We had the opportunity to participate in the “Mennonitischer Gemeindetag” this past weekend in Regensburg, Germany. This is a triennial gathering of Mennonites from across Germany, allowing for connections to grow among people linked theologically, yet separated geographically. Not unlike our Canadian Assembly, it’s an opportunity to renew old relationships and form new ones. It was interesting for us as “outsiders” to observe how these events unfold.
The theme for this year’s gathering came from Ezekiel 36:26: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you”. The theme of “Geschenkt (Gifted)” follows this idea of receiving a new heart and spirit – how do we respond to these gifts? What other gifts have we received? Upon reflection, this weekend gifted us with a number of things.
Firstly, we had the chance to travel in a rental car with our partners Jennifer and Greg, along with their son Alex. Although we work together with Greg, we have not had that many opportunities in the past months for all of us to be together. In addition to the quality time in the car (almost 8 hours all together), we also shared a rental house for the weekend that allowed for shared meals and great conversation. That was a gift.
Speaking of our rental home … our original Airbnb place was double-booked, so the owner found us another home nearby. It was situated in a lovely rural area near the village of Etterzhausen, about a 20 minute drive from our assembly location. The owners were building a new home next door and were interested in making their former residence into a vacation home for people to rent. At the end of the weekend, Greg and I went over to settle our account and we were immediately invited to sit down. When the homemade apple wine came out, I knew we would be chatting for a while! They had heard we were here for a religious gathering and were very curious about these Mennonites. They had done some Googling and had a few questions. But, they had heard “Minoriten” not “Mennoniten”. The Minorites are a branch of Franciscans that this Catholic couple were not familiar with. When we explained we were Mennonites, Greg had to go into some depth about who we were. After this, the gentleman shared that God must have sent us to them with a purpose. They had been discussing the idea of opening their home to a refugee family, rather than a vacation rental, but were leery of the risks and uncertainty surrounding this. After hearing about our work at Friedenshaus, they seemed clear that this leap of faith was the right decision for them, and they would trust in God’s wisdom as they move forward. What a beautiful example of a new heart and spirit moving in our world!
Finally, the assembly confirmed for us how this body of Christ, that we are part of, continues to grow and move in ways that no one can predict. Who could have guessed, even 30 years ago, that a Mennonite assembly would include an ecumenical Sunday Service in a Lutheran church, sharing communion together with the congregation and celebrating our commonalities as opposed to worrying about our differences? Perhaps this is unusual for North Americans, but I’m guessing this is new for European Mennonites as well. What a gift and a blessing that was.
German Word of the Week: die Helden (the heroes). During our last Bible study on Monday morning, the presenters were sharing about the passage from Matt. 10:1-14. The text begins with a directive for the disciples to go out and cleanse people of their unclean spirits, followed by a listing of these disciples. The list appears to be a list of saints or “heroes”, empowered to go out and save the world. But, as many of us know, these disciples are actually “anti-heroes”. The list begins with Peter, who denied any association with Jesus, and ends with Judas, who betrayed him; unusual heroes that remind us that God uses everyday, imperfect people to share God’s love in this world. Gives me hope.