García points AMBS graduates to Moses’ story for leadership lessons

Note: A recording of the commencement service is available at ambs.edu/graduation.

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana — For wisdom and insight to face today’s leadership challenges, César García, MA, invited participants at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s (AMBS) April 30 Commencement Service to look to the story of Moses and his call to serve in Exodus 4:1-17.

César García, General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference, speaks at a podium.
César García, MA, General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference, gives the address at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s 2022 Commencement Service on April 30. (Credit: Jason Bryant)

Around 140 people attended the service in person in the seminary’s Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount in Elkhart, Indiana. Nearly 80 people watched the event via livestream, with around a third of them viewing from outside of the United States.

In his commencement address, García noted that of the five times that Moses questions God’s call to serve, only one of them upsets God: Moses’ refusal to act.

“A leader takes responsibility and acts. If you see a need, probably God is calling you to be part of the solution,” said García, of Bogotá, Colombia, who is General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference, an organization that serves around 1.5 million members representing 10,000 congregations from 58 countries.

In the biblical narratives, he continued, God invites people to act.

“God does not do it for us; God acts through us!” he said. “True leaders do not just manage. They create the conditions through which God’s purposes can be fulfilled.”

García pointed out that in Exodus, how a leader commits is crucial, and he invited his listeners to reflect on three leadership lessons from Moses’ story:

1. Commit by looking back at the past: García noted that God is revealed as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob four times in Exodus 3-4, and that God invites Moses to define his ministry and vision by looking back at the past. 

“When we ignore our past, we ignore what God has been doing before,” he cautioned. “So let’s build on what God has been doing through our forebears, through the people in our positions of leadership before us.”

2. Commit by seeing the best in others: In the second sign that God gave Moses to use in case the people didn’t believe in his mission — Moses’ hand being affected by leprosy — García saw a connection to God warning Moses to choose his words carefully in speaking about the people of Israel. In biblical times, leprosy was considered to be related to punishment for derogatory speech.

“Remember that evil speech is one of the worst sins in the Scriptures,” he said. “Develop the ability to see the best — the great — in other people, your colleagues and those you are leading.”

3. Commit with vulnerability. García noted that when Moses tells God that he is not eloquent enough to carry out what God is asking of him, God does not deny his incapacity or punish him for his thoughts about himself: “On the contrary, it seems that God agrees with him! I am more and more convinced that God chooses people to lead not because of their capacity and talents but because of their weaknesses.”

García encouraged his listeners not to be afraid to recognize their weaknesses. He pointed out that in Greek mythology, heroes face battles against their enemies, but in biblical narratives, “the major conflicts we have to face are against ourselves: our fears, hesitations and sense of unworthiness.”

“That may be because in the Scriptures, it is not people’s victories that make them leaders; it is how they cope with their defeats,” he said. “You know you are called to lead because of your weaknesses because, thanks to them, your need for dependence on God is clear and evident.”

After the graduates received their degrees and certificates, Leah Thomas, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Director of Contextual Education at AMBS, spoke of the nature and power of stories as they represent people’s identity, relationships, history, culture and faith. She charged the graduates “to know, to live and to be a new story”— where the last becomes the first; where those on the margins are welcomed into the center; where hierarchies and systems of exclusion, oppression and injustice are upended; and where justice and shalom are present.

While living a life-giving story may seem daunting, she told them, the story of God-among-us reminds them that they are not alone: “This story of faith that you’ve been studying, experiencing and living at AMBS is one that invites you, again and again, to root yourself in the One who is with you always — the Spirit, the teller of new stories — who exists within you, around you and among all of us.”

Drew Strait, PhD, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, carried forward Thomas’ theme of stories as he offered a prayer of blessing for the graduates, citing key stories from the Scriptures and reminding the graduates that they are “active participants in the ongoing drama and journey of salvation history.” 

“As you leave this place, I want to be clear about one thing: in your very being, in simply being YOU: you’re enough,” he said.

Following the service, an in-person reception was held in the Waltner Hall Lounge for the seminary community, the graduates and their guests.

The 2022 graduating class

Of the 21 graduates honored during the Commencement Service, eight earned a Master of Divinity; five earned a Master of Arts: Theology and Peace Studies; and three earned a Master of Arts in Christian Formation. One student became the first to graduate with a Master of Arts: Theology and Global Anabaptism, a program launched by AMBS in 2019. Four students received a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies

AMBS 2022 graduates throw their caps in the air
The 2022 graduates of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary celebrate together by tossing their caps in the air in the seminary’s library following the Commencement Service on April 30, 2022. (Credit: Jason Bryant)

The graduating class comprised 14 women and seven men from seven countries — Canada, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Nigeria, Tanzania and the United States. Ten of the graduates completed part or all of their seminary studies at a distance through the Master of Divinity Connect program, the MA: Theology and Global Anabaptism program or the Graduate Certificate.

Four of the graduates are serving in pastoral ministry roles or are seeking pastoral assignments; five are serving a church organization or institution; four plan to pursue further graduate studies; two are serving in psychiatry or social work; and two will continue to volunteer in ministry and advocacy. Five graduates are discerning future options for mission, service, advocacy and/or volunteer work.

Eleven of the graduates are members of Mennonite Church USA; one is from Mennonite Church Canada; and three are from Mennonite denominations around the world. One graduate is from the United Methodist Church, and five represent other denominations or nondenominational churches.

Mennonite colleges and universities with graduates in AMBS’s Class of 2022 include Bethel College (Kansas), Columbia Bible College, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University, Fresno Pacific University, Goshen College and Hesston College.

A recording of the commencement service is available at ambs.edu/graduation.

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance, including a wide array of lifelong learning programs — all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world. ambs.edu


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