Six students complete Journey Missional Leadership Development Program

Published: January 11, 2023

Headshots of the six 2022 Journey graduates
(top, l. to r.): Charles Baraka (Credit: J. Tyler Klassen); Ramon Lianez (Credit: Jason Bryant); Rebecca Riek (Credit: Bryant) (bottom, l. to r.): Janet P. Schumacher (Credit: Bryant); Ly Vang (Credit: Peter Ringenberg); Beth Yoder (Credit: Ringenberg)

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — In 2022, six participants completed the Journey Missional Leadership Development Program of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. They represented congregations of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA and the Evana Network.

The distance-friendly undergraduate-level certificate program develops leaders centered in Jesus Christ for ministries in local churches and communities. It’s designed for pastors, those exploring a call to ministry, church planters and lay leaders. The program consists of online study, biweekly meetings with a mentor, and two in-person gatherings per year.

Charles Baraka

Charles Baraka
Charles Baraka (Credit: J. Tyler Klassen)

Charles Baraka of Madison, Wisconsin, was ordained in Africa, where he led a church for seven years as senior pastor; in Madison, he preaches in different churches and is part of Madison Mennonite Church, a congregation of Central District Conference (CDC) of Mennonite Church USA. He also works in the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

Baraka expressed gratitude for how the Journey program helped him learn about Anabaptist history and equipped him spiritually to continue to accomplish the mission of God. He’s applying what he’s learned in the program to his work as CEO of Amahoro Ministries for Communities (AMC), a nonprofit organization he founded that works in Burundi, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and Madison. AMC has helped refugees in Malawi by providing food and a community development program for families in poverty, accompanying reconciliation in different tribes. This program is one way Baraka is living out his calling to work for healing, peace and reconciliation.

“It’s an opportunity to continue empowering other church leaders and Christians in different churches in Africa — to help them to be transformed and call them to transform others in their communities, country and the world,” he reflected. “I know that the church is the foundation of everything and that God still has hope in the church. Through the Journey program, I can help my church spiritually and my community for God’s glory.”

Baraka’s mentor in the program was Lavon Welty (MDiv 1979) of Eighth Street Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana — also a CDC congregation. Baraka is married to Gilbertine Harerimana, and they have three children.

Ramon Lianez

Ramon Lianez (Credit: Jason Bryant)
Ramon Lianez (Credit: Jason Bryant)

Ramon Lianez of Wauseon, Ohio, began Dec. 1, 2022, as Associate Pastor of North Clinton Church in Wauseon, a congregation of the Evana Network. While participating in the Journey program, he was Co-Pastor at Central Mennonite Church in Archbold, a congregation of the Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA.

Over his life, Lianez has been part of four denominations: Catholic, Southern Baptist, Nazarene and Mennonite. While deciding to go into full-time ministry, he said he looked at different confessions of faith and felt the Holy Spirit drawing him to the Mennonite Church. He returned to school — Ohio Christian University, a Wesleyan school in Circleville — and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Ministry and a Master of Arts in Practical Theology.

While Lianez was at Ohio Christian, Dick Barrett, Conference Minister for Ohio Conference and a former pastor and mentor of Lianez’s, suggested the Journey program to him.

“He felt I needed to get more faith formation in Anabaptist beliefs, and I totally agreed,” he said. “I went through the Journey program to get that. I felt I got that and so much more.”

Lianez shared that he had been the only Anabaptist in his program at Ohio Christian.

“It sharpened me because they asked all kinds of questions, but they came across as genuinely wanting to hear me, to be respectful and to see where I was coming from in the Word,” he said. “I was so happy to find the same mindset in the Journey program.

“I loved the fact that there were so many differ­ent people from different cultures and walks of life [in Journey]. I loved how we all gelled together and respected one another and asked some really tough questions out of love so we could grow. That was just phenomenal. The leaders and guest speakers would ask us ques­tions and see where we were at, and help us grow as individuals and in the Word with an Anabaptist theology. I can’t express how grate­ful I am for that to have been the way it was.”

For Lianez, the relationships he formed with peers in the program were also significant, even when the biannual gatherings had to happen online during the pandemic. He’s stayed in touch, and one of his Journey peers came to speak at his church about his experiences of ministering to groups in an ethnic conflict.

Lianez’s mentor in the program was Gary Stuckey of Inlet Mennonite Church in Wauseon (Ohio Conference). He is married to Carmen Lianez, and they have two sons and three grandchildren.

Rebecca Riek

Rebecca Riek (Credit: Jason Bryant)
Rebecca Riek (Credit: Jason Bryant)

Rebecca Riek of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, is involved in the Intercultural Committee of her church, First Mennonite Church in Kitchener — a congregation of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC)

“We organize events and plan services that are multicultural, e.g., choosing songs in different languages to sing for worship or praying in different languages,” she said. “I also work within my community as a faith leader to participate in praying during funeral services or events such as baptisms.”

