Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: indigenous

Mennonites: ethnic group, culture or faith?

In the first few centuries of the Christian era the faith spread far and wide through Asia, Europe and Africa. Then came the time when the Emperor Constantine professed to espouse the Christian faith. For a time persecution ceased.

But the church that made peace with the Imperial power became corrupted by peace and power. Many Christians refused to be part of such a church and maintained the original purity of the faith. So persecution began once more, this time by a church that had become earthly and pagan, yet still called itself Christian. From the records of the persecutions by the Imperial church it is evident that the network of pure churches still stretched across much of the known world.

By the late Middle Ages there was still a network of churches that stretched from Bulgaria to England. They were known as Cathars, Bogomils, Waldenses, Albigenses, Lollards and many other names, but there was communication between them all. The Inquisition, a major, systematic escalation of the persecution almost succeeded in destroying those churches.

In the 1500’s the remnant of the persecuted reorganized and are known to history as Mennonites, after the name of Menno Simons, one of their more prominent leaders. Churches were organized in Flanders, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Palatinate. The members of these churches spoke Dutch or German. Some of the members in Flanders also spoke French.

Mennonites today are often thought of as a unique Dutch/German ethnic group. Many among them have lost the faith but held on to their Dutch/German culture, leading to confusion as to what it means to be a Mennonite.

I am a Mennonite by faith, but not by culture. I think that should be considered the norm. Our faith goes back to the Apostolic era, it did not begin with Menno Simons (he strongly denied being the founder of a church).

I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. A large part of the membership of this church in North America is made up of people of Dutch/German ancestry. This causes confusion, within the church and without.

Yet when it comes to sharing the gospel in other lands, there is no confusion. It is the gospel we are endeavouring to share, not language or lifestyle. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in 40 countries around the world. Some are indigenous, not under the tutelage of a mission organization, others are moving in that direction as quickly as local members are ready to take leadership positions, some are new missions.

Much of the international growth has come as a result of tract distribution. Gospel Tract and Bible Society, an agency of the church, distributes millions of tracts, in over 100 languages. In the last few years this has been accelerated by their website. You can find the website here. People can read tracts online, print them for reading at home, order copies for distribution, and ask questions. Some of those with questions may ask “Where is this church? Why isn’t it in my country?” Enough questions like that, ones that show a serious spiritual longing, and a visit is made and a mission may begin.

We are told that the website reaches a new demographic. Previously, many of those who ordered tracts were church leaders or evangelists, now it is more individuals who are searching to understand what Christianity is all about, what Jesus means for their personal life, their home.

Another change in recent years is a great increase of inquiries from French-speaking countries. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in six French-speaking countries in Africa and a new mission in a seventh. Visits have been made with interested people in France and there are plans to place a family there for at least a few months.

I also have a French blog, on which I post articles about the Anabaptist faith in history and today. The readership isn’t all that big as yet, but so far this year there have been people from 51 countries who have taken a look at that blog. The top five countries were, in order, the USA, Morocco, Canada, Bénin and France. Do those first two countries surprise you? There are French-speaking people all over the world.

And then we were three

“Herb and Hilda are applying to adopt a baby,” Chris announced one day. Herb and Hilda were a young couple around our age in the Lowe Farm church. That simple bit of news started wheels turning in our minds. We wanted a family and so far there was no sign of that happening. Adoption had never entered our minds, but now that it had it began to grow on us.

The first turn of the wheel was to find out where to apply. We filled out the initial application and were invited to attend orientation sessions in Portage la Prairie. I believe there were three or four evening sessions, one per week.

My understanding had been that adoption was all about finding a child to match the parents. The first thing we learned was that the Children’s Aid Society of Central Manitoba didn’t think that was a good idea. “When children are born into a home they vary in size, eye colour, personality and so on. Why should we try to do better than what nature does?”

They told us it was best if we didn’t know too much about the adoptive child’s background. “If you know all about the father and mother, uncles and aunts, when the child misbehaves you are apt to think he is just like his uncle and feel that there is nothing you can do about it. You need to feel that the child you adopt is your child and it is up to you to deal with any problems that arise.” This was a whole new thought to us, but they had research to back it up and it made sense.

One evening the topic was interracial adoptions. Some parents asked “But won’t a child of a different skin colour have a hard time adapting to living among white people?” The social worker answered “Are you concerned about the child or yourself? A child of a different skin colour is going to be surrounded by mostly white people, no matter who her parents are.”

After attending those meetings we had to fill out the official application to adopt. This required information about income, the size of our home, and also asked for references. One question on that application was cause for soul searching. It asked what our racial preference was. We looked at that question and felt we needed to pray before answering it. After the prayer we knew that the only answer that we could feel at peace about was to check the box that said “no preference.”

Once the application was accepted we had a home visit by a social worker. We were told that the waiting list was several months long, but we should start getting together the things that we would need to care for a baby in our home.

One of the things we would need was a crib and there was a used crib available in a town not far away. When Chris was in the process of buying the crib, another lady came along just a bit too late. The other lady was obviously nearing the point where the crib would be a necessity. Chris presented no such appearance, but we really would be needing that crib before the other lady.

The call came far sooner than we had anticipated. There was a baby girl available, were we interested? We were ready. We didn’t know what changes a child would bring to our lives, or how we were going to cope, but we were ready to embark on that adventure.

We drove to Portage la Prairie. The social worker told us the girl was part Scandinavian and about one eighth indigenous (back then they said Indian) ancestry and we were the only applicants who had indicated that we would accept a child who was not 100% white. Then she led us into a small room, brought in the baby and left us alone with her. She was sound asleep, wrapped up in a blanket. All we could see was her face, short dark hair on her head and her tiny hands. We took turns holding her. When the social worker came back to ask what we had decided, we knew that we did not want to hand her back.

There were a few more papers for us to sign and then the three of us were on our way home, our lives forever changed. We named our daughter Michelle Marie. She was 15 days old when she came into our home.

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