International Witness Support Networks: A Pastoral Reflection

International Witness Support Networks: A Pastoral Reflection

Every budget year has difficulties; either weighing the merits of various opportunities to say yes to or having to cut things which have given life to a congregation over the years. During the conversation at our last pre-COVID budget meeting it became clear that we could no longer support two Mennonite Church Canada Witness partnerships.

On the one hand, we had a historic partnership with Bock-Ki Kim and Sook-Kyoung Park working at the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC) in Chuncheon, South Korea. For many years, our congregation had a strong Korean contingent. During the 2010 MC Canada Assembly hosted at Ambrose University, our church welcomed a group of Korean Anabaptist leaders who stayed at our building that week. They had many good, deep, and important conversations on theology, they forged important relationships that continue to provide value today, and they got very little sleep. The ceremonial wooden ducks they left as a gift are still displayed in the pastor’s office. Bock-Ki has visited our church more than once and has other family living nearby.

On the other hand, Tom and Christine Poovong, who are working in Khon Kaen, Thailand, are from our congregation. They worked for a while at the MCC thrift store in Calgary as well. Recent reshuffling of MC Canada Witness partnership structures meant that we, as the sending congregation, felt the push to bolster our support for them. We get regular updates on the church planting, entrepreneurship training and community building work they do, and we hoped by focusing on that connection, we could build on the excitement about their work.

Practically, it was an easy decision. The Korean members of our congregation had gradually dispersed as they followed job offers elsewhere. As that connection diminished, the new one grew. Still, it was painful to sever that old tie and we wanted an appropriate sendoff. We envisioned a Sunday lunch where Korean food would be served, stories of that partnership would be told, and a formal letter would be signed and sent. Then, COVID happened and the event was put on hold.

Eventually it was decided that a formal letter and gift would be sent without the gathering happening first. But what would be the gift? After considering various ideas, we invited local artist Robin Pennock to paint the scene around our church building and three copies were made. One was sent to our former partners in South Korea, one to our current partners in Thailand, and one remains here in Calgary.

A new display is being compiled in time for International Witness Sunday on October 24th. It will include information and updates from the Poovongs in Thailand, but there will also be space for various other mission connections around the world including those at KAC. The painting will be displayed as a reminder of those connections, past and present.

International Witness Sunday reminds us that ours is a global church and gives us an opportunity to celebrate the work God is doing around the world.