Rising together for transformation

MC USA leader calls businesspeople to find ways to lift others up

Like the apostle Paul on the Damascus road, people who have been knocked off their feet by the global pandemic will rise again to a better future, Mennonite Church USA’s executive director says.

“Now we are at a place where God says ‘now, get to your feet. Something better is going to come.’”

Glen Guyton made the comment in a plenary address to MEDA’s annual convention. “Any time we have change in our lives, any time we’re building something new, there’s great disruption,” he said.

In keeping with MEDA’s convention theme, Rising Together, Guyton centered his reflection on a transformation story from the New Testament book of Acts. 

Acts 26 tells the story of how Saul, a persecutor of believers, meets Jesus on the Damascus road, falls down and subsequently becomes the Apostle Paul, a promoter of the Christian faith.

Guyton emphasized verses 16-17 from Acts. 26: “Now get to your feet. For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light…”

Being called to do a new, even great thing, doesn’t mean that things will be easy, Guyton said. When Paul was converted and chose to follow Jesus, he did not have an easy time of it. He ended up at the center of a culture war between Jews and non-Jewish Christian converts (known as Gentiles.)

“Change has always been hard for society,” Guyton noted. “What some see as pain and loss, others see as growth and opportunity.”

Guyton never expected to become executive director of MC USA, but life events knocked him off his feet.

“Let’s see what 2022 has in store for us. How can we make this world a better place?”
— Glen Guyton

He joined Calvary Community Church, in Hampton, Virginia, in 1993 while serving in the US air force. Attending a pacifist church was an unlikely destination, and it had life-changing consequences for Guyton.

An encounter with Titus Peachey, Mennonite Central Committee’s director of peace education, and guidance from his pastor led Guyton to leave the military and become a conscientious objector. “Sometimes we have to look deep inside of ourselves to grow and progress,” he said.

Transformation is synonymous with growth, and everything that is alive should experience growth. “The struggle is real, and the struggle is necessary.”

He used the analogy of a caterpillar struggling to break through a cocoon in order to become a butterfly. “If you try to save that butterfly from its struggle, it’s going to die.”

At the same time, adversity unites us and shows who our real family is, he said.

Guyton called on people to be like the wise loyal friend mentioned in the biblical wisdom literature, Proverbs 17, verse 17, committed to helping one another out in time of need.

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ

Galatians 6:2

While some people may never have been down over the past 18 months, many others have suffered, he said. “We still need one another, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are a boss or an employee.”

To live into our call, we must release the pain of the past, he said. To rise together, “we have to put the pain of 2020 behind us.”

“Let’s see what 2022 has in store for us. … How can we make this world a better place?”

He believes that as we seek to rise together, impact will only occur through good leaders.

Businesspeople can, and should, use the same skills that give them success in their enterprises within the church, he said. “Who are you being sent to?  Who are you called to serve? What is your niche when it comes to serving people to having an impact?”

Examples of ways business leaders can have a positive impact on society include influencing vaccination rates or modeling how waste is dealt with, he suggested.

We must understand our power and the impact our power can have on others, he said.

The power of the church lies in transformation. “I can say the same about you as business owners.”

That transformation will not come without effort, as we are reminded in Galatians 6 to share one another’s burdens, he said. “If we’re going to rise together, we’re going to have to get our hands dirty.”

To rise together, you must empathize with another’s pain, “care enough to get your hands dirty, to get down in the muck with me.”

If we are faithful to our calling, we are not just rising as an individual, but bringing others with us, he said.

“Who are we going to reach down to help get at least to eye level?”

“Let’s rise together and not underestimate the privilege we have.”

“Who can you share your blessings with, bring into your circle, who might otherwise get overlooked?”

Guyton asked his audience to be open to digging deeper, finding new ways to connect, and getting uncomfortable in the process.

He challenged listeners to consider who they will empower and “bring on the journey with us.”

“Who will you commit to helping rise with you?”

Bringing someone along with you requires becoming an integral part of their life, and is worth it, he predicted.

“Together, I know we can do amazing things.”

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