Board and staff of Mennonite Education Agency and Mennonite
Mission Network surround and offer prayers for the pastors within the Mennonite
Church of Puerto Rico, following a time of the pastors offering prayers for
them. Photo by Kayla Berkey.
AIBONITO, Puerto Rico (MEA) — “Peace-seekers, community
builders and service givers — these are the unique characteristics that
Mennonite schools and colleges offer to the world,” said Judy Miller, MEA board
chair in a presentation to those gathered to begin a strategic planning process
for MEA. “These are the gifts a hurting world needs.”
MEA staff, board members and invited guests gathered at
Academia Menonita Betania in Puerto Rico on Oct. 26-27 for board meetings that
had a strong emphasis on strategic planning for the agency’s future. Some of
the group, including staff and the board, also arrived ahead of the meetings to
fellowship with local Mennonite pastors and participate in the school’s ongoing
restoration projects resulting from Hurricane Maria that ravaged the island in
September 2017. They also attended the school’s 70th anniversary, visited
Mennonite churches in Aibonito and surrounding areas and preached at Sunday
MEA staff and board, as well as several invited guests including pastors,
school administrators, communications and marketing experts and constituency
group representatives, participated in a day-long initial strategic planning
session that began with mini-presentations to address current factors impacting
Mennonite education and MC USA. They also reviewed feedback that MEA gathered
from four main stakeholders: Mennonite Higher Ed Association (MHEA) and
Mennonite Schools Council leaders, MC USA’s Constituency Leaders Council and
leaders of MEA’s Hispanic Ministries programs.
MEA staff, board and invited guests work through a
strategic planning process during their board meetings at Academia Menonita Betania
in Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Photo by Kayla Berkey.
“There was significant strength in the diversity
and the many voices in the room as we talked about future directions,” said
Romero. “We are committed to continuing this process in partnership with our
stakeholders to further define and strengthen the work of MEA as a ministry of
Romero presented a report by Marco Guete,
director of Hispanic Ministries for MEA, reviewing MEA’s Hispanic Ministries programs
Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (IBA) and Seminario Bíblico Anabautista Hispano
(SeBAH), which have increasing numbers of students though staff time has been
cut to address limited funding. Guete named a growing need for these ministries
in Spanish, due to the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the United States
with a high rate of first generation immigrants.
Elaine Moyer, senior director at MEA, and Conrad
Swartzentruber, superintendent at Dock Mennonite Academy, addressed current
factors impacting K-12 Mennonite education, such as increasing cultural polarities
in political views and theological understandings.
Joseph Manickam, president of Hesston College, spoke
about Mennonite higher education, suggesting that the strength of Anabaptism is
in the margins. Tom Stuckey, who served as president at Northwest State
Community College, urged innovation and partnerships to strengthen higher ed
Stanley Green, executive director of Mennonite
Mission Network, addressed cultural trends that have impacted MC USA, including
declining institutional loyalty, a shift toward relativism, a trend toward
localization and a shrinking Mennonite demographic.
Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA,
addressed current environmental factors within MC USA. “The biggest challenge
we’re thinking about here is how to remain relevant to culture now,” he said.
Romero presented on the challenges within MEA,
including requests to serve broad constituencies with limited resources, and
that people commonly express a lack of understanding about what MEA does.
Presentations were followed by table group discussions and a
SWOT analysis where they brainstormed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and
threats for MEA within these contexts. The group indicated that MEA’s greatest
strengths are in networking and resourcing within and between various programs,
as well as building community and Anabaptist identity.
Following the planning times, several of the invited guests
expressed a greater appreciation for MEA after learning more about their
“This is one the best meetings in the denomination I have
had,” said Sandra Montes-Martinez, moderator of MC USA’s Iglesia Menonita Hispana. “We see representation of most of the
church here. This is the type of conversation that I see as bringing us
together as the church.”
Some concern was raised about how to communicate the
relevance of this strategic planning for racial/ethnic communities. “Is part of
the friction in the denomination a failure on our part to educate minority
communities on the work we are doing?” Roy Williams asked.
MEA board and staff visited Mennonite churches and preached
at Sunday services after holding their board meetings at Academia Menonita
Betania. Several attended Iglesia Evangelica Menonita in Aibonito. Photo by
As they reviewed the strategic planning
board members expressed excitement for a renewed vision for the agency, and discussed
how they will be responsible for carrying through with some of the initiatives
that came out of the gathering.
Romero said that MEA’s next priorities include interacting
with a broader list of stakeholders. “At the end of the day, how we engage
people will have an incredible impact on how MEA moves forward and how
effective we can be in our work,” he said.
board appointed J. Richard Thomas to serve as MEA’s new chair, replacing Judy
Miller, who began in in this role in 2014, and Lynette Bontrager as secretary, replacing
Marlene Kropf whose board term ends in 2019. Shana Peachey Boshart,
minister of Faith Formation for MC USA, will serve as MC USA’s new liaison to
the MEA board.
The board also reviewed changes in the Anabaptist Mennonite
Biblical Seminary (AMBS) board, choosing not to replace those who stepped down
from the board this summer as a result of the new statement of agreement
between AMBS and MEA created by the new Mennonite Higher Education
Church/School Relations Agreement. They approved
Miriam Book and Byron Pellecer to continue as MEA appointees to the AMBS board.