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Made in God’s image?

By on Feb 18, 2019 in Latest Issue, Letters | 1 comment

I was happy to see that MWR picked up Micah Brickner’s article from Eastern Mennonite Missions about my involvement at Tyndale Seminary. The article gets the story right, but I feel that the headline, “Two Faiths’ Followers Reflect God’s Image,” is problematic.

Muslims and Christians are all made in the image of God, but the headline could be misconstrued to say that Islam and Christianity reflect the image of God. I reject that idea. Muslims and Christians only reflect the image of God because they are people, God’s creations, not because of their religions.

The title is also problematic because Muslims reject the idea that humans are made in the image of God as dangerously anthropomorphic. In Islam, people are God’s “vice-regents” but never “made in his image.” My Muslim co-presenters did not use or make any allusions to imago dei. Instead, they focused on human responsibility and capacity to live up to God’s revealed laws.

Khalid Hajji, founder of the Brussels Forum for Wisdom and World Peace, talked about a Muslim concept of God and the importance of relationships within the community. He reflected on humanity’s attempt to reach the transcendent God and how God had sent the Quran as a revelation. He spoke of humankind’s seeking after God. Yaser Ellethy, associate professor and director of the Center for Islamic Theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, noted that human attempts to reach God have failed, but God reached down through the Quran and prophets to give humanity instruction.

I deeply appreciate MWR and love its international scope.

Jonathan Bornman
Lancaster, Pa.

The writer is a member of Eastern Mennonite Missions’ Christian-Muslim Relations Team.

Idol of patriotism

By on Feb 18, 2019 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

Has patriotism become an idol in our churches? Test the spirits and see. If America is a nation “under God,” then put a Christian flag above America’s on the pole and watch what happens. Try removing the U.S. flag from your sanctuary to indicate the separation of church and state. If patriotism does not demand human sacrifices like an idol, why are people who kneel during the national anthem accused of dishonoring those who “died for their country”? Aren’t Christians supposed to long for a better country as aliens of all nations and citizens of heaven first?

The patriotic slogans “God and country” or “America first” constantly go unchallenged as contradictions of the Greatest Commandment and Second Commandment. Is it hypocrisy to advocate for Romans 13 submission to government while also claiming moral authority for a Revolutionary War against the king of England? Is the rallying cry “liberty or death” compatible with denying yourself and taking up your cross? Is Christ teaching us to kill or die for civil rights? The mantra “freedom  isn’t free” is a counterfeit of our freedom in Christ. There is only one eternal freedom that is the result of killing or dying: the freedom of Christ from sin and death. His death accomplishes salvation once and for all. No other deaths will further the gospel except for martyrdom.

Are U.S. Christians choosing the idol of faith in America’s founding fathers over adoption as heirs in the kingdom of God? Ask Christians from other countries and see what they say about American Christianity.

Clint Bergen
Orland, Calif.

A model of love

By on Feb 18, 2019 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

How fortunate Doug Lehman is to have a mother who models the love of his heavenly parent (“Pink Menno Grandmother’s Activism Came Naturally”). How fortunate the LGBTQ community is to have a person like Ruth Lehman who courageously lives Micah 6:8: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” How fortunate our larger faith community is to witness a person who follows the two commandments Jesus said are the most important ones and under which all other laws depend: “Love God . . . and your neighbor as yourself.” My heart sings when I see folks like Ruth Lehman living the meaning of these scriptures as the Spirit has revealed them to her rather than just reciting them and arguing about their meaning.

Marilyn Miller
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Miller: Grandma testifies

By on Feb 18, 2019 in Columns, Latest Issue, Miller: Properties of Light | 0 comments

Tears come to my grandma’s eyes when she tells us goodbye and thanks us for coming to visit. “I’m not worthy,” she says. Silly Grandma. We have visited her seldom, far less often than she deserves. She probably won’t last much longer now, my aunts tell us. Her kidneys are failing, and she won’t go to the hospital for medication. She is ready to die, anxious for it.

