One of the paradoxes of the Bible is God’s call to remember but not dwell on the past.
“Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there,” declares Deuteronomy 24:18 (NRSV). That memory forms the basis of Israel’s identity.
When remembrance turns to nostalgia, however, God has a different message. To the exiles in Babylon, Isaiah 43:18-19 proclaims: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.”
Both forgetfulness and wistfulness can keep God’s people from being faithful. Can we be fiercely loyal to God’s past, yet radically open to God’s future? We aim to live into this paradox at Virginia Mennonite Missions.
In August I traveled to Trinidad to meet the leaders of the Mennonite Church of Trinidad and Tobago (MCTT). Now that they have their own local overseer, Rawl Gunpath, they are entering a new stage as a church. “Totally local,” they call it. By the end of next summer, after the Keelers retire, VMMissions will be without long-term missionaries in Trinidad for the first time in forty years. We are choosing to relate to MCTT as partners rather than providers of ministry, trusting in the local leadership God has raised up.
I recently spoke with several Virginia Mennonite Conference church planters whose ministry presents us with another opportunity to embrace God’s “new thing.”
In just two and a half years, Eastside Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, has grown from thirty to over one-hundred fifty regular attenders. They devote half of their budget to local and global missions. To meet this commitment, pastors Peter Eberly and Matt Schwartz both limit themselves to part-time ministry. Their limited roles have made room for leadership to surface among the young adults of the congregation.
Across town at Manantial de Vida (Fountain of Life) Carlos and Wendy Malvaez have nurtured a house fellowship into a bustling congregation of 80 over the past eight years. Growth comes naturally as people invite their friends, family, and coworkers, who in turn invite others. The members, at least half of whom were baptized by Carlos, represent ten nationalities. While the church values each person’s national heritage, their new identity in Christ comes first.
Meanwhile, in northern Harrisonburg, Ron Copeland, pastor of Early Church, has emerged from a sabbatical with a renewed sense of call. After giving leadership to Our Community Place for the past three years, Ron has decided to step down in order to be a full-time pastor. Exactly how this self-professed workaholic will limit himself to one job remains to be seen, but the Spirit’s persistent message to Ron has been, “Trust me.”
May those words encourage us all to walk boldly into God’s future even as we celebrate the past.