After our time in Botswana was finished, we headed to Pietermaritzburg for a different set of meetings, held on 13-15 June.
The first meeting, over two days, was between we North American Mennonite mission workers and our visiting North American administrators. The second meeting, on the 15th, was between the North Americans and our South African partners. The purpose of the meeting was to evaluate these partnerships. In the process, we also got to know one another better—North Americans and South Africans as well as South Africans and South Africans.
Representing our partners in Mthatha were Mama Tshandu and Mama Dwele from the Executive Committee of Bethany Bible School and Tata and Mama Ntapo from Harvest Time Ministries in the location of Mandela Park. It was our joy to see our friends from Mthatha relating to friends and friends of friends from Pietermaritzburg, Philipstown, Cape Town, and De Aar.
It became even clearer in the meeting what had already seemed clear beforehand: of the people MCUSA and MC Canada are working with in South Africa, some are looking for a much closer relationship, even towards building a common Mennonite identity, while others have a firm identity in their own churches/denominations even as Mennonites assist them in various aspects of their ministries. For example, some expressed a desire to have these meetings more frequently and for longer, while others said that this once-a-year format was already the maximum amount of time they could give considering the full range of their priorities and commitments.
One other thing I think I noticed: There is a rub between the way in which we Mennonite mission workers have defined or perhaps not defined what we intend to do in South Africa and how a significant portion of our South African partners define their own mission. When, for example, certain of our South African partners talk about vision and mission, they speak of a specific number of people ministered to by a specific date, or a specific number of new congregations planted by a target date. Mennonite mission workers, at least in southern Africa, have/do not. When we drafted a vision and mission statement for the work of our Mennonite team in 2007, we wrote of “the church trained and equipped to engage the larger community with the shalom God intends for creation” and of “working with existing churches and organizations to build up the Body of Christ for healing and reconciling ministry in South Africa”. In this there is overlap with some of our more numbers-oriented partners; they also use phrases such as the “whole gospel” for the “whole person” (Mennonite Mission Network currently speaks of “sharing all of Christ with all of creation” or, in an earlier incarnation, “the whole gospel for a broken world”) and some are passionately committed to social justice within the South African context. Where there is not overlap, however, is in the numbers; the missionaries have specified none.
All this is simply to say that this is a difference that I have observed between the missionaries and some of our partners. It also represents a tension that will continue to exist in me; I remain skeptical about the compatibility of a numbers-oriented focus with a church thoroughly taught in the way of Jesus. It is also partly for that reason that I have found a special kinship with Pastor Ntapo. Regularly he introduces his ministry as “not trying for numbers, though we would like to grow.” Or, as he and Tata Maka put it simply in the constitution of their church, “The vision of the Ministry is to shepherd the people of God in accordance to his word.” I believe in a mission so stated, and trust its ultimate ability to produce a “thirty, sixty, hundredfold” harvest with little more than the sowing of good seed (Mk. 4:8, 20).