concrete steps to foster community within the global church.

“For [MWC] to be a true representation of our church family around the world, we need people from other places to have diversity and to show us the true richness of our church family,” says Klassen-Wiebe.

Ens, who attends Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, says the Mennonite church speaks about global unity as if saying it makes it true. “Such a unity needs to be claimed and received in a very concrete fashion, otherwise it ceases to exist,” he says. “This is an opportunity to make that unity concrete.”

Klassen-Wiebe, Ens and Giesbrecht are also visiting churches to raise awareness about their fundraising campaign as well as the challenges associated with travelling from the Global South to North America. Aside from difficulty paying the travel expenses, Mennonites hoping to attend the assembly may also face trouble acquiring visas or at the border.

So far, the Quarter Century Project fundraisers have sold about one-third of the bread cloths. They aren’t sure how much money they have raised, though, because donations are sent directly to MWC.

Bread cloths can be purchased through MC Manitoba by calling 204-896-1616.

—Posted Dec. 10, 2014

See also:

Mennonite World Conference Assembly to meet July 21-26, 2015

Prayer Network launched for PA 2015