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Statue to honor martyr

By and on Jun 18, 2018 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

STEINBACH, Man. — Manitoba sculptor Peter Sawatzky has been commissioned to create a bronze statue of martyred Anabaptist Dirk Willems.

Based on an engraving of Willems by Jan Luyken in Martyrs Mirror, the life-size monument is intended to recognize the Anabaptist ideals of peacemaking.

Sculptor Peter Sawatzky applies the final part of a rubber mold on his sculpture of Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems before it is covered in plaster and sent to the foundry for casting. In the foreground are pieces of the prison guard, ready to be taken to the foundry. — Peter Sawatzky

Sculptor Peter Sawatzky applies the final part of a rubber mold on his sculpture of Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems before it is covered in plaster and sent to the foundry for casting. In the foreground are pieces of the prison guard, ready to be taken to the foundry. — Peter Sawatzky

The statue is expected to be completed this year as the focal point of a new peace exhibit at Steinbach’s Mennonite Heritage Village, a museum that attracts 40,000 visitors a year from around the world.

Sawatzky is renowned for his sculptures, including the “Seal River Crossing,” a 29-foot sculpture of nine caribou in downtown Winnipeg, as well as a 21-foot York boat in Selkirk.

Willems was one of around 4,000 Anabaptist martyrs killed in Europe in the 1500s. Holding to the doctrine that one should only be baptized upon confession of faith, they rebaptized adult believers and refused to baptize infants.

Willems became known for rescuing his captor after breaking out of prison. He was burned at the stake on May 16, 1569, near his home village of Asperen in the Netherlands.

Peace Exhibit Committee chair Elbert Toews said the commissioning of the statue involves something of a leap of faith.

The sculpture and base alone will cost more than $100,000. The completed peace exhibit, which will include an interpretive center and cairn to recognize Mennonite conscientious objectors, will cost several hundred thousand dollars more.

Donations are being solicited and can be sent to Peace Project, Mennonite Heritage Village, attention Al Hamm, 231 PTH 12 North, Steinbach, MB R5C 1T8.

“In 2025 it will be 500 years since Anabaptist history started in Zurich, Switzerland,” said committee member and historian Harvey Plett.

The committee felt Willems was the right subject for the monument because the Martyrs Mirror image of his heroic act is the iconic symbol of the spirit of the martyrs.

According to Thieleman J. van Braght’s account in Martyrs Mirror, Willems was imprisoned in a castle turned prison and escaped by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags.

Emaciated from his imprisonment, he did not break through the ice surrounding the castle, but his heavier pursuer broke through.

Willems, hearing his guard’s call for help, turned back and rescued him. The guard wanted to release him, but the mayor ordered his recapture and imprisonment.

In 2007, a Mennonite delegation to the Vatican gave Pope Benedict XVI a framed picture of Willems saving his persecutor. Benedict spoke of a common understanding of nonviolence and active peacemaking at the heart of the gospel and a continuing search for unity.

The Peace Exhibit Committee placed a monument honoring conscientious objectors on the Mennonite Heritage Village grounds in 2016.

Andres: Love weighs what’s best

By on Jun 18, 2018 in Andres: In the Open Space, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Infinity Wars, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brings together multiple threads woven through many of the previous 19 films. It’s fun to watch the Avengers finally meet up with Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but one of the more thought-provoking ideas involves Thanos, a villain we’ve only caught glimpses of until now.

Carmen Andres

Andres

A titan tyrant whose home world was destroyed by overpopulation, Thanos has been collecting the infinity stones into a gauntlet, which will give him the power to destroy half the universe’s population in a twisted belief it will save the universe from the same fate. By the time we reach this film, even Gamora and Nebula — his adopted daughters whom he raised and pitted against each other — have banded together to stop him.

Some of the film’s key moments pivot on the relationship between the three of them.

In order to force Gamora to tell him of a stone’s location, Thanos tortures Nebula in front of her. Out of love for her sister, Gamora reveals where the stone is. The stone’s keeper offers it to Thanos but tells him he must sacrifice someone he loves. Gamora finds this extremely ironic because, as she tells Thanos, he doesn’t love anyone. But to her horror, Thanos, with tears running down his face, throws her off a cliff as his sacrifice to obtain the stone.

Unsurprisingly, critics found this scene disturbing on many levels, but one aspect really caught my attention.

