Conference equips participants with skills to lead and inspire change

AVDS participants discuss strategies for changing systemic oppression and injustice in Saturday small group Change Agent sessions.

Hesston College hosted its annual Anabaptist Vision and Discipleship Series (AVDS) conference Feb. 23 to 25. The theme, “Before the Unthinkable Happens: Confronting our Role in Injustice,” had a focus on dismantling the injustices that surround us in an effort to change the situations that cause unavoidable tragedies to happen.

More than 400 people, including Hesston College students, pastors, congregants and church and community leaders from across the country participated in the weekend’s programming.

In the Friday night keynote plenary address, Dr. Drew G. I. Hart and Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) faculty Adrion Roberson, spoke on the theme of “Stayed on Freedom: A Theology for Confronting Systemic Injustice as Beloved Community.”

 Dr. Drew G.I. Hart brings the Friday night plenary session message.
Dr. Drew G.I. Hart brings the Friday night plenary session message.

Roberson opened the event with his discussion on joining the four KLC leadership competencies – manage self, diagnose the situation, energize others and intervene skillfully – with faith. He also touched upon the idea of adaptive challenges.

“One thing about adaptive thinking,” Roberson said, “is it forces us to have to look at things from another person’s perspective, another faction.”

Roberson shared stories from the Kansas City, Kansas, community in which he lives and where he is pastor of Berean Community Church, an area he described as “the Nineveh of the state of Kansas.”

“Jesus must be at the center despite the challenges of societal injustices,” Roberson said. “My role is to get you to see these adaptive challenges through the lense of injustice using biblical principles.”

Dr. Hart, an author, activist and professor at Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) followed Roberson and shared his experiences as assistant professor of theology and his work mentoring youth as a pastor.

Hart’s message also centered on the idea of shalom, God’s people living in harmony together. Hart noted current events such as the #metoo movement and Black Lives Matter as those calling for justice. Jesus brings a stronger everlasting justice, Hart noted.

“A theology for doing justice must have a vision of where it is going,” Hart said. “If we can embody the way of Jesus, a life that practices justice, confronts systems, prioritizes the vulnerable, loves rather than destroys their enemies and embodies God’s future for us in the here and now, then we have begun to understand a Jesus-shaped scriptural theology for doing justice.”

Hart and Roberson both challenged the audience to incorporate faith and justice, looking to Jesus for guidance.

“So let’s not just be hearers but also doers of the word, yielding to the Spirit and keeping our eyes stayed on freedom,” Hart said.

Saturday’s programming had participants working in small “Change Agent” groups to engage with one another to develop meaningful responses and strategies for change.

Sessions throughout the day continued to connect the KLC competencies and faith with reflections by local theologians and pastors including Hart; Kevass Harding, pastor of Dell Rose United Methodist Church, Wichita; Lois Harder pastor of Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, Wichita, and Michele Hershberger, Hesston College Bible professor.

Saturday evening, the Ted &. Company show “Discovery: A Comic Lament,” further emphasized the themes of injustice and oppression by highlighting the Doctrine of Discovery, the legal framework that justifies theft of land and oppression of indigenous people.

The structure of the conference allowed participants to engage on social topics of importance to them and their contexts, as well as practice the leadership competencies with which they were presented.

“This weekend gave me a better understanding of what leadership is and how I can be a leader for change,” said Ivonne Ledesma, a Hesston College student from Wichita, Kan. “I found the courage I need to be able to stand up and speak up.”