“Lord, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I need to be, I am not what I am going to be, but, thank God Almighty, I am not what I used to be.” --Prayer from an African leader
By its presence, teaching and action, the church is the salt and the light of the world. Because of this, it is called to have a prophetic and edifying voice in the world. Experience has shown me that we need new strategies to offer salt and light to believers and seekers who coexist in the same faith community, but come from all kinds of backgrounds.
In 2007, I came as a refugee to Toronto from a Mennonite Brethren Church in Africa. After observing and learning about my new context for five years, I was called to be a pastor at Hagerman Mennonite Church, Markham, Ont. I’ve discovered that, although our churches and society are increasingly diverse and multicultural, we can use this tension as a positive opportunity to strengthen ministry. Here are three ways to do this:
- Listen carefully. I did not feel accepted in Canada until I found a place where I could openly share my story and know that I was heard and understood. We need to hear each other’s stories. Challenges will emerge because we have different expectations rooted in different cultural backgrounds, but if we truly listen to each other, we will learn and grow, be transformed by God’s love and make disciples for Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).
- Collaborate. Hagerman shares its facility with Markham Chinese Mennonite Church and Markham Christian Worship Centre. We collaborate for an annual church work day, coffee time and fellowship after church, joint worship services, workshops and youth ministry. Collaboration has broadened my own understanding of diversity. It introduced me to the differences between memorial services in Canada and in Africa, where the pastor handles everything and the family may or may not be involved in planning. For collaboration to work, we need to seek council and advice, be ready to accept correction, and be available to help others in the same way.
- Dream together. All three congregations in our church community are involved in a renovation project designed to meet the present and future needs of our youth. One of the challenges we face is that our youth want to worship in English, the language of their daily lives, while elders prefer their native tongue. Our hope is that the church will be a place that brings people together, not a place of division. I would love to be in a family of faith which recognizes the principle of unity in diversity and respects differences (I Corinthians 12:27-30).
The future of the church involves our readiness to change and grow, trusting each other in faith and modelling the love of Christ.
Besides pastoring at Hagerman, Roberson Mbayamvula is a member of the Mennonite Church Canada Witness Council.