Lucinda J. Miller

Miller

Grandma is short and old and plump — like she has been for as long as I remember — but she sits in a wheelchair now and wears a bib when she eats. She has not lost her optimistic nature.

Though her eyes keep drooping shut, she tells us she never feels tired. “When other old people say how tired they get, I just look at them.”

This visit, I realize for the first time how much she reminds me of my dad — the odd blunt comments, the practicality of her, the friendliness in spite of all that.

She once ran out of salad while serving a meal, so she passed around a head of lettuce for the guests to cut their own. She used to buy hosts of things on sale, whether or not she actually needed them. She saved things. Once, at a restaurant, she couldn’t eat all her fish, so she wrapped it in a napkin and put it in her purse. A few days later, as she knelt in church, she smelled something peculiar. She thought it was the woman next to her until she realized it was the fish.

She speaks with the Deutschy accent of a native Pennsylvania Dutch speaker. I grew up hearing Dad talk that language with her on the phone — a language earthy, practical, comforting: smelling of barns, scratchy with everyday details, clucked back in the throat like a duck brooding ducklings.

I know my grandma for many things, but most of all for her prayers. In the old days, when she herded my dad and his sisters and brother out the door for school, she always stopped at the door to pray with them. “Just in case,” she would say, “Jesus comes today.”

If my grandpa didn’t want a thing to happen, he would tell Grandma not to pray for it — her prayers so often came true.

She prayed perhaps the bravest and most desperate prayer of her life  when my dad was 13 years old and ran away from home. She found him a few days later in the attic, hiding out with cans of beans and sour milk.

But his homecoming didn’t last. A few months later, after a discipline conflict, he told authorities he didn’t want to live with his parents anymore. They made him go to church, he said, wouldn’t let him go to high school. He didn’t want anything to do with their religion. The judge sent him to live in a foster home.

“I didn’t really worry about him because I knew God was taking care of him,” Grandma tells me.

My grandma knew. A year and a half later, my dad returned. Then God answered an even greater prayer of hers. Sixty-two years later, I hear the trembling gladness in her voice when she tells me how he came down the stairs one morning and said, “Mom, guess what? I’m a Christian now. I gave my heart to Jesus.”

“That was so wonderful,” she says. “So wonderful.”

And now she has come to this: An old lady in her wheelchair whose kidneys are failing, who can no longer remember all the prayers she prayed or all the ways that God worked. But that he has worked, she knows. And that he has worked — after 80-some years of trying his promises — her prayers and her simple belief in him testify.

Lucinda J. Miller lives in Boston. She is the author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and blogs at lucindajmiller.com.

West Africans celebrate first credentialed leaders

By and on Feb 18, 2019 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

Mennonite Church West Africa advanced its mission to establish Anabaptist churches in three nations on the Atlantic coast when it celebrated the ordination of its first credentialed leaders.

Members of Catel Mennonite Church celebrate the Jan. 27 ordination of Gibby Mane and Daniel Dijn-ale. — Beryl Forrester/EMM

Members of Catel Mennonite Church celebrate the Jan. 27 ordination of Gibby Mane and Daniel Dijn-ale. — Beryl Forrester/EMM

More than 200 people, the most ever for this type of event, filled Catel Mennonite Church’s new meetinghouse in Guinea-Bissau for MCWA’s annual conference Dec. 26-31.

“Christian leadership is meant to be servanthood, not masterhood,” said Adriano MBackeh, one of four newly credentialed pastors and a keynote speaker at the conference.

“Just as Jesus gave himself willingly, so also should church leaders today follow that example rather than seeking honor and prestige.”

The four pastors were to be ordained soon after the conference: Daniel Djin-ale and Gibby Mane on Jan. 27 at Catel, MBackeh and Sangpierre Mendy on Feb. 10 in the Gambia.

