Teach us to swim
Executive director, Mennonite Church USA
I am grateful that this issue of Beyond Ourselves focuses on mission in Europe.
My own perceptions of Europe have been indelibly shaped by our family’s experience in the country of Wales. In 1988–1989, I had the most unusual privilege of serving as the ministerial liaison officer for an ecumenical evangelism effort called Tell Wales with Luis Palau. As part of my role, I crisscrossed the picturesque terrain, meeting ministerial groups and speaking in churches of many different denominations.
On one of those trips, I drove out of my way to see the memorial to Mary Jones at Llanfihangel-y-Pennant. As a child, I had read the story of Mary, a Welsh lassie from the early 19th century who saved up her money for six years and then walked 25 miles barefoot to obtain her own copy of the Welsh Bible. It was hard to find a copy in those days. Her story invigorated the work of British foreign Bible societies in the early 1800s. I also visited the sites of chapels erected during well-known Welsh revivals in the early 1900s, and read about the phenomenal growth of those churches.
But what impressed me most about Wales is that it, like much of Europe, is now a post-Christian society. Many of the church facilities erected during a time of great revival now lie empty or are being used for secular purposes. Others are kept open by a few old people, hangers-on to a former era of faith. Even so, our experience in Wales showed me that the church can be vibrant and vitally alive in the midst of secular challenges. I saw demonstrations of God’s power at work. I witnessed the power of Christian unity. And I saw the transforming grace of Jesus Christ at work.
I am grateful for the vibrant witness of the church workers in post-Christian Europe who are highlighted in this issue. Their quiet witness is inspiring new life that reaches to our shores. Stuart Murray, for example, is touching the lives of American Christians through his book, The Naked Anabaptist. Along with other Europeans who have recently embraced Anabaptist thought, he is showing the way forward in a society that no longer supports Christendom. As our own culture sinks into a pool of secularism, our brothers and sisters in Europe can teach us how to swim. By God’s grace, our faith will not only survive, but thrive.