On the science fiction website Tor.com, Brandon O’Brien writes, “When you take away the Infinity Gauntlet and the extra body mass and the stone throne and the silly cosmic crusade, what you have left is a man saying that he killed a woman because he truly cared about her — and the universe rewarding him for doing so.”

“He doesn’t love Gamora,” agrees CinemaBlend’s Dirk Libbey. “It just so happens that whomever or whatever did require the sacrifice of a life to obtain the Soul Stone happened to have the same broken concept of love that Thanos did. . . . The fact that he thinks he loves Gamora shows how little he truly understands the concept.”

These critics help unpack the reality that a right understanding of love is crucial to our relationships and how a broken concept of love can hurt those around us.

What is the right understanding of love? Our culture defines it as an emotion — which helps understand how someone like Thanos mistakenly believes he loves his daughter.

In The Nature of Agape Love, however, Dallas Willard reminds us that love is not emotion or even an action: “It is not something you choose to do, but what you choose to be.”

Desire and feelings, says Willard, fall into the domain of impulse rather than choice. “They aim at their satisfaction, not at what is better and possibly best.”

Love, on the other hand, “considers alternatives and weighs what is best. If its vision is broad enough, it will find what is good and right. If it is surrendered to God, united with his will, it will be able to do what is best.”

And it’s not something “one turns on or off for this or that person or thing. Its orientation is toward life as a whole” with “a readiness to act in a certain way.”

What does that look like? Jesus said: “This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Lay down your life for your friends. If you love one another like this, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 15:11-15 and 13:34).

And that’s the kind of love that can save the universe.

Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.

Holdeman tracts sow gospel’s seeds

By and on Jun 18, 2018 in Feature, Featured, Latest Issue | 0 comments

CHICAGO — From the outside, it looks like an ordinary suburban home in Elk Grove Village. In fact, it’s a missionary base for the only conservative Mennonite outreach in the Chicago area.

In February, William and Margaret Brandt of Halstead, Kan., began their third year of tract distribution for the Gospel Tract and Bible Society, a mission agency of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, also known as Holdeman. They’re the society’s first full-time workers in Chicago, driving around 2,000 miles per month and distributing nearly 1.2 million tracts, with an estimated 396,000 distributed since August.

William Brandt replaces a tract rack he had left a few months ago at a business in a Chicago suburb. — Rachel Stella/MWR

William Brandt replaces a tract rack he had left a few months ago at a business in a Chicago suburb. — Rachel Stella/MWR

These large numbers are due to the efficient method of placing pre-filled cardboard racks of tracts inside businesses, rather than trying to hand out individual tracts to people.

“I don’t force myself on anybody,” William Brandt said. “We’re seed-sowers; we’re not the combine. The combine is Jesus. . . . It’s not about conversions, but sowing seed.”

On the hallway wall, a map of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs is marked with the tract distribution routes. The Brandts choose their route for the day and drive their van, loaded with filled tract racks, to the businesses on the route that have previously allowed tracts to be displayed.

At each stop, William brings in a new rack. If the previous one is still there, he simply exchanges them, often without saying anything to anyone. If it is gone, he will ask an employee on duty, “Is it still OK to leave gospel literature here?” Most times, they agree to display the tracts. If a business declines, the Brandts don’t ask there again.

Margaret Brandt stays in the passenger seat, keeping records of the responses, the languages of the tracts distributed and sometimes the hours or days the business is open.

In the car, they keep plastic bags with tracts and cookies or crackers to give to beggars along the road. William also keeps a few plastic bags filled with a few tracts in his shirt pocket to hand out to people outside.

Diffusing tense moments

Sometimes the routes have taken them into tense situations. Once, when attempting to leave a tract rack at a mobile phone store, William encountered a man arguing with the employee, insisting he was entitled to a new phone if he traded his. When William held up the rack and silently pointed to the place he wanted to leave it, the employee urgently asked him to wait.

Detecting some tension, William waited in the store while she eventually told the man what he wanted to hear. After the man left, the employee told William that the man had opened up the inside of his coat and threatened her with a knife.

“I think the pressure got turned down when I came in there,” he said.

Another time, William encountered a group of people passing around an illegal substance in plastic bags. He joined the group and began passing out his own plastic bags of tracts.

“One day, we had some fellows running past us, shooting at a moving van,” he said. “I saw the smoke come out of the barrel, and it caused a bit of nervousness.”

Yet they aren’t too worried.

“Some of the people in that area have told us they think we won’t be bothered,” Margaret said.