“It is a joy to follow leaders who are servants like Jesus,” one conference attendee said.

Eastern Mennonite Missions volunteer Beryl Forrester, who lives in neighboring Senegal, described the credentialing as a step of independence for the pastors. Previously they had been supervised by missionaries.

“When they are credentialed, they will be on their own,” Forrester said. “The missionary will be available for counsel.”

The credentialing is overseen by MCWA with input from LMC, formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference. In a partnership with EMM, the mission agency of LMC, MCWA is working to establish an Anabaptist circle of churches in Guinea-Bissau, the Gambia and Senegal.

Part of a Mennonite mission presence in West Africa since 2000, MCWA began in the Gambia and reached Guinea-Bissau in 2005. It does not yet have a congregation in Senegal, but Forrester said there is a point of witness there that could develop into a congregation.

Most of MCWA’s work is with the Balanta people, but other people groups are also part of the emerging church.

Historically, the Balanta have embraced an indigenous religion with influences from Islam. They live throughout the three countries where MCWA serves and make up a plurality of Guinea-Bissau’s population.

EMM is looking for a church development worker to serve in Senegal as a biblical instructor with MCWA. Senegal is a French-speaking nation.

Book review: Spiritual cousins not so distant

By on Feb 18, 2019 in Book Review, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

For many Mennonites, the Brethren in Christ are distant spiritual cousins. The BIC, while firmly Anabaptist, have also drawn deeply from the wells of pietism and Wesley­anism, which has created some strikingly different theological beliefs.

Stories and Scenes

Stories and Scenes

Furthermore, the BIC are geographically distant from much of the Mennonite population. More than 40 percent of the BIC’s U.S. congregations are in Pennsylvania. In Canada (where the denomination is called Be in Christ), 60 of 65 congregations are in southern Ontario.

But the BIC are kin. They were born out of a revival movement among Lancaster County, Pa., Mennonites in the 1770s. But they have maintained the traditional emphases on discipleship and nonconformity, even dressing plain well into the 20th century.

The BIC are members of Mennonite Central Committee — the esteemed BIC leader C.N. Hos­tetter Jr. was MCC chair from 1953 to 1967 — and of Mennonite World Conference.

All of which gives Mennonites a reason to read Stories and Scenes from a Brethren in Christ Heritage. As the title indicates, the book is a collection of stories from the 19th and 20th centuries organized into thematic chapters ranging from family life to evangelism to separation from the world.

Stories and Scenes opens with a passionate argument for the use of stories to convey history’s lessons by author E. Morris Sider, a prolific writer of BIC biographies and histories. One of the strengths of stories is they are usually about individuals. “It is difficult to identify with a generality, a theological abstraction,” Sider claims.

The stories in Stories and Scenes provide a wide-ranging and accessible introduction to BIC life and thought, illustrating both similarities with and differences from Mennonite understandings.

Many of the similarities will resonate with those who come from an “Old” Mennonite background. For example, in the chapter on separation from the world, Sider, a native Canadian, recounts his love of hockey as a youth in Canada. He delighted in pickup games on an iced-over creek but couldn’t join the high school team. The reason was “a classic Brethren in Christ separatist view,” Sider writes. He quotes his father: “You will be traveling to other places and being with other boys who could be a bad influence on you.”

“So I did not play on the team,” recounts Sider, “which meant that I had no chance at a career that may have eventually led to a place in the National Hockey League’s Hall of Fame (or so my young mind unreasonably fancied).” He instead became a longtime professor of history and English at BIC-affiliated Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and executive director of the BIC Historical Society for 22 years.

The chapter on peace includes accounts of BIC conscientious objectors in military camps during World War I and in Civilian Public Ser­vice during World War II. The stories are no different than those of countless Mennonites who chose to follow the Prince of Peace in the face of forces demanding allegiance to violence-wielding earthly powers.