Riek is now pursuing a Master of Divinity with a major in Christian Faith Formation through AMBS’s distance-friendly MDiv Connect program. Her mentor in the Journey program was Rebecca Yoder Neufeld (MDiv 1981), also of First Mennonite in Kitchener. Riek is married to Joseph Wuol, and they have six children.

Janet P. Schumacher

Janet P. Schumacher (Credit: Jason Bryant)
Janet P. Schumacher (Credit: Jason Bryant)

Janet P. Schumacher of Bluffton, Ohio, is currently helping with pastoral care in her congregation, First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, a congregation of Central District Conference (CDC) of Mennonite Church USA. Over the summer, she served as a guest speaker in area Mennonite churches when their pastors were away.

Schumacher’s former pastor Steve Yoder first pointed out her gifts for ministry. A graduate of Bluffton College (now University), she began taking courses at a Methodist seminary close to home but needed to stop due to other circumstances. Later, Doug Luginbill, CDC Conference Minister, suggested she look into the Journey program.

“It just fit me perfect,” she said. “I could learn, but without the demands of seminary. I’m glad I did the Journey program because it helped me to learn more and know more, and to grow as a person.”

Schumacher said she enjoyed the learning aspects of the program and found the in-person Weekend Learning Events especially meaningful.

“Those were very sacred times for me,” she reflected. “I just appreciated that time and the camaraderie and community we built, and I still feel connected to my peers even though we don’t meet anymore.”

During Schumacher’s time in the program, the COVID-19 pandemic began, and she also was diagnosed with cancer. When it came time for her to choose a topic for her independent study — which is required of Journey participants from CDC — she opted to focus on pastoral care.

“When I was going through treatment and feeling the need for community and couldn’t have it because of COVID, I said, ‘I think my gifts really lie in caring for people,’” she said. “I asked Doug, ‘Could I do an independent study and be sanctioned by the church to represent First Mennonite as a pastor and visit people?’”

Schumacher said she enjoyed doing home visits with a variety of people in her congregation, and she wrote a reflection paper on her learnings.

Schumacher’s mentor was Gloria Hernandez Bucher, also of First Mennonite of Bluffton. She is married to Tim Schumacher, and they have five adult children.

Ly Vang

Ly Vang (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)
Ly Vang (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)

Ly Vang of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, has been involved in leadership for many years in her congregation, First Hmong Mennonite Church in Kitchener, a congregation of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC). She has served as a Sunday school director, church treasurer, youth director and elder, in addition to helping with the Hmong women’s ministries. She has also served as an MCEC representative to Mennonite Church Canada. Currently she is a mission elder and helps support refugee families sponsored by the church.

Vang described how the Journey program gave her not only strength, but also another perspective on Mennonite history.

“The program helped me to see the history of Anabaptists and their suffering, how they have grown and how from generation to generation they’re still growing,” she reflected. “They have impacted the community. I feel like I had seen the fruit [of the tree], but now I see people as a part of the root, and I see how strong it is and where it is holding the tree. It can bring blooms and beauty and bear fruit for others to eat. Journey helped me to see the root from the beginning to now. I see myself as part of the fruit and the leaves and the beauty of it.”

“The program also helped me to see further who God is and who I am,” she added. “It helped me understand that being a Christian is not just believing the Word but doing the work. Helping, saving and healing the community — not just by words but by actions and the practice of faith.”

Vang’s mentor in the program was Nancy Brubaker (Certificate 1983) of First Mennonite Church in Kitchener — also an MCEC congregation. Vang is married to Toua Vang, and they have five children and six grandchildren.

Beth Yoder

Beth Yoder (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)
Beth Yoder (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)

Beth Yoder of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is on the lay leadership team of her congregation, Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church in Sioux Falls, which is part of Central Plains Mennonite Conference (CPMC) of Mennonite Church USA. In this role, she plans and leads worship services and leads the congregation in exploring new ways to relate to their community. 

Professionally, she is a Life Skills Educator with two programs of Volunteers of America — working part time with homeless teenagers and part time with pregnant women and mothers in a chemical dependencies rehabilitation treatment center. She’s also a 2012 graduate of Goshen (Indiana) College.

For Yoder, whose family has a history of involvement in and leadership of the church, participating in Journey felt like “coming home.”

“Being in the Journey program has solidified my passion for the church,” she reflected. “It has helped me articulate my faith better. It has helped me articulate my sense of calling for myself and for the church and how the church can be relevant for our world. I now have confidence in myself as a leader, which I never thought of myself as before.”

Yoder’s mentors in the program were Jack (MDiv 1982) and Cathy Scandrett, also of CPMC.

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, on ancestral land of the Potawatomi and Miami peoples, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance as well as 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.

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