An Encounter Worth Talking About

It’s Easter Sunday.  Christ is Risen! 

As followers of the Risen Lord we live our entire lives in light of this reality.  But it is important to have this holy day on the church calendar to highlight the centrality of the empty tomb for our faith.

Easter Sunday serves as our liturgical equivalent of the Apostle Paul’s reminder in 1 Corinthians 15:1 –  “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which you also stand (NRSV).”  Yes, we have received the good news of Christ’s resurrection.  Yes, we continue to stand in that.  But it’s good to have reminders.

It’s also good to remind ourselves of the close link between the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and the response of proclamation by those who witnessed it.   Mary and the other women who were first to see the empty tomb responded by telling the other disciples (John 20:18, Luke 24:9).  We see the same response from the two who spoke with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:33-34).  Additionally, the disciples tell of their encounter with the Risen Christ to Thomas since he was absent the first time (John 20:24-25), and we see this of Paul himself in his response to his experience on the road to Damascus (1 Corinthians 15:8-11).  And ultimately, between his post-resurrection appearances and the ascension, Jesus himself instructs his disciples to share this news with all people (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15).

In this way, Easter provides us the opportunity to consider two questions that go hand in hand.  Where have we encountered the Risen Lord?  And, how do we share that with others? 

We at Toledo Mennonite Church are beginning a sister-church relationship with Dodoma Mennonite Church in Tanzania.  I recently had the privilege to travel to Tanzania with two other members of our congregation as a result of this relationship which is designed to emphasize cultural and theological/spiritual exchange.

On this trip I experienced the Risen Christ in profound ways; through MCC projects that provide both physical water and living water to those in parched places; through HIV/AIDS programs that heal the sick and care for the suffering; through community education programs that tear down walls and build bridges of peace; through Spirit-empowered worship; and through generous displays of hospitality.

It’s fun to reminisce on these experiences and share with others how this particular church in Dodoma is being the hands and feet of Christ to the community around them.

I also come away with a lot to think about.  Specifically, I was struck by how well the church in Dodoma has responded to the access points they have into people’s lives.  They know the needs of their community, they discern where God is leading them, and they faithfully proclaim resurrection in both word and deed.

Back in Toledo, where are our access points into people’s lives?  How much time, energy, and resources are we putting into discerning how and where God is calling us into our community?  Do we faithfully respond with proclamation to our encounters with the Risen Lord?

Yes, there certainly are ways in which we respond faithfully to these types of questions.  But we would do well on this Easter Sunday to remind ourselves that the good news of the resurrection always propels us outward; that an encounter with our Risen Lord is linked with sharing this good news.

Our Sisters and Brothers in Dodoma have reminded me about this.  Though the access points to relate with others are different, though our communication patterns are different, and though our cultural and religious contexts are different, we share the same Savior and follow the same Lord.  And as members of God’s family, the church, we share in the same work of proclaiming the resurrection whether we live in the capital city of a developing East African nation or in the plains of the post-industrial Midwest.

Joel Shenk

About Joel Shenk

Joel Shenk graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary in June 2010 and accepted a call to pastoral ministry at Toledo Mennonite Church starting in October 2010. Prior to that, Joel had worked as the director for service and learning ministries at the Center for Anabaptist Leadership from 2005-2010. Joel and his wife Emiley have a young daughter, Roslyn.
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2 Responses to An Encounter Worth Talking About

  1. Thanks for this post, Joel. One question I have is: Will the “trips” between these two congregations go both ways? How are you as a congregation working at not having this feel like a paternalistic relationship?

  2. Joel Shenk Joel says:

    Absolutely. The trips will go both ways. We are currently in conversation about setting up a time when 3-4 of their members can come visit us. And we also intend to be in regular communication through pray requests, pictures, and hopefully even some video exchange (not live) between face-to-face visits, which, given the cost and time necessary for an international trip, will be spread out.

    Another way we are addressing the concern you raise is to stress from the start that this is primarily a relationship for intercultural and theological exchange. We want to learn from one another and grow together in our understanding of God at work in the world. Typical service projects or “missions” trips really haven’t been a part of the conversation. It’s not what we are interested in, and it’s not what they are interested in either.

    What are your thoughts? Seriously, any feedback you have is welcome. Do these seem like good steps? We certainly want to avoid paternalist tendencies, but we are just figuring this out as we go. In all honesty, it’s been sort of frustrating finding good conversation partners about this; like there’s a lot of cheer leading for sister-church relationships without a whole lot of support for actually doing it.

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