By late-February, more than 1,500 international registrations had been processed for Mennonite World Conference's 15th global assembly in Paraguay, including 150 from Latin American countries other than the host.
"Paraguayans have extended the invitation to come in 2009, enthusiasm is high there and visitors will be welcomed", said a spokseperson for the global Anabaptist gathering.
The Assembly will be held from 14-19 July 2009 in Asunción, the national capital.
There are around 1.6 million Mennonite and Mennonite-associated Christians throughout the world. They are heirs to a radical Reformation tradition which emphasises peacemaking and social witness, voluntary believers' baptism, the following of Jesus in everyday life, and a form of church life and practice distinct from the state.
Approximately 6,000 people registered for Assembly 14 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Organizers hope for similar or greater numbers for Assembly 15 in Paraguay.
While Paraguay has several thousand fewer members in MWC-related churches than Zimbabwe, economic and travel conditions in the host country in 2009 are so much better than in Zimbabwe that it is reasonable to anticipate good numbers from the host country.
Paraguay 2009 registration fees were struck more than one year ago, before the economic crisis sent the Euro, Canadian dollar, and Paraguayan Guaraní into a downward spiral, thus reducing the value of registrations paid in those currencies. Higher registration numbers will help compensate for those losses, organisers hope.
As a gesture of solidarity with members of the global faith community in a time of financial stress for many who would like to attend Paraguay 2009, MWC officials have decided to waive the late registration fee. Registrants who have already paid the late fee may choose to redirect the fee as a contribution to the Travel Fund or to have the fee credited toward their final billing.
Registrations from Canada, now at about 500, and Europe, slightly less than 300, are strong, which is no surprise given the many family connections and migrations to and from Paraguay. At the same time, registrations from the USA stand at about 535 or 75% of projections but can still reach anticipated numbers and beyond between now and July.
In addition to the USA and Canada, Germany has passed the 100 mark; the Netherlands and Switzerland are well beyond 50 registrants with France just shy of that number. Registrations from Africa are ahead of projections, but “the painful reality,” says Ray Brubacher, international coordinator for Paraguay 2009, “is that many of these registrants will need travel subsidies to make the trip.”
All registrants are being invited to make a contribution to an international Travel Fund to assist those in lower income countries to attend Paraguay 2009. Where applicable, MWC will issue tax-deductible receipts.
One early registrant explained: "I wanted the opportunity to stay with a host family during the conference. I was fortunate enough to do that for Zimbabwe 2003 and it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the conference. It helped me understand the situation in Zimbabwe at that time. I continue to remain in close contact to this day."
Host homes are being snapped up quickly, but staff continue to look for more host families for international guests. A good selection of other types of accommodation is still available. Preferred travel and lodging options are more likely to be available the earlier the registrations are received. Service opportunities for volunteers will also become more limited the later people register.
Promoting registrations for Paraguay 2009 along with the total ministry of Mennonite World Conference is at the core of a tour of churches in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Kansas USA, through to 19 March.
Travelling with Albert Lobe, global church advocate from the Kitchener MWC office, are Cynthia Peacock from India, Deacon Commission chair, and Tigist Tesfaye Gelagle from Ethiopia, currently serving as an MWC/Mennonite Central Committee United Nations intern in New York City. Pakisa Tshimika, MWC associate general secretary, has joined them from 27 February through to 8 March 2009 - UN international women's day.
They will be able to provide information on all aspects of Assembly 15. Information, including registration forms, is also available from any MWC office or at MWC’s website, www.mwc-cmm.org.
Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith aiming to create fellowship, worship, service and witness.
With thanks to Ferne Burkhardt, MWC News Editor.