Far-flung outposts translate Plain life

Book documents spread of Amish-Mennonites around the world, examines challenge of being nonconformed in different cultures

Sep 30, 2019 by and

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After Cory Anderson published his overview of every Amish Mennonite congregation in the United States and Canada — The Amish-Mennonites of North America — there was only one place to go: everywhere else.

Young women play outside Iglesia Menonita de Chachagua in Costa Rica. Formed in 1985, the Beachy Amish congregation has 31 members. — The Amish-Mennonites Across the Globe

Young women play outside Iglesia Menonita de Chachagua in Costa Rica. Formed in 1985, the Beachy Amish congregation has 31 members. — The Amish-Mennonites Across the Globe

Volume 2 of the Amish-Mennonite Heritage Series, released earlier this year, builds on that compendium of more than 200 congregations by highlighting all 93 current churches and six “extinct” Amish churches that count nearly 5,000 members on five continents.

While the first volume was credited as a solo project, The Amish-Mennonites Across the Globe (Acorn Publishing) includes Jennifer Anderson joining her spouse as co-author. Both are converts themselves, joining the Beachy Amish church in their late teens.

“We conducted around 200 interviews with both converts and missionaries, who were for the most part very open with us,” said Cory Anderson, of Millersburg, Ohio.

He identifies Amish-Mennonites as any group coming out of the Beachy Amish tradition of car-driving conservative Anabaptists. In addition to “Beachys,” this includes Mennonite Christian Fellowship, Maranatha Amish-Mennonites, Berea Amish-Mennonites, “Remnant-type” (Charity Christian Fellowship) and unaffiliated congregations.

Before the concept of a global book arose, Anderson visited friends in 2009 in Belize and took some photos of churches. He ultimately decided not to include them in the volume that focused on North America.

“Then we took a more intentional trip in 2013 to Central America, and the Mennonite Historical Society provided a research grant for that trip,” he said. These were followed by grants to visit Paraguay in 2014 and to visit Kenya, Romania and Ukraine the following year.

Entries for each country include an overview of culture and history — both secular and Plain Anabaptist — photos of church buildings and members and maps of church locations and ­migrations.

While most directly relevant to the roughly 25,000 Amish-Mennonites in North America, Anderson said, other conservative Mennonite and Amish groups can find the book adds context not found in conservative missions organization newsletters.

“Most of them do not really know,” he said. “You give money to support the mission but you don’t know anything about the history and culture, so part of it is to give history of the place.

“We dropped some books off in Ontario, and the Old Order girl working in the store was flipping through them and said ‘Wow this is like a tour across the world.’ ”

Raising questions

“We went into this project very neutral, with the idea of putting together pictures from a hundred churches,” Anderson said. “But then we really felt this was an opportunity to share our findings and learnings that took place over these travels.”

Iglesia Menonita San Marcos in La Laguna, Honduras, is a Mennonite Christian Fellowship congregation established in 1975. It has 44 members, about 100 attendees and seven staff. — Cory and Jennifer Anderson

Iglesia Menonita San Marcos in La Laguna, Honduras, is a Mennonite Christian Fellowship congregation established in 1975. It has 44 members, about 100 attendees and seven staff. — Cory and Jennifer Anderson

More than an almanac or history and geography text, the book ventures into raising questions about missions philosophy and Plain Anabaptist cultural separatism.

Accompanying the book’s introduction is an analysis of how Western clothing castoffs harm distant economies and cultures. A series of 52 questions near the end of the book offers food for thought for the would-be Plain missionary.

“It’s a book that raises questions about the complexities of these places,” Anderson said. “So then it’s raising other questions about globalization, Westernization, the one-track path of modernization that the rest of the world needs to get on.

“What better people to raise these questions with than the people who have placed themselves in a position of opposition to some of those developments in the modern world?”

Many Plain groups rely on separatism to define a faith lived on biblical principles. Traditional clothing serves as a visible reminder they are part of a separate society. But when mission workers or church planters arrive in a very different culture from the U.S. and Canada, they sometimes discover they’re more assimilated to their home cultures than they realized.

This includes “anything from how separate are the Plain people really from America when you go abroad, when you fall back on things that are very American in the way you operate, like government legal protection, our culture of wealth,” he said.

For example, how should a nonresistant church pursue ethically consistent mission work in the shadow of war and instability caused by the West? How often do North Americans teach capitalism (profit as a life-driving incentive) regardless of prevailing cultural norms, making them agents of Westernization?

As Plain groups wrestle with how to follow New Testament imperatives to plant churches and seek converts while remaining separate from the world, they also feel the allure of mirroring mainstream evangelical efforts.

Anderson hopes the book raises the questions necessary to remain committed to the biblical calls to distinctive Christianity and open arms.

“The Amish-Mennonite churches have this missionary vision, but how that is lived out is cheapened with this evangelical approach of choosing Christ, which is great . . . but now you actually have to live out Christianity, which means doing things as we do them,” he said. “I think it misaligns priorities because there’s some sort of arbitrary internal decision we can only determine by your vocabulary and appearance.”

To order the book, send shipping information and payment for $45 + $5 to Acorn Publishing, 7010 State Route 241, Millersburg, OH 44654.


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