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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Central Committee

An invitation to Hope for the Future: Nurturing intercultural and intergenerational leadership

Updated: Jun 9

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On a usual morning at work as Communications Associate for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)’s East Coast region, I came across an unusual invitation in my email inbox. It was an invitation to Hope for the Future. 

Hope for the Future is an annual gathering of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) leaders connected to Mennonite Church USA (MC USA). This gathering provides an intentional space for BIPOC leaders who work and study in predominantly white institutional spaces to connect, build relationships and explore ways to grow in solidarity across cultural, racial and intergenerational intersections and boundaries.  

The invitation to Hope for the Future felt unusual and refreshing in many ways. The gathering was organized by BIPOC leaders for BIPOC leaders. It was designed to be a space to simply exist together and acknowledge each person’s presence.  

It also sounded like a break for people like me who often receive questions like, “Where are you (really) from?” The Mennonite churches and communities I’ve been part of have often exuded expressions that translate into: You’re different. You don’t seem to belong here. For instance, I’m a Korean American who was born and raised in the U.S. But people tend to immediately assume I’m not from the U.S. or I’m staying in the U.S. temporarily based on my appearance.

As a Korean American member of the Mennonite community and a representative of MCC, an organization that “envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation,” Hope for the Future felt like the right place to be. I wanted to learn more about this intentional space offered to the BIPOC community within the Mennonite community. I was also excited to engage in conversations about systemic transformation towards a more hopeful and sustainable future. I wanted to experience a community of belonging, mutual support and faith with other BIPOC Mennonites. 

I accepted the invitation with curiosity and excitement.  

The 2023 Hope for the Future conference took place on February 3-5 in Atlanta, Georgia, with the theme drawn from the book of Esther: “Such a Time as This: Collective Trauma and Hope.” The location itself was symbolic with its historical ties with the removal of Indigenous people, the Civil Rights Movements and the January 2023 death of a community member that resulted from an attempt to preserve the Atlanta Forest.   

This year, the conference focused on the voices of young leaders, cultivating intergenerational leadership and connecting with denominational elders who have paved the way for current BIPOC leaders. The elders show us the importance of persistence by continuing to be present within challenges of dismantling oppression. They also practice solidarity through caring for one another and providing mutual support. Furthermore, they provide mentorship—a space for learning, storytelling, listening, questions and growth.  

Each day unfolded with a time of worship that centered the voices of young leaders, including my MCC colleague Daniela Lázaro-Manalo, Racial Equity Education and Advocacy Coordinator.   

A series of Bible studies with Dr. Wilma A. Bailey, professor emerita of Hebrew and Aramaic Scripture at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, invited us to dive deeply into the book of Esther. The book of Esther opened spaces for questions and conversations about how to find hope in such a time as this. We live a time of collective trauma—war, COVID-19 pandemic, mass shootings, systemic oppression, racism and climate change.  

Throughout the conference, there were learning labs that provided more opportunities to learn and engage in discussions about ways to transform our system to better support one another across different barriers and blind spots. Anton Flores-Maisonet of Alterna led a session on "Theology and practice of radical hospitality.” Marisa Smucker, Interim Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network facilitated a DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) best practices session, and two panel discussions were held to explore intergenerational leadership.   

There were also times to get to know one another, eat, laugh, cry, sing, dance and celebrate! The first night of the conference was a memorable moment as we were invited to a gala evening. The gala was a time of sharing good food, honoring the elders, expressing ourselves through our carefully selected outfits for the night, spoken words and music, storytelling and intergenerational blessings.  

Over the course of the conference, I was delighted to run into a few familiar faces. Seven MCC staff were present at Hope for the Future.  

Jorge Vielman, South Florida Program Coordinator for MCC East Coast, joined the conference with a hope to network and connect with BIPOC leaders from other Mennonite institutions. He was deeply encouraged by the young leaders and the words of God and wisdom they shared during the conference. Jorge is inspired to take small and steady steps to make a difference in his community in South Florida. 

Abby Endashaw, National Coordinator of MCC’s Summer Service Program, decided to participate in the conference for a similar reason—an opportunity to connect. Abby explained, “I came to Hope for the Future eager to connect with BIPOC leaders across a wide network of Anabaptists.”  

MCC’s Summer Service Program is a ten-week program for young adults of color in the U.S. that runs from June to August. The program encourages and strengthens leadership capabilities within young adults while nurturing a commitment to community engagement. 

Abby's role with MCC began a few months before the pandemic, which limited the opportunities to gather in person, learn from and build connections with leaders in the BIPOC community across the country. However, during the three days she spent at Hope for the Future, she was able to nurture her relationship with “brilliant and dedicated MCC staff and related partners from all four regions.” Abby said, “We shared stories and ideas from an intergenerational lens, honoring community elders and welcoming students from Anabaptists colleges and seminaries.”  

Abby also shared how her role with MCC intersects with the experiences she gained from Hope for the Future: “After attending [Hope for the Future] I feel encouraged about my specific role in the grander narrative of Anabaptist peace building domestically. Not only have I left with ideas about how I can continue strengthening the Summer Service Program, but I was also connected with individuals to collaborate with both in MCC and beyond.  

“This year’s intergenerational component was especially powerful. As someone whose work focuses on young adult programming and specifically young adults of color, I’m challenged to see how I can facilitate spaces for intergenerational learning and fellowship within my work.”  

The passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 stood out to me during one of our worship times: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” In “such a time as this,” Hope for the Future was a time of rest, comfort and healing. It was also a time of learning, a time of listening and a time of truth and vulnerability. I noticed that as a community, we share experiences, wounds and trauma of existing as who we are in a troubled world. But within the wounds and burdens we carry, there is a time of growth and action sown by hope.  

After three days spent at Hope for the Future, I returned to my usual morning at work. I left Atlanta with more questions and challenges, but also with more hope and connection to an empowering community. The hope I saw and experienced at Hope for the Future is embodied through the nurturing of intercultural and intergenerational leadership and relationships.  

Each person’s presence at the conference was a reminder that we are a community of faith wrestling with what it means to be Mennonite in times of change, growth and crisis. We grapple with how to be a community that celebrates differences; a community willing to pause, listen and learn how to live “in right relationship with God, one another and creation.”  

Yujin Kim

Communications Associate

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)’s East Coast Region

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