Small but inspiring

Portuguese set an example of unity in diversity

Apr 9, 2018 by

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Though tiny, a multicultural Mennonite Brethren conference on the tip of one corner of Europe might be the continent’s clearest embodiment of the global Anabaptist church.

The relatively short but diverse history of Associação dos Irmãos Menonitas de Portugalstate (Association of the Mennonite Brethren of Portugal, or AIMP) should be of inspiration to other attendees at a gathering of European Mennonites coming in May. Likewise, the balance of unity and diversity expressed at the European Mennonite Conference should be an example to North American counterparts of what can be possible if Anabaptists can focus on what unites, rather than divides.

AIMP began in the mid-1980s, at the nexus of Mennonites in Brazil, the London Mennonite Center, a Mennonite Central Committee-sponsored Dutchman working with refugees, and U.S. and Canadian church planters from what is now MB Mission.

A study group begun by Miguel Anelo Jardim of Mozambique has blossomed into a handful of congregations numbering about 170 members altogether. Two churches are made up predominantly of Portuguese background people. Two others hold services in Russian for immigrants from Russia and Ukraine, and another worships in French, serving people from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

AIMP leader José Arrais attended his first European gathering of leaders in late 2011. He recalled in a recent issue of the Swiss Mennonite Conference’s Perspective magazine that he was impacted immediately by how other conferences welcomed him as a representative of their Portuguese brothers and sisters.

“All our brothers wanted to know more about us. They wanted to pray for us and wanted to interact with us,” he said. “On my side, I wanted to listen how the ‘Big Four’ Mennonite conferences (Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Germany) were impacting their communities and the society, and I was very surprised but very impressed too. That gave us more inspiration and at the same time a sense of love and solidarity that assure us that we are not alone. Of course, our work is small, and sometimes we struggle to do more due to financial difficulties, but we have received a lot of support and prayer, and we know that God will keep us going on.”

AIMP doesn’t just embrace the diversity within itself. It also finds ways to overcome lingual, cultural, geographic and financial challenges separating it from the broader European Anabaptist fellowship.

As U.S. and Canadian Mennonites highlight their disagreements, a half dozen MB churches across the Atlantic Ocean have an alternative. They have been inspired by others. We should be inspired by them.


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