But not all stories will resonate with Mennonites. The Brethren in Christ have adopted the Wesleyan belief of holiness or sanctification, also known as the second work of grace or second blessing: After accepting Jesus Christ, the believer is purified in a second encounter with God. In one account in the book, Luke Keefer Sr. tells of having been a BIC minister for four years without having experienced sanctification. He was holding a series of evangelistic meetings in 1943 when it happened. While he was preparing for a service, he heard God ask him if he could identify a time he had been filled with the Holy Ghost. He couldn’t.

“Instantly I felt very strange, as though I were ill,” Keefer recalls. “I was somewhat weak, numb, tingling, and, therefore, surmised that I might be dying.” He then had a vision of passing through an arch of blood on the way to Christ’s cross. At that moment, Keefer continued, “I was filled with the Holy Ghost. I instantly jumped out of bed and stretched my hands toward heaven and praised the Lord for the Holy Ghost.”

Stories and Scenes was not primarily intended, how­ever, to serve as an introduction to the Brethren in Christ for non-BIC members. Rather, it was published by the denominational historical society to promote BIC heritage and nurture faithfulness.

“How can the current and future generations use the book to help us understand who we are as a church and where we’ve come from and to inspire readers to adopt . . . the best principles and practices of the heritage they’ve been given?” writes Harriet Sider Bicksler, editor for the BIC Historical Society, in the book’s concluding section.

She proceeds to outline some suggestions, including using Stories and Scenes for study and discussion groups, preachers drawing upon it for sermon ideas and illustrations and using it for denominational pastoral training programs. That makes the book doubly valuable for Mennonites, not just as an introduction to our BIC cousins but also as an example for how to capitalize on history to foster faithfulness now and in the future.

Rich Preheim is a writer and historian from Elkhart, Ind.

Great Trek’s legacy

By and on Feb 18, 2019 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

The 39 families who followed Claas Epp into the Central Asian wilderness to avoid military conscription and meet Christ’s return in the late 19th century have received undo derision from descendants of other Russian Mennonites who chose instead to go west, to America. But not everyone remembers them in a negative light. The legacy of the relationships they forged is worth review.

A long-overdue exhibition of artifacts related to the Ak-Metchet settlement that existed from 1884 to 1935 near Khiva, Uzbekistan, is an opportunity to give credit where it is due.

It has been easy to remember the Great Trekkers for their fringe Tribulation theology that got Epp excommunicated for ultimately proclaiming himself the fourth member of the Trinity. He died alone in 1913.

While bizarre end-times beliefs dominate our memory of the settlers, their neighbors’ descendants recall the opposite of shame and caution.

The people who live in Uzbekistan today remember the Mennonites’ positive and friendly relationships, perhaps inspired by the welcome they found when they arrived in the region. In 1882, before arriving in Khiva, the migrants received hospitality when they wintered 300 miles away in Serubulak, Uzbekistan. Residents shared their mosque with the Mennonite newcomers, who worshiped there and performed 21 baptisms and two weddings. They continued their journey laden with gifts and money — marks of devotion to Islam’s hospitality mandate.

Upon arriving in Ak-Metchet, the Mennonites didn’t just introduce tomatoes and better technologies. They employed neighboring Muslims with good wages and fair labor practices.

In his 2010 book, Pilgrims on the Silk Road, Walter R. Ratliff describes area villages’ contemporary admiration: “Every spring the townspeople come here and remember the Mennonites in their prayers for a good season, recognizing their agricultural skill and thanking them for their peaceful relationship with the surrounding community.”

In light of the settlers’ context, this is remarkable. Coming from Mennonite colony life in what is now Ukraine, Epp’s migrants embodied an insular tradition suspicious of outsiders. They might not have converted anyone, but they are remembered, generations later, for a faith lived out in action. Good deeds spoke louder than bad theology.