Millions and millions

The Gospel Tract and Bible Society, with offices in Moundridge, Kan., and Ste. Anne, Man., publishes and distributes tracts in 59 languages in 149 countries.

Dale Becker, the society’s business manager in the Moundridge office, said the tract distribution is focused on urban areas, where the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, typically doesn’t have congregations.

“There’s no clearly defined method for deciding where to go,” he said. “It’s prayer. It’s the work of the Spirit. . . . Essentially it’s just the sense of, ‘You know what? We need to be in this area.’ ”

Becker said the agency favors areas with linguistic diversity. In Chicago, it’s common for tracts in Spanish and Chinese to be more eagerly received than those in English.

He estimates the society’s worldwide distribution is 35 million to 40 million annually. Sometimes more than 2 million tracts leave the Moundridge office in a month.

Worldwide, there are around 30 distributors (mostly couples, who are counted as a unit). Yet the agency, in most cases, doesn’t actively recruit workers but waits for volunteers.

“We feel like, ideally, workers of this type are those who feel called,” Becker said.

It’s common for CGCM congregations near the Moundridge office to have tract rack assembly nights, when they fill racks with a “city mix” — tracts with a variety of titles such as, “Is There a God?,” “Christ’s Peaceable Kingdom on Earth” and “A Biblical Guide to Salvation.”

Once a month, someone makes a delivery of between 300 and 400 filled racks in a van or trailer to the Brandts’ outpost and visits with them for fellowship.

The tracts contain agency contact information. Becker and others respond to calls and emails from people who have picked up tracts. Sometimes, the people who have found tracts want to order more of their own to distribute. Other times, they are looking for Bibles, prayer or to talk. If they express interest in meeting with someone in their area, the agency will take their contact information and forward it to missionaries to follow up.

“We consider the tract work the beginning of mission work,” William said. Yet the goal is simply to publish the basic gospel message, not to get people to become Mennonite.

“We just want to continue to place the tracts out there for people to take,” Margaret said. “Our prayer would be that God allows them to touch hearts.”

More than 100 people have responded to the agency’s office after finding a tract in the Chicago area. The Brandts visit people who request meetings.

On the first Sunday of the month, a few people from CGCM congregations in the Midwest join the Brandts for fellowship and lunch, often arriving the evening before, as many are driving three to six hours. The closest congregation is in Goshen, Ind., and the second-closest is in Arthur in southern Illinois.

One man from the Chicago area with an interest in tract evangelism and Anabaptist ideas has joined them for the monthly meetings.

On Sundays when they’re alone, the Brandts study the CGCM-published Sunday school quarterly book and listen to the audio stream of their home congregation’s service online.

“My goal is to be the servant of God,” William said. “Whatever agenda God gives me, that’s my agenda for the day.”

Book review: ‘Worthy’

By on Jun 18, 2018 in Book Review, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Someone once suggested to me that advertising exists to convince us we aren’t good enough. Whether it’s shampoo, car or a smart phone app, all can (and should) be improved upon.

"Worthy"

“Worthy”

In my more cynical moments I wonder if our entire society doesn’t exist for the same reason. The medium of social media becomes ever more integral in building community — and what is social media if not a viral advertisement for our lives? As we preen and prance for others, we squirm under their idealized children, vacations and craft projects. All the while, the ads pop up and scroll down. The algorithms assemble the clues for how best to convince us that we are less than we could (and should) be.

Into this brave new world comes Melanie Springer Mock’s timely new book, Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else, which passionately argues that, “we are all inherently image-bearers of God; that we are worthy of love, simply because we exist.”

Memoirs can easily become a Facebook account on paper, another venue to brag and self-justify. This is not the case with Worthy. Springer Mock, with honesty and lots of humor, shares her life experiences in a way that lets the reader in on the secret that, in the insecurities of being human, we are not alone.

Springer Mock is also passionate about noticing. Everything.

If we affirm that people are inherently worthy, Springer Mock says we must “go about challenging the images, the language, the narratives, the mythologies that demand that all differences be blurred away.”

We’ve been schooled on the use of pronouns and politically correct language for so long, it is easy to wave it all away as old news. Springer Mock asks us to look closer and listen more carefully.

