Monday, January 18, 2010

Anabaptist Network in South Africa

Both Anna and I have been contributing to the website of the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA), a project which our colleagues Karen and Andrew Suderman are spearheading from their base in Pietermaritzburg (You can access two of our opinion pieces below).

colonialism and ancestral worship
online worship and community

In southern Africa, and also in some other places, Mennonite mission from North America has focused not on planting a Mennonite denomination, but on being a voice for values (e.g. peace, justice, simplicity, humility) which can be incorporated by whosoever may choose to listen. The Mennonite presence in Mthatha, for example, was founded on precisely that principle. While I cannot escape (nor do I wish to) that as a Mennonite my teaching on the Bible has been shaped by my theological tradition, that teaching has been graciously accommodated by a wider circle, in our case the African Initiated Churches (AICs) and Pentecostals who have supported Bethany Bible School for nearly 30 years.

Rightly, however, the North American Mennonite voice is not now the only Anabaptist voice in South Africa. Zimbabwean nationals of the Brethren in Christ, a member church of Mennonite World Conference, are planting Anabaptist congregations in South Africa; so too are Mennonites from Congo. Their presence, as well as South Africans who have become interested in Anabaptism (some in part via the website), causes us to revisit our historic way of doing mission in southern Africa. I, for one, am not averse to the sprouting of Anabaptist congregations and, provided that the growth is organic and free of manipulation, would encourage it. Still, as other colleagues have pointed out, any participation in the growth of explicitly Anabaptist faith communities must be weighed alongside historic commitments to support existing denominations, relationships which have been built on the understanding that Mennonites did not have as their goal the increase of their own church membership. Regardless of these considerations, we continue to have as our goal the witness to peace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

-Joe

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