Victor Wall quickly brushes off the idea that he might be the world’s top Mennonite Brethren leader.
“No, the top MB leader, I hope, is Jesus,” he said.
Wall, of Paraguay, began serving in February as executive secretary of the International Committee of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB), but he hardly has the power of a pope. He’s under the direction of the ICOMB executive committee.
The description that does fit Wall, however, is trailblazer. He’s the first to fill the global MB organization’s newly created leadership position.
The broad assignment for his half-time role is to direct ICOMB’s mission of fostering cooperation among 17 national MB conferences.
“We have a saying in Spanish: ‘Pilgrim, there is no road; you open the road by walking,’ ” he said.
Wall may be forging new paths, but the destinations are not uncharted. His interests in evangelism, church planting, building unity, and enabling partnerships will guide his work.
“I am excited when I see the church becoming global, international, multicultural,” he said in an interview during the Mennonite World Conference General Council meeting March 9–15 in Pasadena, Cal.
Wall, 51, is a former pastor and former chair of the Paraguayan German Mennonite Brethren Conference. He’s spending a year in Germany “to renew myself” and to pursue postgraduate studies.
With him in Germany is his wife, Margita, and daughter, Debora, 17. Two older sons remain in Paraguay.
The family is attending the MB congregation at Lage, Germany.
During his decade of leading the Paraguayan German conference, from 1997 to this February, he did not leave pastoral work completely behind. Beginning in 1996, he helped develop Raices MB Church in Asuncion.The Spanish-speaking congregation has become famous as the church home of Paraguay’s president, Nicanor Duarte Frutos, and his family. The president’s wife, Marķa Gloria Penayo Solaeche, is a member.
“It was my hobby,” Wall said of working with the congregation, which has grown to 240 members and attendance of 400 to 500. “God has been good; God has blessed.”
Being the church of the president has its challenges.
“How do you do church with the president of a country?” Wall asked. “He has to have bodyguards.”
Duarte comes to church when his job allows, and seats are always reserved for him and his family. But “it’s all brothers and sisters” in the congregation, Wall said, without celebrity status for anyone.
In a country that’s more than 90 percent Catholic, having an evangelical president has taken some getting used to.
“He identifies with the beliefs of evangelicals, and he prays, and that’s a scary thing to some people because they’re just not sure what that means,” Wall said.
Duarte was elected to a five-year term in 2003, and there is no provision for re-election. So he will no longer be president in 2009 when Anabaptists from around the world come to Asuncion for the next MWC assembly.
Wall believes preparing for that event will help bring together Paraguay’s three Mennonite groups – German speakers with an immigrant heritage, Paraguayan nationals, and indigenous people.
He also believes it will educate the country about Mennonites.
“It’s going to have a strong testimonial effect to show that Mennonites are not only white Europeans who make cheese,” Wall said. “It will give a complete picture of who Mennonites are.”
Church to church
In some ways, ICOMB mirrors MWC on a smaller scale. Both are built on a church to church concept (rather than mission agency to church), which fosters mutual accountability and equality.
“We are a complement to MWC to strengthen our international relationships,” Wall said of ICOMB. “We want a healthy relationship with other Anabaptist bodies.”
A challenge is to make ICOMB not distant but something with concrete meaning for the national conferences.
One of the key contributions ICOMB can make, Wall said, is to help improve leadership training.
Better networking between schools of higher education would contribute to this.
“The future of our churches, to a large extent, depends on how we succeed in the area of leadership training,” he said.
Cooperation in missions and church planting is also a priority.
“We want to promote a vision for the international church where missions and ministries have a global approach,” Wall said. “We want to have space for communication to strengthen our spiritual unity with brothers and sisters around the world.”
| © 2008 Mennonite Brethren Herald
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