Robert Barbry II, a contributor with EpicPew.com, recently spoke with Iwona and Keith Major.
A little over a month ago wife and husband, Iwona and Keith Major, and their team over at MajorChange, a Catholic ecumenical nonprofit organization, spearheaded the first ever ‘Catholic Ecumenical Track’ at the Evangelical conference ‘Onething’ which is put on annually by the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. Coming from an Evangelical/Protestant upbringing, and having attended the ‘Onething’ Conference before, I was eager to learn a bit more about the couple behind this ecumenical effort and what the future looked like for ecumenical events such as this.
With all that this couple is doing, I was fortunate enough to get a moment of Iwona’s time for an interview.
[EPICPEW]: Iwona, welcome!
[IWONA BEDNARZ-MAJOR]: Hi Robert. Thanks for the invitation.
[EP]: To begin, can you give us the “spark notes” version of your own journey of faith? I understand you both consider yourselves to be reverts to the Catholic Church.
[IM]: I was raised Catholic in Poland, and like most people I faithfully attended Mass and catechism classes. I had a strong conversion experience and Charismatic immersion during my teen years. A group of friends and I started a Catholic community called HalleluJah. I was sent by YWAM as a lay Catholic missionary to Moscow, Russia to help a newly established church plant. During this time I drifted away from being a so-called practicing Catholic as I was searching for evidence of God operating in the daily lives of people as in the Book of Acts. Discouraged by what was then a quite rigid and formal approach of the average Catholic hierarchy in Poland, and having a pioneering and daring spirit, I moved to the Evangelical and Charismatic side of Christianity. After Keith and I married, we joined the Vineyard movement and were sent as church planters to Russia and Poland. After a few years we ended up in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and then in the U.S. in the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri, where for six years we were on staff. In those six years I started to question what really is the Church that Jesus established. This led me back to the Catholic Church. The whole family had a similar journey, including our children, and we reverted in the spring of 2010. Our kids were baptized shortly after. This is the framework of my story.
[EP]: In 2009, I attended the Onething Conference after I had become involved in a local house of prayer ministry in my hometown of Lake Charles, LA. Subsequent events and a fervent desire to grow deeper in my relationship with God led me right into the arms of the Catholic Church. After leaving the Assemblies of God, having been born and raised in the movement, I spent some time attending services at a local Vineyard church plant. From there, my own journey led me to the intercessory prayer movement before ultimately coming to reside in the Catholic Church. I understand your own stories contain similar elements.
[IM]: Going from one geographical place to another and from one denomination to another or from one community to the next always encompassed a significant step in a spiritual ascent of my heart that weakly but resolutely was striving for that Love that never ends. So yes, moving between continents, countries and places was definitely not easy. But it all has had one definite direction and the same purpose: to discover the ultimate Truth. I am very grateful for the whole journey, because it has given me a great perspective on what the Mystical Body of Christ is. I have had a great unexplainable desire, from the early years right after my conversion, for the whole Church becoming one. I have a strong sense of Jesus’ unceasing holy craving to see us moving closer to His heart.
[EP]: Now, it’s my understanding that your apostolate, MajorChange, has been the driving force behind the Catholic Ecumenical Track at the Onething Conference. Can you tell us about how this partnership came to fruition?
[IM]: We were on staff as Intercessory missionaries at the IHOPKC for six years. During our moves from one ‘camp’ to the other we have never intentionally burned bridges, relationally, with anyone. After living within the American Catholic world for a few years, Keith worked at Franciscan University of Steubenville as their Director of Marketing and Media and me as a homeschooling mom and founder of a youth and young adult apostolate called Encounter; we reached the point where we missed the zeal, dedication, and certain aspects of the Charismatic Evangelical experience, and the urgency we felt of introducing both worlds to each other definitely increased. After reaching out to the IHOPKC community for input and discerning with several of our ministry friends we discerned, hopefully rightly, that the timely convergence is NOW. The whole initiative was put together rather quickly, and although it lacked in some areas, mainly because it was only Keith and I trying to do most of the work, God showed up and blessed us beyond all expectations.
[EP]: Other than your own personal experience with the IHOP-KC/intercessory movement, what drove the decision to select Onething as a starting point, of sorts, for your ecumenical conference experience endeavors?
[IM]: Trust. We trust the leadership of IHOPKC, although we differ theologically on some important points. We understand that IHOPKC is dedicated to offering all their resources for the purpose of extending the Kingdom of God. We saw this dedication in our first attempt a few years back when we co-organized a “Polish Onething Track,” bringing 100 Polish leaders of various backgrounds, including a few Catholics, to IHOPKC for a week long program. Also, while I was there, I was never ostracized or dismissed from any ministry group for sharing my Catholic theological views. Many IHOPKC leaders visit different Catholic communities in Poland and they bring refreshment, share their gifts, and are open to serve Catholics in any capacity they can, not asking for anything back. They are not involved in denominational battles but focus consistently on helping efforts to expand the understanding of coming to full union with Christ. When I first visited IHOPKC and participated in one of their conferences, I was delightfully surprised about the aspects of prayer and praise and worship that I tried to establish throughout my life: prophetic worship, Catholic mystic literature, understanding the human heart, knowing and communicating with God, studying deeply the Song of Songs and Psalms, and so on. If one would put a magnifying glass to IHOPKC’s main practices, they just might see that it’s a place where Lectio Divina can be learned.
