What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Kajungu Mturi, April 2011
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I really appreciate having a time to learn about my history as a Mennonite. Before this class, I knew little about Mennonites. But after taking Anabaptist Mennonite History, my awareness of Mennonite history has increased. I am not proud that I know a lot, but I have a foundation that helps me to learn more especially when I practice my faith. Based on my past experience and what I learned from class, this essay will focus on two themes: What does it means to be Mennonite and why I am Mennonite.
To start with, what does it means to be a Mennonite? I will discuss six identities of Mennonites: against infant baptism, Non-violence action, against military service, separation of church from the government, and community life (Brotherhood),
First, to be a Mennonite means to reject infant baptism. Mennonites believe that baptism is a faith agreement between people and God. Infant baptism is one among many issues that some believers in 16th century initiated a movement (Anabaptist Movement). Mennonites believe that infants don’t know anything about faith and sins. When we read from the Bible, it says that the kingdom of heaven is for children. This is to say, infants don’t have sins. A central understanding of baptism is to reborn from sins. So why do infants need to reborn while they don’t know evil and good! We learned that the believers who became Anabaptists were rebaptized after understanding the real meaning of baptism. Mennonites believe that baptism is a personal decision and not an external force. Through scripture and learning from preachers, people decided by themselves to be baptized as a covenant with God. Mennonites believe that infants can’t make covenant with God which means they don’t need to be baptized since they don’t know even what covenant means. We read that Catholics baptized infants for the state purpose and not faith while Mennonites baptized for faith and not state. Second, to be a Mennonite means to practice non-violence action. Mennonites believe in peace and not violence. We read from the history of the Anabaptist movement that during the movement, Anabaptist believers such as Grebe and Menno didn’t revenge when they suffered from persecution from Catholics and Martin Luther. The prayed and believed in God rather revenging.
Apart from non-violence action, to be Mennonite means to be against military service. Mennonites don’t support war or any kind of military service. From readings and different articles we see that because joining in the military was required for everyone, Mennonites participated in alternative activities during the war such social services. Today’s Mennonites are the ones who continue to provide needs such a food, clothes, medicines, and shelters to the countries that affected by war. What I mean here is when the US fight against Iraq and Afghanistan, the American Mennonites go to the same countries and offer resources to meet social needs. This proves that Mennonites and war or any kind of military services are two things that not match together.
I remember when I graduated high school, I had planned to join with the Army in Tanzania. But God called me to work with a church organization. Although I was working, my plan to join in Army was still in my mind. One day I told my supervisor , who is now my wife “I think to join in army.” She asked me “Are you a Mennonite?” and I said yes. She showed me articles that show MCC providing for needs in Afghanistan during the war with USA. She told me that “this is meaning of being a Mennonite and not to join in army.” Indeed, being a Mennonite means to be against military services.
In addition, to be a Mennonite means to live as a community (Brotherhood and sisterhood). Mennonites take care after each other. Individual problems are community problems. They work together whenever there is problem. They visit each other, pray for each other, and help each other. Mennonites want to know what is going on for each member of the congregation. In my home church for example, we have a special time in the service to know if someone has bad news or good news. We call “Habari za mitaa” (News from streets). Church elders visit each member in specific geographic area before Sunday. During the services they report any news from their working area. For example if someone is sick, or there is funeral, or some one has a new baby, and any positive or negative news. The church becomes a part of that and they participate in the situation. If someone is absent in the church and we don’t have any information, after church service on of the church elders will make follow up to know what is happening to him/her.
Furthermore, Mennonites emphasize on separation between state and church. In sixteenth century, state and church (Catholic) was the same thing. Church’s leaders were the ones who control the state. One of the issues that Anabaptists proposed was separation church from the state. Due to the persecutions from the state leaders who were also church leaders to the Anabaptist, Anabaptists decided not to work in the government activities. Therefore, Anabaptist movement leaders didn’t allow their followers to work in the state. I can say that this was one of the definitions of being a Mennonite. But today we have different perceptions on working in the Government even though others still oppose. On my understandings, Mennonites can work in the government and use their faith to save people. We see good examples from Paraguayan Mennonite members who worked in the government such as: Carlos Walde, Ernst Bergen and Andreas Neufeld who bring changes in the government and people in general. Therefore, I understand that being a Mennonite in governmental service means to use faith and to be a witness of Christ in the government and its people.
As I have already explained about what it means to be a Mennonite, now I am going to answer the question “why I am a Mennonite?” First of all, I became a Mennonite because my parents are Mennonites. Because I have grown up and I can make my own choice on which church I should attend, the question here is why am I still a Mennonites rather than a Catholic or other church member? The specific answer for me is related to how Mennonites believe in peace. When Jesus came to the world, he lived and taught about peace. He didn’t revenge when the Jews persecuted him. Like Jesus life, Mennonites practice and teach about peace. Mennonites don’t believe in war or any kind of violence. Mennonites believe in peace as Jesus taught. The teaching and practice of Mennonites on peace encourages me to be a member of the Mennonite. As I explained above, my life goal was to serve in army, but now it has become the opposite and today I study peace, justice and conflict.
Another reason of why I am still a Mennonite is connections I have with Mennonite people and church in general. I got my first job in the Mennonite church as a youth and education coordinator of a community health program. Through this position, I became strong in connection with church and community in general. I believe that how I look, behave, and perform my responsibilities is shaped by Mennonites through the experience I had from my first job. Also my church was using my talents to perform different activities in the church such as: choir singer and chairperson, service leader, preacher, and to allow me to attend church meetings. Through these responsibilities, the church believed in me and allowed me to be part of church development. I believe that God has a purpose for me to be a Mennonite member. Therefore, I still believe that being a Mennonite will continue to shape my life in positive ways.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 2011.