Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM) and Mennonite Mission Network partner in ministry in Africa. John Fumana and Bruce Yoder of AIMM, in conversation with Mission Network staff, work toward new mission models.
Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM), a Mennonite Mission Network partner, leads the way among North American mission agencies in restructuring post-colonial mission. Interdenominational partnerships have been part of AIMM's DNA since its inception in 1912. Nearly a century later, in 2003, leaders from four African denominations and five North American Anabaptist denominations worked with Rick Derksen, an anti-racism consultant and former AIMM mission worker, to start moving administrative power to the African continent.
"Decisions used to be made in North America and sent to Africa," said Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mennonite Mission Network's regional administrator for Africa and Europe. “Mission Network is pleased to partner with AIMM [and its new structure] for a significant part of our work in Africa.”
John Fumana, who serves as AIMM's co-executive coordinator, is a member of Communauté des Eglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo (the Mennonite Brethren Church in Congo) and works from Kinshasa, Congo.
"It is time to rethink our understanding of partnership," Fumana said. "We need to come to the awareness that we, both in Africa and in North America, all have received something from God to contribute God's work. We are co-workers with God and with each other."
Some of the first Christian communities were formed on the African continent, possibly before Christianity spread to Northern Europe. So, Europeans and North Americans didn't bring Christianity to Africa. However, Fumana said that having North American missionaries help build the church in Africa was appropriate in the early twentieth century. But that time has passed. Mission is more effectively carried out with each culture contributing their gifts. Fumana's perspective on mission has been shaped by his expertise in Assets Based Community Development (ABCD), which is an assessment of a community's resources rather than its needs.
Fumana described the earlier mission model as decision-makers from outside going into communities, spending some time making inventories of what was lacking and then, going back to their offices to propose projects based on their perceptions of the community's needs. These projects were funded for a limited amount of time, such as five years, which is not conducive to sustainability.
"People survive on what they have — natural resources, human skills and abilities. They start with what they have and what they know how to do," Fumana said.
He likened ABCD to the mission strategy that Jesus used when he fed the multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread (Matthew 14:13-21). Jesus started with what was already present in the community, gathered on the hillside, and blessed it. When all who were present shared and worked together, everyone had more than enough to eat.
"It is no longer North America's mission," Fumana said. "It is our mission; we have all received something from God that can be used. When Africans take ownership of mission in Africa it creates sustainability and new possibilities. It lifts the level of engagement. Real partnership has all of us sitting around the decision-making table."
When asked about the barriers that keep this mission strategy from being fully effective, Fumana replied, "Mindsets about power," and explained that hierarchies that label people as "poor and rich" and "developed and developing" prevent authentic partnership.
Bruce Yoder, a former worker with Mission Network in Benin and Burkina Faso and now, AIMM's co-executive coordinator, works from North America, dividing his time between two locations — Canada (Listowel, Ontario) and the United States (Goshen, Indiana).
"Sharing power moves us in the direction of more equity between continents," Yoder said.
Yoder illustrated what a new mission partnership looks like, using the collaboration between Eglise Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso) and AIMM. The Mennonites in Burkina Faso heard God calling them to work among the Jalonké people of northern Mali. Madina and Yaya Bengaly said, "Yes," to that call, but they didn't have the financial resources to travel there. North American Mennonites helped provide the money to buy a motorcycle and pay for the Bengaly children's education. Two of the Bengalys' children, Ephraïm and Joseph, accompanied them to Mali. Their four older children are continuing their studies in Burkina Faso.
North American mission workers, even if they have spent years learning the local languages, could never present the gospel as good news in the northern Mali context in the same way the Bengalys are able to do, Yoder said. And flying a North American family to northern Mali would cost a lot more than the price of a motorcycle!
"Neither AIMM in North America nor the Mennonites in Burkina Faso could have engaged in this mission alone," Yoder said. "But, together, we can witness to God's love among the Jalonké people."
Mike Sherrill, Mission Network's executive director, said that this approach to mission is "inspiring."
"Yes," said Fumana, "The energy for mission is there. The energy for partnerships is there. We just need to unlock and unblock these energies."