Is it significant that a well-meaning professor worries that the “girls” in his class aren’t as vocal as the “men”? Why do I feel my blood pressure rise when Christians, of all persuasions, preface their comments with, “According to the Bible . . . ”? (Answer: Because the implicit meaning is, “If you don’t agree with what I’m about to say, you don’t care about the Bible and therefore are not as good a Christian as I am.”)

“Language matters so much because our word choices set up expectations for others,” Spring­er Mock says. She proves her point when she recounts her personal faith journey and how it did not meet the expectations of her college community. Each week, Springer Mock went to a worship service to listen while her peers gave their testimonies.

The formula for these testimonies was surprisingly consistent: dramatic sin (drugs, porn, crime), a dramatic encounter with Jesus leading to a dramatic change of lifestyle. Because Springer Mock’s experience did not fit the formula, she doubted the legitimacy of her relationship with Jesus, even her salvation.

Eventually, she believed that she wasn’t less of a Christian because her testimony was so boring (indeed, she had invented sins to spice it up a bit!). Rather, her faith story simply didn’t fit the dominant pattern.

I well remember my own years of spiritual angst over the fact that I couldn’t (and still can’t) point to the moment that I accepted Jesus as my Savior. How I wish Springer Mock could have told my young adult self, “Your story bears witness to the unique ways you have encountered Jesus . . . your story is acceptable —even amazing — just the way it is.”

While Springer Mock continuously points to Creator God as the source of our worth, nowhere in Worthy does she mention the Deceiver, Satan. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it is significant.

If we are to believe in Creator God, we cannot dismiss the Snake and its influence. Adam and Eve didn’t eat the fruit because it was so very beautiful and tasty. They ate because the Snake convinced them that because they could know more, they didn’t know enough now. Humans have been biting into that lie ever since.

The human desire and ability to change for the better is a gift from God. So why does it also bring shame and doubt?

It is the Deceiver who turns our capacity for growth, we could even say redemption, into the lie of unworthiness. The Deceiver tells us that because we can be better, we must be unworthy now.

We see this when Christians qualify God’s unconditional love — what Springer Mock calls the “church’s problem with the big but.” Two of her examples:

  • Love the sinner, but hate the sin.
  • You are worthy just as you are, but you need to change.

I would throw in pious statements like, “God loves us too much to leave us where we are.” Why would we ever connect God’s love for us to our actions? Unless, of course, we believe the Deceiver’s lie that there is, in fact, a connection.

I find it important to give the devil his due, so we remember to fight the Deceiver and not each other.

In this spirit I found the closing section of Springer Mock’s book to be the most hopeful.

She recounts finding a supportive community that offered her acceptance, understanding and healing. This, in turn, made it possible for her to “lean into communities and friendships that had seemed too risky a few short years before.”

Returning to a story told earlier in the book involving homemade granola bars and mommy guilt, Springer Mock writes, “By rejecting those messages telling me exactly how Christian mothers should be, I could more clearly see the grace, rather than judgment, that these book-club women offered me.”

As someone who has made my share of homemade granola bars, I am grateful for this story of restored relationships. Our differences don’t define us so much as remind us that in our need for acceptance we are not alone. This is a gift indeed.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

Beyond our fears

By on Jun 18, 2018 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Anxiety affects nearly one-third of the U.S. population, making it the most common mental-health disorder. Youth particularly feel its crushing weight. Record numbers of college students are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. Among teen­agers, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason to seek counseling.

There’s a growing sense that social media fuels the anxiety epidemic. Relentless comparisons with peers magnify feelings of inadequacy. Constant exposure to others’ apparent happiness builds impossible expectations. A generation raised on smartphones feels that nothing they do will ever be good enough.

Debilitating anxiety dwarfs everyday unease. We all worry, but this is fear. And fear can be a spiritual problem.

In Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, Benjamin Corey calls fear the chief barrier to the Christian mission. He reasons: Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. The opposite of love, Corey suggests, is not hate but fear. Fear can destroy our capacity to love.

How exactly does fear prevent love? How can we cast out fear? In a new book from Herald Press, Soul Force: Seven Pivots Toward Courage, Community and Change, authors Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry identify self-centeredness as a root of the problem. Fear, they say, makes us serve — and preserve — ourselves. We are afraid of what we might lose: possessions, money, political power, status, security. Whatever makes us self-centered prevents loving relationships with others.

“We have to be willing to pivot from self-centeredness to solidarity,” Graham-Washington and Casselberry write. “Solidarity is the movement from I to we.” Our culture pushes us toward “isolation, obsession and individualism.” Only as we marshal the “soul force” within us can we create a culture of solidarity that frees us from fearful self-centeredness.

