HAMPTON, Virginia (Mennonite Mission Network) — The Mennonite family can now add Hmong to the growing number of ethnic groups embracing Anabaptism in Asia.
A group of Hmong churches in Thailand and Mennonite Church USA have agreed to make official their relationship that has been nurtured the past 10 years. The official signing of the agreement occurred Mar. 14 in Bangkok, Thailand, during the semi-annual governing council meeting of Church of Christ in Thailand.
Mennonite Mission Network partners with one specific group of Hmong churches – part of a district conference of Church of Christ in Thailand. As the relationship of mutual exchange with Mennonites grew, leaders of the Hmong churches began to recognize that Anabaptist theology and principles aligned strongly with their own, said John F. Lapp. Lapp is Mennonite Mission Network's director for Asia and the Middle East. Mennonite Mission Network is committed to prayer and mutual support, as stated in the memo of understanding. The goal is to jointly model and preach the good news of Jesus Christ so that all people may see and know God's love, justice, peace and salvation.
The Hmong are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Hmong believers in Mennonite Church USA have been actively relating to several regional groups in southeast Asia, where their ethnic group has its origins. This partnership has helped with the construction of church buildings, as well as training and exchanges of pastors. Mission Network connections with the churches included providing scholarships for young leaders to gain biblical and theological education in Thai educational institutions.
Mission Network Executive Director Stanley W. Green said that the agency believes that healthy relationships are critical for sharing reconciliation through Jesus Christ around the world. It is "a gift" when relationships evolve into mutually committed partnerships that are solidified by agreements.
"We are grateful for Church of Christ Thailand and its ecumenical spirit that invites such partnerships, which in our case will strengthen and enrich the witness of our Hmong sisters and brothers in northwest Thailand," Green said.
Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), the largest Protestant denomination in the country, traces its origins to a century of primarily Presbyterian, Baptist, and Disciples of Christ missions. It has been an independent and self-supporting church since 1934. CCT has about 160,000 members, a small portion of Thailand's mainly Buddhist population of 67 million.
According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia, there are 15 countries in Asia and the Pacific that have Anabaptist-related groups associated with Mennonite World Conference or other Mennonite organizations. Russian Mennonites emigrated to Asiatic Russia beginning in the late 1800s. Dutch Mennonites began mission work in the Indonesia islands of Java and Sumatra in 1851. Mission workers from North America came to India and China in the twentieth century. Since the 1950s, Asian Anabaptists began developing autonomously, including applying Anabaptist theology to their own cultural contexts. Asian Anabaptists have grown from less than 45,000 in the 1950s to more than 431,000 by 2015, according to Mennonite World Conference.
In other continents, such as Europe and Africa, Mission Network has aided the growth of Anabaptism by working with denominations that are drawn to Anabaptist theology.
In formalizing the relationship with Mission Network, the Thai church recognizes the interest that its Hmong district holds in connecting with global Anabaptists, including Mennonite World Conference, a process that is underway.
"It's exciting to see how a part of a different denomination can see itself relating simultaneously to Anabaptists and making its own connections in another part of the world. And the Hmong are grateful that CCT is blessing those relationships," Lapp said.
At the same ceremony, the Thai church also formalized covenant relationships with three other Christian organizations: Myanmar Baptist Convention, New Anglican Missionary Society, and Newton Thilay Community (Cambodia).