[EP]: Looking towards the future, what does ecumenical ministry look like for Catholics and non-Catholic Christians in North America?
[IM]: To tell you the truth, I am quite flabbergasted at the lack of meaningful ecumenical efforts in the U.S. I hope this is the case only because of my limited knowledge and scope of the vast Catholic world here. My personal experience, coming from a very Catholic Poland, was of constant cooperation between the many streams and churches. If we want to go beyond having an annual, courteous prayer meeting during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we have to do things differently. It has to start with going out and meeting people where they are, as Pope Francis encourages us, to reach out to the outskirts of society. We need to go out of our comfort zones of youth groups and college centers, and try to establish relationships built on mutual respect. This is often nothing more than meeting each other for prayer and a meal.
[EP]: In your opinion, what are the toughest obstacles that ecumenical efforts, such as the Catholic Track at Onething, are going to face from both ends of the spectrum; meaning from Traditional Catholicism to Non-denominational Evangelicalism?
[IM]: The biggest obstacles are the fear of the unknown and the elitist mentality, on both sides. Catholics who repeat thoughts such as “We have the fullness of faith. What can they give us that we don’t have?” need to understand that our rich tradition is penetrating neither the average pew warmer nor the somewhat committed Mass goer. The new evangelization is often more a fad and a defense for any random effort, than an actual bringing people to the knowledge of Christ. We need to stop saying that people leave the Catholic Church because they want to be entertained by shallow Evangelical services. We need to humbly recognize the Evangelical and Charismatic efforts in successfully engaging the culture and evangelizing. For those Catholics who are afraid of losing their loved ones to the Evangelical world, their frustrations can be eased by familiarizing themselves with Dr. Kreeft’s lecture called “Ecumenism without Compromise.” https://peterkreeft.com/audio/03_ecumenism/ecumenism_transcription.htm
Non-denominational Evangelicals could make more effort to study the history of the Church and its greatest heroes, acknowledging that between the book of Acts and Luther, Calvin, or whomever they recognize as their greatest iconic Christian, there were tons of tremendous persons under whose influence they live even now. Google helps.
[EP]: How might we overcome such obstacles?
[IM]: Starting with humility and openness we should commit to become spiritual theologians who study their faith on their knees and are not afraid of exchanging the fruits of our contemplation with befriended brothers and sisters, always seeking for what unites us and putting each other as higher in the hierarchy of love. With such attitude we can go and seek those who are ready to engage in spreading the love of God, be it in weekly coffee house prayer sessions, missionary trips, feeding the poor or caring for the elderly. Once we see each other we discover we are so much alike, we can laugh at the face of the Accuser who always tries to divide, split and conquer our minds by fear and antagonism. Clinging to the discovery of the Truth will set us free.
[EP]: What might you say to Catholics who are trepidatious about crossing the denominational lines? Especially those who, for whatever reason, feel satisfied and fulfilled in their Catholic faith, as it is?
[IM]: Do not be afraid. Do not let the lies cloud your judgment. Understand that the Bride of Christ is surprisingly more beautiful and diverse than our limited concept of her. She speaks different languages, sings her songs in a different genre than the one you prefer, goes to places where you would dread to show up, wears clothes of different fashions, and yet she cries for the same injustice, she desires the same love and she presents herself before the same Bridegroom, who sees her as one Body and not its separated parts. He desires all her love, unceasingly, with the same zeal, since the day of Pentecost.
Theoretically, I recommend a prayerful reading all of the documents on Christian unity and learning about all of the people who were involved in the efforts of bringing the unity of Christians to fruition in our modern times. Some of the more significant: Bl. Elena Guerra, practically all of the popes starting with Leo XIII, Fr. Paul Couturier, and Bl. Maria Gabriella of Unity. Also, learning the history of the Catholic Charismatic movement and new ecclesial movements in the Church, which play a tremendous role of bridge building, is very beneficial.
[EP]: Final thoughts/comments?
[IM]: If you are interested in building the unity of the Church, and would like to learn more about our efforts, cooperate or engage in a conversation, do not hesitate to contact us. This invitation is for both Catholics and non-Catholics.
[EP]: Well, Iwona, I just want to express my sincerest gratitude for taking to share your vision and mission with the readers of EpicPew. We all know how truly busy you are and know that we are praying for you. In the Holy Spirit, and in the name of true, ecumenical unity, I believe that MajorChange can be an agent of just that, major change, in how we ‘do ministry’ now and in the years to come.
Again, thank you.
[IM]: Thank you Robert for that comment. We need all the help and intercessors we can gather to pray for us to be that change agent. For those that are interested in participating with us in future events and have a greater understanding on what took place last month at the Onething conference, please visit our web page majorchange.org/onething to view the Catholic Ecumenical Track keynotes and Q&A panel discussions, especially on day three when the focus was on ecumenism.