“Soul force is where the Spirit of God and our human resilience meet,” the authors say. “Soul force is an awakening to the realization that we have a creative force within us, because we all bear the divine imprint of the Creator.”

While offering faith-based solutions for personal and social change, Graham-Washington and Casselberry avoid the deceptively simple answer to “have more faith.” Faith won’t cure mental illness or erase the scars of abuse. People who endure those circumstances may in fact be among the most faith-filled of all. But for others, “have more faith” may be exactly what we need to hear. If we struggle with self-centeredness — or with self-doubt that stifles productive risk-taking and hinders life-giving relationships — leaning on the power of God to fill us with courage for ourselves and love for others could be exactly the right prescription.

Graham-Washington and Casselberry emphasize that we already possess God-given soul force. They cite Jesus’ words to his disciples: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). God’s power and love was transforming them from the inside out.

What are we afraid of? What are we anxious about? Overcoming our fears begins with naming them and recognizing the lies they tell. The truth is, God has made us good enough.

Understanding ‘seekers’

By on Jun 18, 2018 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

An interesting group of people who can be found at conservative Anabaptist events are those who have no Mennonite (or Brethren or Hutterite or Amish) background but want to join a plain church group.

They’re called “seekers,” and they’ve begun to organize conventions of their own. At the first “Seekers Gathering,” April 27-29 in McVeytown, Pa., longtime seeker David Bercot expressed frustration at how difficult it had been for him to find Christians who rejected participation in war but held conservative interpretations of the Bible in other areas.

“It was always the same thing,” he said. “Either you find someone who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, who’s conservative, or you find someone who doesn’t believe in war, but is always liberal. And there didn’t seem to be someone who held to both, and it was so frustrating.”

Amid increasing polarization between theological conservatism and progressivism, more Christians are asking: If we believe in obeying the Bible, shouldn’t that include an exception-free obedience to Jesus’ teaching on loving enemies? Or, conversely: If we’re going to take Jesus’ words on loving enemies literally, shouldn’t we also take literally all other biblical instructions directed toward us?

This frustration often leaves seekers like Bercot feeling like they have nowhere to turn but to a plain Anabaptist group.

In We Sought and Found (Christian Light Publications, 2015), compilers Russ and Wendy Boyd share 10 testimonies of seekers who joined conservative Mennonite churches. Their motivations ranged from faithfulness to biblical teaching, to attraction to the Mennonites’ peaceful home lives, to protecting their children from worldly influences they experienced in their own childhoods.

Wendy Boyd’s parents began attending “a nonconservative Mennonite church” while she was a teenager. Many members there had “grown up in Mennonite churches that were outwardly conservative but inwardly dead,” she wrote. “. . . Ironically, the conservative Mennonite church Russ and I attend today has welcomed numerous ‘refugees’ from the same type of church . . .”

As more seekers look toward conservative Anabaptism, plain groups should ask new questions: Does family-centered church life have a place of equality for single people (particularly since celibacy is required for divorced people)? Will women be able to publicly discuss and change clothing rules that affect them? How can the internet be used to connect with seekers who live far from the Mennonite geographical centers?

For many seekers, joining a plain group is still a steep hill to climb.

‘Father’ cherished

By on Jun 18, 2018 in Latest Issue, Letters | 1 comment

I would like to give a standing ovation to Tim Bentch for “Yes, God Is Our Father” (June 4). Having a distant father, with whom I never had a conversation, calling God “Father” was difficult. But over time I came to treasure naming God as Father, because it meant I was personally cared for. It was this personal touch that allowed me to heal my emotions toward my earthly father. I cherish the biblical wording.

Tim Davis
Aurora, Colo.

Too political — or not

By on Jun 14, 2018 in The World Together | 0 comments

Some folks withhold funds from AMBS because in their view, AMBS is “too political.” Others suggest with anger that AMBS isn’t political enough. We have heard from both sides within the past month.

It might appear that there’s no way to win. But there is! And it’s the Jesus Way. We argue all the time throughout the church about what the Jesus Way looks like. Arguing can be a good thing, provided we do it in a Jesus kind of way — filled with grace and truth. We sure know how to argue at AMBS, thank God.

