By Stan Friedman
ST. PAUL, MN (June 25, 2010) – Leaders of Covenant denominations from around the world – many of whom had never met – effused that their “Global Dialogue” gathering earlier this week will lead to a greater sense of belonging and more coordinated mission.
The group met Monday and Tuesday for worship and discussions. They then met with the World Mission Committee of the Evangelical Covenant Church on Wednesday to share their thoughts about how to advance the process that had begun.
“This has been our prayer, that we would all one day meet for worship together and share the good news, and that is what has happened,” said Abraham Tuach, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Sudan (ECCS).
A communion service was especially meaningful for Marcus Sobarzo, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Chile. “This was the first time I have taken communion with someone from a different culture.”
Karen Hallberg, Evangelical Covenant Church director of mission mobilization and connection, said she was “blown away by the beauty of leaders from many nations singing ‘How Great Thou Art’ in their own languages during worship.’”
Paul Devakumar, president of India for Christ Ministries, a partner denomination, declared, “It is such an eye-opener to see what God is doing all around the world.”
“Now I feel closer to the work in Asia and the work in Africa,” said Elia Pineyro, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Argentina.
The Covenant denominations are organized independently of each other, but claim kinship. “This is what we need – to discover each other like sisters and brothers in the kingdom,” said Bertil Svensson, mission director of the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden (MCCS).
Sunil Sardar, president of Truthseekers, an Evangelical Covenant Church ministry partner in India, noted that no word exists for “covenant” in their language, so the people use “agreement.” Sardar emphasized, however, that Covenant means “I will stand with you; I will die for you.”
Leaders asked each other wide-ranging questions as they sought answers to topics that included organizational structure, leadership development, and youth ministry.
Throughout the meetings, the murmuring of translators for seven languages could be heard as individual speakers addressed the group. Lindsay Small, chair of the WMC, said she had been inspired by “the symphony of voices.”
Leaders took first steps toward forming a global network of Covenant churches that will enable them to work together more closely. Tuach echoed the sentiments of others that it will be important for people from the different denominations to visit each others’ countries. Such visits would strengthen the faith of church members, especially in the poorer nations.
“They are encouraged when leaders come from far way, when they see different skin color, and different languages,” said the Sudanese Covenant president.
Forming a network will present challenges not common to those formed within a single country. Email will need to be sent through translators, for example.
Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission, said it was important that the network not be directed through his office so as to symbolize changing relationships.
Peterson emphasized the role of the denomination is not to lead in a top-down fashion. “God is calling the Covenant to come alongside as partners,” he explained. “It’s not just the Covenant strengthening other churches – but it’s the different countries relating to each other.”
Peterson noted that Covenant denominations are being started by people in other countries and not by missionaries. The churches in Sudan and Kenya, for example, were born after refugees from those countries had traveled to the United States and told their countrymen back home of the wonderful relationships they had made here.
Attendees said they would like to convene similar meetings in the future and hold them in different countries.