Bible: Because Jesus is true

By on Feb 18, 2019 in Bible, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Sometimes I talk to my seatmates on the plane. Sometimes I don’t. But when the young woman next to me had a panic attack brought on by her just-discharged-from-Afghan­istan post-traumatic stress, how could I not talk to her?

Roth

Roth

How could I not tell her all would be well as the plane bolted down the runway? How could I not offer her prayer as we wobbled into the sky?

For the rest of the flight she peppered me with questions about my faith.

“How can you know Chris­tianity is true when there are so many other religions?” she asked.

Because of Jesus, I told her.

Just look at him. Jesus knew how to respond with a wise word in a tricky situation. He loved children, and children loved him. He had compassion on the sick and suffering. He stood up to abusive power. He was filled with love and confidence when everyone around him was filled with fear. Peace, be still!
Jesus knew how to pray. Jesus knew how to preach. Jesus knew how to teach. He knew where to go and when to go there, and he did it all with humble panache. Jesus lived a life of consistent holiness, plucky love and convincing, enduring, steadfast sanity.

In our age of debauchery, unforgiveness and scatter-brained, flitting, fleeting distraction, that’s how I want to live. Like him.

Because Jesus is true, I think Christianity is true.

I love Jesus. I have a visceral attraction to him. Peter and Andrew, James and John, must have felt the same way, which explains why they cast down their nets and followed Jesus, seemingly at a word (Mark 1:20).

Love for Jesus is the animating dynamic of the New Testament. If we don’t understand that love, we’ll never understand people’s response to Jesus. We won’t get mother Mary with her sword-pierced soul (Luke 2:35). We won’t get Saul-becomes-Paul with his Law-honed mind catching fire in the blue flame of his gospel-struck heart.

We certainly won’t be able to understand those first seashore disciples who set out after the Rabbi of rabbis with an urgency that makes Elisha following Elijah seem like a Sunday oxen roast picnic (1 Kings 19:21).

Without a life-clenching love for Jesus, we won’t even get the Pharisees and Sadducees, whose gnashed-teeth hatred of Jesus proves his attractiveness in a sort of love inversion.

Love for Jesus makes sense of Jesus’ teaching. It disorients all our other desires and aspirations. The seat at the table’s head loses its cachet (Luke 14:8). Throwing a banquet to build our social capital portfolio becomes all too gauche.

Our eyes wander off to society’s human marginalia — Jesus’ “poor, crippled, lame and blind” (Luke 14:13). Then we’re blessed. Then we’re “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14).

Love for Jesus decenters our other loves and relationships. Natural and appropriate love for family, for those closest of bonds that Jesus calls us on other occasions to honor, becomes as hatred compared to our love for him (Mark 7:9-13; Luke 14:26).

In this way, taking up our cross and following him is not a call to burden-bearing but to following our heart’s desire (Luke 14:27).

While it might make  sense to count the costs when we’re building or warring, the secret logic of Christian discipleship means our calculations happen on a very different sort of balance sheet (Luke 14:27-32).

Following Jesus involves giving up all that we have and are (Luke 14:33). We’ll sell it all to buy the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46). Mortgaging the house seems like a bargain if it means we come away with that treasure-stocked field. We’ll do it gladly (Matt. 13:44).

Costs? What costs? You may have the whole world. Give me Jesus.

Fred Rogers, that Presbyterian saint for our age, once said, “Let’s make goodness attractive in this so-called new millennium.” In this what-can-I-get-away-with moment, I suspect Mr. Rogers was on to something. And I think living out his words will mean, above all, pointing to the visceral, attractive goodness of Jesus.

Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Mound­ridge, Kan., and author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope and the Future of the Rural Church (Herald Press). He blogs at DoxologyProject.com.

Long-delayed exhibit is set to open in Uzbekistan

By and on Feb 18, 2019 in Featured, Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

A decade after its opening was canceled, a historical exhibit about a band of Mennonites from Ukraine who migrated far eastward in the 1880s to avoid military service and meet Christ’s return will finally go on public display in early March in Uzbekistan.