One of our recent graduates, Michelle Curtis (MDiv 2018), expressed how happy she is to have chosen AMBS as a place to study instead of other attractive options. After receiving an award for Excellence in Biblical Interpretation from the Bible Department at the Dean’s Breakfast, she expressed her appreciation to groundskeepers and faculty alike: Thank you for caring for the growth of our whole selves rather than just our minds. I have seen here how fellow conservative students became more liberal and liberal students become more conservative. You helped us learn how to listen well, to see the best in each other and to see what God is doing in and through each one of us.

How does the Jesus Way invite us — as liberals and conservatives or however we choose to describe ourselves — to learn to listen well, see the best in each other and see what God is doing in and through each of us?

The Jesus Way included forming a band of disciples. Among the disciples Jesus called was Matthew, who collaborated with the Romans by collecting their taxes, and Simon the Zealot, who belonged to a violent band of revolutionaries resisting the empire. Jesus — with amazing skill and authority — forged a small, powerful community of world changers by calling people of opposing political extremes to a higher loyalty and a revolutionary love — even for enemies.

Jesus was political. Not in the partisan, fractious sense of party politics today, but in the deeply social sense of caring for the polis (the city), praying and weeping over Jerusalem, and caring for the whole people. He was so political, in fact, that both religious and governmental authorities wanted him dead. He was publicly executed as the King of the Jews. The early church acclaimed Jesus as Lord, the ultimate political affront to ruling authorities, resulting in brutal deaths for many of Jesus’ followers, including, most likely, Matthew and Simon. When we claim Jesus as Lord, it is a political act that changes everything. Absolutely everything.

In an On Being podcast this week, Krista Tippett interviewed John Paul Lederach and America Ferrera. Tippett asked Lederach about his notion of “critical yeast,” and I paraphrase his response: Yeast is small, hardly noticeable when you prepare the dough, he said. You keep kneading it, punching it down and kneading it some more. You start small. There may be situations where there are only a few people who care. Yet this may be the yeast that helps everything else grow. It’s quality, not quantity (critical mass), that creates the best conditions for replication.

I remember a New York Times column from David Brooks soon after the 2016 election where he talked about how our best response to the coming “chaos and incompetence” would be to “create pockets of human decency, integrity and clear thinking.”

AMBS seeks to be political in a Jesus kind of way. We do so by forming bands of disciples who know Jesus, are loyal to Jesus above all, and, as so-called liberals and conservatives, come alive to the power of the Holy Spirit to be leaders of Jesus Way communities, organizations and movements locally and internationally.

One could cite no end to the alarming news stories with political implications from just this week. Two to illustrate: Widespread reports call attention to escalating rates of suicide. Many other stories describe the unspeakable horror of children being torn away from their parents at the U.S. border.

These perilous times require all of us, both liberal and conservative, to be political like Jesus. How so? By forming small Jesus bands; missionary communities with the love, courage and imagination needed to repel the viruses of hatred, racism, sexism, violence and nation-first narcissism wherever they show up; and communities of resistance standing together on the beautiful jubilee gospel of Jesus (Luke 4) and the liberating assurance that because Jesus is Lord, we have no king but Jesus and no prayer but “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sara Wenger Shenk is president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. This post first appeared on her blog, Practicing Reconciliation.

Group seeks forgiveness for trauma of Münster

By , and on Jun 11, 2018 in Latest Issue, News | 2 comments

MÜNSTER, Germany — An unprecedented time of forgiveness came in May to the site of a notorious and violent Anabaptist uprising.

A litany of healing and exchanges of understanding were part of a national Catholic gathering in Germany that included participation by an international group of Anabaptists in the city that still carries the scars of a nearly 500-year-old conflict.

A litany of repentance in St. Lambert’s Church in Müenster included, from left, Jörg Hagemann, Keith Blank, Andrea Lange, Jacob Schiere and Ulf Schlier. — David Peters

A litany of repentance in St. Lambert’s Church in Müenster included, from left, Jörg Hagemann, Keith Blank, Andrea Lange, Jacob Schiere and Ulf Schlier. — David Peters

Katholikentag (Catholic Days) drew more than 40,000 Catholics to Münster May 9-13, providing the setting for healing meetings between Anabaptists and Catholics.

The Anabaptist group sought an opportunity to begin a healing process for the trauma of the 1534 Anabaptist seizure of Münster, which ended in the leaders’ bodies placed in cages and hung from St. Lambert’s Church tower, where the cages still hang.

Civic discussion persists over whether to take the cages down.

