What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Anonymous 2, April 2011

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I have grown up Mennonite. My parents, grandparents, great-grand parents and so on were Mennonite. I have had the Mennonite culture engrained in me since I was little. Family visits were filled with homemade food including zwiebacks, apple dumplings, and baked oatmeal. I was taught to be kind to everyone because Jesus was nice to everyone. I have struggled with the question “ I am Mennonite because I grew up with it?” In my nature, I believe things unless they can be unproven. It makes me wonder if I had be born into another religion, like Muslim or Jewish, would I just accept it and live my life believing only that religion. Through my experience at Goshen College and this class, I have begun to work through this question. I do not have everything work out but I do claim to be a Christian and a Mennonite. I believe being Mennonite is more than the Mennonite food and opposing war. Being Mennonite to me means I am a follower of Jesus Christ, aware of my Mennonite background, a peacemaker, a believer in the importance of community.

First and foremost, to be Mennonite is to be Christ centered. Multiple times in the Bible it reads, “Come and follow me”. We are to live with Christ at forefront of our minds and to be Christ like. At a youth convention years ago, Jimmy Carter spoke one evening. He said that to be Christian is to be a little Christ. In our family, community, country, and world we are to act as Christ would. What this means to me on a daily basis is to read devotionals, pray for needs of other as well as my own and for the blessings I or others have received. It is more than my daily routine though; it means God is the Way and Light. He has control and cares for the universe. But yet He also cares for me, one individual who He has made a plan for. I must listen and pray for guidance in path of life. This also means there is life after death. I believe Jesus died so that my sins may be forgiven and I may have eternal life. At the end of each day, I claim Jesus as my Lord, Savior, friend, and redeemer.

The history of the Mennonites is an important aspect in being Mennonite. It gives a past explanation to the current congregations. We are able to look back and see what they were willing to die for. Through the Martyr’s Mirror, the Mennonite Vision, and other literature, I can see landmarks and prominent people in our history. However, why does knowing the Mennonite history effect congregations today? In the Europe and North America much emphasis is put on knowing the background of the church. On the other hand, many newer congregations in the south do not rely on knowing their history as much. I believe it allows congregations in the north and south to be connected; we all stemmed from one another. We can look at the foundation of what the church based off of and see we support the same main goals as the early Anabaptists. This class has allowed my to explore the Anabaptist/ Mennonite history more. Growing up I was familiar with parts of the Swiss and Dutch Mennonite history; however my knowledge was expanded greatly with this class.

I believe as a Mennonite, I am a peacemaker. I oppose war and violence. I believe if I cannot create life as God can, then how can I have the power to take it away. Being a peacemaker is more than opposing violence; it is taking a stance to actively install peace in our life, the community, and the world. It starts with choosing peaceful ways to defuse conflict in my daily life. I need to recognize when there is conflict in my life, be it with a friend or from the stress of the day. I should approach the problem with an opened mind and be willing to compromise. On a bigger level, peacemaking is also at a national and global level. There are many conflicts and wars within and between many nations and religions. We can actively promote peaceful ways with dealing with these issues too. It seems like peace is an option I can choose as I live in a well to do community in the U.S. From talking with my host family in Nicaragua, it has been 30 years since a social revolution that involved all common people and the government. It seemed to them as if peace was not an option. They had to fight in order regain everyday rights like food, water, and shelter. I believe it is easier in North America and Europe to claim peace as a top value. From this class, we have discovered many Mennonite congregations in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, or other nations are choosing peace in the midst of conflict. Peace is not a right everyone in the world has access to now; one day may the peace and joy of God may reign on Earth.

Another aspect is of being Mennonite for me is the significance of community. We are to treat others, as we want to be treated. Our relationship with God does matter, but also our relationship with other people does matter too. I see a community being our church family. However, this term can be broadened to include all Mennonite brothers and sisters or even all of human kind. As a community we can work together to grow spiritually and pray for each other. I believe the Mennonite church supports community on many levels. This class has allowed me to see all the ways in which community is obtained. Through work that is done within each church, it promote teamwork and the reliance on others. I feel I have to rely on other for support and strength in my life. There are youth groups and youth conventions, which allow youth to meet others from the country and build community. There are also adult conferences within each country that do the same. Mennonite World Conference connects Mennonites throughout the world in community. On a personal level, community means to me having someone to support me when I am joyful or have sorrows. It is a network of people with the common goal of praising Jesus.

I have chosen to be Mennonite. It was my personal decision to be baptized and become a member of the church. I choose to go to Goshen College and be a participant of the class. Even though I do wonder if I am Mennonite because I grew up it, I have consciously made the decision to follow Christ. When I came to college, I took a break from going to church. My junior year, I choose to participate in church again. I made the decision to go back to a Mennonite church, not because it was what I was familiar with, but because I believe what the Mennonite church stands for. I believe I am Christ-centered, have an interest in the Mennonite past, am a peacemaker, and believe the relationships with other in the world matter because I choose to believe them. This class has opened up doors of knowledge to the Mennonite past. We have discussed important history as well as the unknown Mennonite future. I feel I have benefited from this class in the lecture and discussion portions.

This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 2011.