An exhibition of artifacts from a Russian Mennonite settlement that existed from 1884 to 1935 is going on display in March at Ichan Kala Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Khiva, Uzbekistan. — John Sharp

An exhibition of artifacts from a Russian Mennonite settlement that existed from 1884 to 1935 is going on display in March at Ichan Kala Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Khiva, Uzbekistan. — John Sharp

The exhibition on the “Great Trek” by Mennonites into Central Asia is based on a partnership between Ichan Kala Museum in Khiva, Uzbekistan, and Kauffman Museum in North Newton, Kan.

“In 2009 we fully prepared the exhibition,” said Maqsudbek Abdurasulov, deputy director of Ichan Kala, in Russian by email. “But the government of that time forbade its opening on the last day.

“We tried for 10 years to open the exhibition, and now we have been allowed. It has become possible thanks to the new president and a change in the management of the museum.”

Abdurasulov said Uzbekistan has become a more open country since 2017, after Shavkat Mirziyoyev was elected president in late 2016. (He replaced Islam Karimov, who led the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic from 1989 until it ended in 1991, and then was president of Uzbekistan from its formation in 1991 until his death in 2016.)

On Dec. 17, 2018, the minister of culture issued a statement including “establishment of a historical district of the village of Ak-Metchet — where the German Mennonites lived.”

Anabaptist historian John Sharp, who has visited the region four times, said he was informed in 2010 by a cultural administrator at the U.S. embassy that the government was so concerned about religious extremism that  it did not want exhibitions that touch on anything of the sort. Things have changed.

“It was such a delightful bit of news, because we’ve been hoping for all this time, thinking it probably would happen, and finally it did,” Sharp said. “We had been assured by the director of the museum that it would happen, that in the meantime he would file things away or put artifacts in other museums.”

Some of those artifacts have been held in storage since 2009. Men’s and women’s clothing, cameras, dishes, clocks, chairs, ornate wooden furniture decorated with Cyrillic script and even a model of a Mennonite settlement have been waiting for a decade.

The artifacts are joined by photographs about the Ak-Metchet settlement from the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College.

“We want to recreate the historical place where the Mennonites lived in the village of Ak-Metchet,” Abdurasulov said. “If you have investors, we will be happy to work together.”

The end was near

The Mennonites who lived at Ak-Metchet, nine miles from Khiva, from 1884 to 1935 fled what was then Russia in 1880 to avoid military conscription — even rejecting alternative for­estry service — and to find new land to farm and await Christ’s return. The area today is near the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

According to the Mennonite Encyclopedia, Claas Epp Jr. began stressing “the imminent end of the age” in the 1870s. While many Mennonites fled conscription to points west in North America, Epp proclaimed their deliverance would be among Muslim populations in the east, where he said they would meet Christ on March 8, 1889.

A group of 80 families — about 900 people in all — traveled roughly 2,000 miles from the Molotschna community in Ukraine by wagon and foot. Eventually they were joined by other families from the Trakt colony in Russia’s Volga region. Children died on the 18-week trip. Disease took the lives of some adults.

In spring, a group of 23 families left the trek to emigrate to America. At one point, Epp and fellow leader Abraham Peters had a falling out over where to settle, and Peters’ followers from Molotschna — joined by most of Epp’s — went instead to the Talas Valley of present-day Kyrgyz­stan.

The group that ultimately settled in the Ak-Metchet settlement numbered a little more than 200 people in 39 families.

“The climax came when Epp claimed to be the Son of Christ, the fourth person of the Trinity,” records Mennonite Encyclopedia. “By this time most of Epp’s followers, disillusioned, had left him, but a handful remained steadfast almost to the end. Finally the remnant excommunicated him.”

The Mennonites introduced numerous advancements and foods, including potatoes and tomatoes.

