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Elder Zheng Shaojie, the leader of the church in Nanle County, China, a former Mennonite mission area, with Palmer Becker (left). (Photo by James Krabill)
Ryan Miller
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — For Bock Ki Kim, pastor of Vision Mennonite Church, a Korean-speaking congregation in London, Ontario, questions come frequently: What are Anabaptists? How do they live? How are they different from other Christians?

Kim has been offering the answers. He also now offers a primer.

Kim translated Palmer Becker’s Missio Dei booklet “What is an Anabaptist Christian?” into Korean—one of seven languages in which the booklet is now available for readers seeking understandings into the core principles of Anabaptism. Five more translations are underway.

Becker recently revised the Mennonite Mission Network booklet, now in its second edition, with new information and some changes in language based on conversations in response to the first version. He said the revision helps the booklet speak more clearly in a variety of settings.

“Mennonites are experiencing something of an identity crisis,” said Becker. “‘What is an Anabaptist Christian?’ seems to be helping us to understand who we are and what we have to offer the larger Christian community.”

Kim said the original booklet drew his attention right away.

“It is a clear summary about Anabaptist theology and its three core values: discipleship, church as a community and peace (reconciliation),” Kim wrote in an e-mail. “For me, Palmer's book is a kind of revision of [Harold S. Bender’s] 'The Anabaptist Vision' in the 21st century.”

Becker, a lifelong Mennonite pastor and educator, summarizes Anabaptist understandings in three key statements:

  • Jesus is the center of our faith;
  • Community is the center of our lives;
  • Reconciliation is the center of our work.

James Krabill, editor of the Missio Dei series and senior executive for global ministries at Mission Network, said many global Christians interact with Christianity either as a state church (Christendom) or as a movement with colonial roots. Becker’s outline for Anabaptism, he said, offers a different vision.

“People have been fascinated by a church that is grass-roots, that has a strong ecclesiology, that doesn’t have to be tied to the state,” Krabill said. “When they find out there’s a movement that has critiqued Christendom form the beginning, they are fascinated.”

Nearly 6,000 copies of the original version English and Spanish versions have been distributed. The booklet also has been translated by native speakers into Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian and Spanish. Translations into Hmong, Indonesian, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese are in progress. The Japanese version already has sold out. Mary Beyler, who serves through Mennonite Mission Network in Obihiro, Japan, said she knows of many groups across the country using it as a teaching textbook in a variety of courses.

The revised booklet is currently available for free download in English and Spanish at www.MennoniteMission.net/Tools/MissioDei. Multiple copies for small group or class discussions also are available for purchase through Third Way Media. Krabill hopes to eventually host the rest of the translations online as well.

Rebeka Moeljono, graphic designer for Mennonite Mission Network, is on the Indonesian translation team. She said that while the Indonesian Mennonite churches are developing two seminaries and universities, “there are not enough resources that clearly explain the Mennonite theology. The pastors we have in Mennonite churches (in Indonesia) all have different backgrounds. We don’t really preach the Mennonite doctrine from the pulpit so the congregations’ members, even though they are part of the Mennonite church, don’t always know what a Mennonite is.”

Moeljono believes the booklet, because of its small size and clear teachings, can help strengthen Anabaptist identity.

Becker recently returned from a special assignment with Mennonite Church Canada in South Korea, plus learning tours through China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Macau and Vietnam, where he distributed many copies of the Missio Dei. Myrrl Byler, director of Mennonite Partners in China, led Becker and others through places in China where MPC has formed relationships—including regions where Mennonite workers planted congregations in decades past.

“Increasingly, there is an interest in what Mennonites believe and what makes them distinctive,” Byler said. “Becker’s pamphlet provides a succinct and very understandable statement that we can easily distribute to pastors, teachers and persons who work within the church. We plan to combine distribution of the booklet with short training sessions that will provide church staff an opportunity to ask questions and interact with the ideas that are presented.”

During the travels in China, Becker offered copies to church pastors, students, lay leaders and government officials charged with managing religious affairs. In Korea, he used the booklet and its nine key statements of Anabaptist identity in a variety of ways, including a two-day workshop with independent pastors interested in affiliating more closely with Mennonites and their discipleship theology.

Todd Friesen, pastor of Lombard (Ill.) Mennonite Church, served in China and was part of the recent learning tour. He said Becker’s Missio Dei has been invaluable in English as well as in Chinese. He continues to order copies both to share with newcomers to the church and to help the rest of the congregation remember its core Anabaptist values.

 

 

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