Opinion: Why do they do the offering that way?

Mission relationships call us to study Scripture, examine our cultures in the light of Christian witness

Oct 12, 2015 by and

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UYO, Nigeria — I had a light-bulb moment last December during the annual convention of Mennonite Church Nigeria. I was with Femi Fatunmbi, pastor at Royal Dominion International Church in Los Angeles. He is also moderator of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA.

MMN Nigeria Offering

Children from the Mennonite Church Nigeria congregation in Uyo form a procession to give their offerings. — Lynda Hollinger-Janzen/MMN

During one of the five services, I turned to Fatunmbi, a Nigerian-born U.S. citizen, and asked what he thought of the offering taking place. There were several offerings in each of the services. The person conducting the offering started by asking those who had $20 to come first and contribute. Then, there was a countdown to $15, $10, $5, $1 and less. More people came forward as the monetary amount lessened.

Many churches I work with in Africa have practices that, to me, appear inconsistent with Anabaptism. The offering processional seemed showy to me.

I told Fatunmbi I have never been comfortable with this way of collecting offerings. He responded, “How can you be Africa director for all of these years and have questions about this?”

We picked up the topic later. I said I often look to the Sermon on the Mount as a point of reference for my thinking. Jesus’ teaching about entering into a closet to pray, and about not letting the right hand know what the left is doing, seem to be the opposite of some African church practices. This is why I struggle with public displays of prayer and offering.

Fatunmbi reminded me that there are other biblical passages we could explore. We went on to talk about some of them, such as David and others dancing before the Lord and Paul being transported in prayer.

“Sooner or later, we Anabaptists will understand that we need Pentecostal power to be effective witnesses of the gospel of Christ with peace and justice emphases around the world,” Fatunmbi said.

Taught by Pentecostals

Bruce Yoder, who serves with Mennonite Mission Network in Burkina Faso, was also with us in Uyo. He spoke of the historical research he is conducting for his doctoral dissertation on the Mennonite Church in Nigeria. North American Mennonite workers once served with a growing church in Uyo but had to leave due to the complexities of the Biafran war. Those who left Nigeria went to other parts of Africa and were unable to return. Church leaders needed training, and Pentecostal schools were able to provide it.

Leaders of Mennonite Church Nigeria have not had many opportunities for training from a Mennonite or Anabaptist perspective. It is only in recent years that MMN has been able to help plan for more systematic theological training.

Yoder is working alongside several teachers from Mennonite Church Nigeria to develop the program. During this visit, we participated in the matriculation of the new students for the Mennonite Bible school.

Questions about us

I do not think there are right or wrong answers to the questions that surfaced when I was in Nigeria. But I do think we need to continue to work toward providing opportunities for theological education from an Anabaptist perspective on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

It is clear to me that Victor UmoAbasi, president of Mennonite Church Nigeria, values the relationship with MMN and the way we are working with the church. He sees himself as both Anabaptist and Pentecostal.

During UmoAbasi’s visit to the U.S. in 2013, during which he attended the MC USA convention in Phoenix, he had plenty of questions about our worship style, prayer and practice. He wondered about the dress of our young people. But he did not say, “Now I see what it means to be an Anabaptist or Christian.”

Engagement in mission relationships invites us to examine our assumptions about faith. It calls us to study Scripture together and examine our cultures in the light of Christian witness. Biblical faith and practice are discerned together in the global family of faith.

Steve Wiebe-Johnson is Mennonite Mission Network’s director for Africa. He served with MMN in Liberia, Ghana, Benin and Ivory Coast.

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