The trauma resulted from — among other things — twisted views of eschatology, bizarre views of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and abuse of women. It confirmed a belief that Anabaptists were radical troublemakers to be suppressed.

American participants included Lancaster Mennonite Conference bishops Keith Blank, Stephen Weaver and Lloyd Hoover, Perkiomenville (Pa.) Mennonite Church senior associate pastor Charles Ness, Amish bishop Ben Girod and his sons Benjamin and Stephen. European Mennonites were German theologian and pastor Andrea Lange, Dutch leader Jacob Schiere and German Anabaptist researcher and activist Wolfgang Krauss.

Ecumenical sharing

Anabaptist participation in Katholikentag took the form of three ecumenical events planned with input from Krauss. The first was attended by hundreds of people in a room with insufficient space for a panel discussion on perspectives surrounding the Anabaptist reign in Münster. The panel included Münster historian Rolph Klotzer, Lutheran pastor Holge Bartsch, Mennonite theologian Andrea Lange and professor Hubertus Lotterbach, a Catholic theologian and historian.

A time of confession, blessing and worship with Catholics, Lutherans and Anabaptists was held at St. Lambert’s Church itself, with participation by Blank of the U.S., Münster Catholic dean Jörg Hagemann, Lange of Germany, Schiere of the Netherlands and Münster Lutheran Ulf Schlier. This historic moment of repentance and blessing after was witnessed by an overflow crowd of hundreds of people. The healing service came to a close with a time of greeting each other with a blessing of peace and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Another panel discussion between Catholics and Anabaptists about baptism again exceeded the room capacity. Krauss moderated the panel with Catholic vice-bishop Reinhard Hauke and Lange. After the presentations, a young priest stood and stated that whether Catholic or Anabaptist, it is essential for every individual to make a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ. And if a person says “I will,” the church needs to meet that decision with serious discipleship. The room burst into applause.

‘Enemies’ find healing

On the evening before the meetings, the U.S. group was taken to a surprise reception at the Burgmannshof in Wolbeck, a townhouse built in 1554-57 by Marshall Dirk von Merveldt, the leading officer of the combined Catholic and Lutheran forces who were tasked with reclaiming Münster in 1534. Briefly expelled Catholic bishop Franz von Wal­deck rewarded von Merveldt lavishly with plunder from Anabaptists to construct the complex.

The reception included members of the von Merveldt family and Princess Philippa Salm-Salm, a descendant of bishop Waldeck, as well as other Mennonites from Germany, Catholic theologians, historians and other members of the nobility. It was a memorable experience to share a simple meal with those who 500 years ago would have considered each other enemies.

Ben Girod, Hoover and Ness acknowledged the wrongs of the past and asked forgiveness for gross misrepresentations in the 1530s of the kingdom of God and the Anabaptists’ actions during their brief regime.

Specific mention was made of a wariness of the Holy Spirit that some believe has a grip on Anabaptists, a wariness that may have its roots in the trauma of Münster. This moment of confession prompted silence around the room. It seemed to the participants that forgiveness and blessing were poured out and that God’s love found space among those who were present. Weaver led a prayer to bless the building and the von Merveldt family.

Relational healing has begun. Perhaps someone will decide to bring down the Anabaptist cages hanging on the bell tower. Based on discussion with city leaders, however, it seems likely that the cages will remain and that information will be added to the story about the cages, telling a story of forgiveness and peace.

Mennonites mark 60 years in Belize

By and on Jun 11, 2018 in Feature, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Sixty years ago, Mennonites from Chihua­hua, Mexico, crossed the Belize River and landed at a flat area now called the Mennonite Beach. What the settlers saw in 1958 was a dense rain forest on land they purchased to make into farms. Today, the drive to Mennonite Beach in Spanish Lookout passes fertile fields of beans and corn and cattle in pastureland.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the arrival of Mennonites in Belize and the settlement in Spanish Lookout. The first settlers cleared the land and built homes, churches and schools. Many of the original settlers still live there, and they describe the difficult years in the beginning when life was hard and families with more resources shared with those who had less.

Tina Dueck and her family enjoy a picnic at the Mennonite Beach on the Belize River in Spanish Lookout, where the first Mennonite settlers from Chihuahua, Mexico, crossed the Belize River. — Gary Smucker

Tina Dueck and her family enjoy a picnic at the Mennonite Beach on the Belize River in Spanish Lookout, where the first Mennonite settlers from Chihuahua, Mexico, crossed the Belize River. — Gary Smucker

Many of the Mennonites living in Belize today share a heritage with others whose ancestors went through the Russian Empire before emigrating to the Western Hemisphere.

