As with churches in Canada, it would be difficult if not impossible to describe or even list the issues and challenges facing Mennonite churches in other parts of the world. Some of these churches face persecution as a result of their beliefs and work; some exist in countries where the Christian religion represents a small minority; some endure constant conflict and warfare in their country; some persevere in areas of relative peace. Some churches are fairly wealthy, while others are incredibly poor.
Nonetheless, it is important to mention some of the issues these churches are facing and recognize their contributions to the global Mennonite community.
Naming of Issues
As you can see on the "Did you know..." page, the Mennonite church in Africa has been growing by leaps and bounds. One of the challenges which this brings is the need for balance in church growth.
As we can see in other pages, community, discipleship (following Jesus' moral example), and the importance of the Bible have all been important emphases of the Mennonite church from the very beginning. One of the struggles in Africa has been, how can you keep up with these aspects when the church grows so rapidly? When people decide to join the church, the decision does not end with baptism. Rather, this is meant to be the beginning of a commitment to the Christian community. Also, in order to live according to Jesus' example, it is important to hear the stories about this central figure.
To put this dilemma in simplistic terms, the African church struggles with improving the "quality" of membership, not just the "quantity." It seeks to stress the importance of continued "discipleship" as well as an initial decision.
Asia & the Pacific
Living in an area with many religions, Christian churches often form a very small minority. Conflict between these religious groups have resulted in some very difficult situations, such as the burning of churches in Indonesia.
As a result, one of the important issues for the Asian church has been "What does it mean to be Christian in a religiously diverse situation?" This question is especially pressing in areas where there is conflict and even violence between different religious groups.
Although the Anabaptist movement began in Europe, this area now has one of the smallest Mennonite churches in the world. In fact, numbers have actually dropped dramatically in the last century, due in part to migrations to other regions. However, this drop in membership is not unique to the Mennonite church; there has been a general numerical decline in religious groups across Europe.
One of the most important challenges for the Mennonite church in Europe has been to provide a relevant religious alternative in an increasingly secular society. There appears to be a widespread loss of interest in religion - religious beliefs just do not seem to be important. How can the church make itself relevant to the lives and situation of contemporary Europeans?
Another challenge has been dealing with the results of migrations. On one hand, thousands of Mennonites have left Europe during the 20th century to settle permanently in other areas. On the other, there has been significant ethnic Mennonite immigration to Germany from parts of the former Soviet Union. These new immigrants tend to be more conservative than their European counterparts, and integration has been difficult.
The church in North America faces several challenges. As you can see on the "Different Cultures" page, the church in Canada is becoming more diverse all the time - the same is true in the rest of North America. The Mennonite church is moving beyond ethnicity, and relatively new perspectives are having their impact. This increasing diversity begs the question, what is it that holds the Mennonite church together? What are the core beliefs and practices that continue to define who is a Mennonite?
Several related issues emerge out of this question. For example, non-conformity (separation from "the world") and peace have been two important beliefs in the Mennonite church tradition. Some would point towards topics such as individualism and consumerism as aspects of today's culture that should be avoided. In any case, what do these traditional beliefs mean for the church in North America as it enters a new millenium?
In addition to these regional concerns, the Mennonite Church faces global issues. There exists a great disparity in wealth in the World Church - the church in North America is the most wealthy by far. What responsibilities does this imply? In a church which has affirmed community as important, what implications does this vast economic inequality have for us? As the following quote suggests, how can the church in North America be in solidarity with its fellow churches and believers around the world?
Unlike in Asia, there are not many different religions present in South America. Although there are some Native customs and religious attitudes, Christianity and especially the Catholic church is the most widespread. The Pentecostal movement is also becoming stronger.
Like in Africa, one challenge in this context has been to emphasize "discipleship" and following Jesus' example in everyday life, as well as the importance of community.
Also, like in some areas in Africa, several countries in Latin America routinely experience political instability, internal strife and even open warfare. Even where open conflict does not exist, there is tremendous inequality in terms of wealth and land ownership.
This situation has raised several questions: What does it mean to be a church in a context of social injustice? How should the church respond to violence in its country? What is the relationship between justice and peace? What is the role of church as it faces dire poverty, or obligatory military service?
In Latin America, such issues do not arise from abstract thinking, but from consistent and pressing concerns.
Created 1998 by Derek Suderman