“They applied their European experience in the fields of woodworking, technology, photography, business and agriculture,” said Abdurasulov of the ways they transformed the region.

They found favor with Sayyid Muammad Raim Bahadur II, the Khan of Khiva, who gave them land and exemption from military service. Mennonite craftsman installed ornate parquet wood floors in his palace and constructed its windows and doors, along with a four-poster bed for the Khan that he occasionally used as a throne.

No buildings remain from the settlements after Joseph Stalin’s agricultural collectivization movement in the 1930s claimed the land and exiled the Mennonites.

Instead of remembering their apocalyptic theology, local villagers recall the Mennonites as hardworking and honest people who paid good wages and were skilled at raising crops.

See it yourself

Those who have an interest in seeing the exhibition will have a chance to do so this fall.

John Sharp is leading Tourmagination’s “Central Asia: Crossroads of Faith and Culture” tour Sept. 22-Oct. 3. Following the Silk Road, the tour includes interactions with local Muslims and retraces some of Epp’s Great Trek migration trail.

The museum itself is located within Khiva’s Ichan Kala historic inner fortress — a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally planned to take up four rooms on the second floor of a former Russian school in the complex, the exhibition is now in a single-story building in what Sharp says is a better location.

“This had been a place where Mennonites sold merchandise,” he said. “It’s closer to the gate when you walk in and really is ideal.”

Bearing a light yoke

By and on Feb 18, 2019 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Jesus gives light burdens. He says so after telling his followers to “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” Then he adds, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).

We might reply: If only it were so. Some burdens of faith feel heavy. One weight that can be hard to carry is fellow Christians who believe and act differently than we do. We might think they drag the church down, standing in the way of progress. Or that they’re pushing recklessly ahead on dangerous paths.

How can Christians ease the burden of their differences? Can we lighten the load?

An answer can be found in following Jesus’ command to “learn from me.” And from each other. One of the greatest needs in the church today is for Christians to understand — and learn from — those whose beliefs and experiences differ from ours but who share a desire to follow Jesus.

Learning happens when we:

— Listen to each other. U.S. Mennonite Brethren did this last month at a study conference on women in pastoral ministry. They examined different interpretations of Scripture. They listened to stories of women who have answered God’s call to pastoral ministry and have felt the pain of limitations imposed on them. Conversation was gracious and respectful. A church whose members can talk about their differences in a healthy way carries a lighter burden.

— Draw upon the strengths of other Christian traditions. In a new Herald Press book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians, Ed Cyzewski writes of overcoming his stress as an anxious evangelical who feared he wasn’t working hard enough to defend the faith and win souls. From Cath­olic teachers, he learned to pray and read Scrip­ture contemplatively. Rather than a duty to improve himself spiritually, Bible reading became a way of being present with God. Reading Scripture devotionally freed him from “marrying the cause of Christ to culture wars, elections, heresy hunts, theology debates or religious measuring sticks.” His burden got lighter.

— Avoid negative assumptions. We’ve seen, in some Mennonite discussions about LGBTQ inclusion, a tendency to assume the worst. When progressives dismiss traditionalists as full of hatred and prejudice, and traditionalists assert that progressives disregard the Bible and blindly follow secular trends, divisions in the body of Christ deepen.

Yet progress is being made toward dispelling negative views of LGBTQ people. Young people are leading the way as they learn. According to the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Study, at evangelical colleges, students’ attitudes toward LGBTQ people grew more favorable during their first year. Students who accept their friends’ sexual identities are setting an example for churches to affirm LGBTQ Christians. Will LGBTQ-affirming Mennonite young people stick with a slow-to-change church? Or will we make the burden too heavy?

Learning happens when we break out of our confining circles of like-minded opinions and open ourselves to see God at work in the lives of others. It happens when we let Jesus teach us to be gentle and humble. It starts with following Jesus’ command to take up his light yoke. Jesus seems to be saying that there’s work to do but that in the end we will be glad we’ve done it.