Persecution in Holland and opportunities elsewhere drew them east, where Catherine the Great invited them and other German speakers to settle in Ukraine beginning in 1789. When political instability made life in Ukraine dangerous, they moved to Canada. Hoping for more control over their lives, they negotiated a move to Mexico. In 1957 leaders came to British Honduras (now Belize) to explore options there.

Spanish Lookout has become a thriving agricultural and business community. The Spanish Lookout online business directory lists 45 businesses. Caribbean Tire and Western Dairies are two examples of Mennonite-owned businesses thriving with branches around the country. Cattle, dairy, egg and poultry production thrive. Crops including corn and beans, and fruit and vegetables, grow on farms and in gardens.

Many people in the surrounding communities work on the farms and in businesses. Development of petroleum extraction in Spanish Lookout has resulted in money for infrastructure projects such as building roads. But not everyone is happy with oil wells’ impact on the environment or society.

Structured communities

Among the Mennonite colonies in Belize, Spanish Lookout has accommodated to modern life more than others. Motor vehicles, telephones, computers and internet for business and modern banking are accepted, but there is a culture of keeping traditions such as special attire and simple living.

Plautdietsch, or Low German, is used at home and work. High German is used for church and school. Schooling stops in the early teens, and young people are expected to work on farms or in businesses. Many people speak English and Spanish as well as Plautdietsch.

A 20-minute drive from Spanish Lookout is a different kind of Mennonite community. Upper Barton Creek and Lower Barton Creek are a unique Anabaptist community, where people have made choices to live simple and separate lives.

It is one of the few places where people from both the Holland-Poland-Ukraine and Swiss-German Mennonite lines have joined together. In Upper Barton Creek, Pennsylvania Dutch speakers from the United States and Plautdietsch speakers from Belize live without electricity, engines, motors or other modern technology, including photos of people.

Driving in a car in Lower Barton Creek seems out of place. The rest of the people are moving at a horse-drawn buggy pace. Gardens and fields cultivated by horse and plow are productive, with beautiful produce.

Critics say the people live by rules, without spirituality. Talking with several people gave the impression they are committed Christians following the Anabaptist way. Specific rules and restrictions are less important to them than being part of a group of people who accept the discipline of the community as a radical commitment to a simple, dedicated and shared lifestyle.

Spiritual life

One of the original settlers in Lower Barton Creek, 73-year-old Walter Friesen, enthusiastically showed us his workshop, where he does wood and metal work without power tools. He made the workshop under a large thatch roof palapa he built. He saves work using the bench saw for the days his grandsons are around to turn the handle that makes the saw spin. As he moves around the shop, Friesen speaks English in a Belizean Creole accent, making humorous comments and quoting Bible passages that support his practices.

Spiritual life is a part of everyday life in Spanish Lookout. In the home of Tina and Menno Dueck, the children and grandchildren start the day with reading a chapter in German from the New Testament and singing an English song from the hymnal. They are singing through the hymnal, a song every day. Discussion is often about moral or religious issues and living the Christian life.

‘A world different’

The 2000 Belize census recorded roughly 12,000 Mennonites, including children and unbaptized adults. The 2015 Mennonite World Conference census counted 5,405 baptized members. Based on the 12,000 figure, Mennonites make up 3.7 percent of Belize’s population of 324,000, according to the 2010 census.

In addition to Plaut­dietsch speakers, there are churches of Spanish or Creole speakers that resulted from Mennonite mission efforts. Some Spanish-speaking Mennonites moved to Belize from Mexico, and a community of Mennonites from El Salvador settled in Belize to escape the civil war there, making Mennonite communities in Belize quite diverse.

People leave the communities for medical reasons, business or work. Even in seaside resorts, Mennonites are in evidence. Families and couples travel to enjoy the sea, and young men sometimes work outside their communities.

Belize has been good to the Mennonites, and the Mennonites are good for Belize. Mennonite farms supply most of the nation’s eggs, poultry and dairy products.

Though the Mennonite colonies are separate from the rest of the population, they provide many products the country needs and provide jobs.

They also add variety to the countryside. As the government tourism office and guidebooks advise: “Visit the Mennonite communities. They are a world different from the rest of Belize.”