Mennonite Mission Network — The Holy Spirit is redeeming the word “missionary” from its past western baggage, wrote one group of South African participants as they evaluated a Partnership Council meeting that took place at a retreat center outside of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, from June 13-15.
Since 2004, three North American Mennonite mission agencies – Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM), Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network – have collaborated in progressively moving administration of projects in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Congo and South Africa to the African continent.
Although Partnership Councils have been active in Burkina Faso and Congo over the past six years, the June meeting was the first to benefit from a broad representation of South African partners.
South African participants expressed appreciation for decades of Mennonite contributions in biblical studies, leadership training and relationship-building. One group expressed gratitude that Mennonites opened the door and invited South African Christians to be part of a new global family. However, another group mentioned that the brokenness of interracial relationships sometimes hijacks the good intentions of partnerships between Africa and North America.
South Africans noted laxity in certain spiritual disciplines on the part of their North American brothers and sisters and a lack of mutuality in relationships. African participants also called for North American agencies to exercise greater transparency in setting goals and allocating funds.
“You need more time for prayer and fasting. You need to talk less and listen more,” one group of South African representatives told North American mission directors.
The Partnership Council model seeks to address these deficiencies as it builds on the strengths of 40 years of Mennonite mission in South Africa. It brings together different cultures and organizations, inviting them to work together in open conversation so that all may benefit.
“Conversation comes first,” said Steve Wiebe-Johnson, MMN’s director for Africa. “We listen to partners and to their vision, identify the Spirit leading the vision and find ways to collaborate with the partners.”
Gerald Mulenga, pastor of New Beginnings Ministry in De Aar, emphasized that unity in the family of God provides an environment where learning is possible.
“[In the Partnership Council,] we teach one another. It’s not about race, color or status. It’s about serving one God,” he said.
Rod Hollinger-Janzen, AIMM’s executive coordinator, believes that this cooperative model is relevant for communities everywhere: from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to Pittsburgh, Pa. He noted that this is especially applicable in churches in North America, as Hispanic and Anglo members worship together.
“The partnership model gives voices to all in a respectful way that empowers everyone involved,” Hollinger-Janzen said. “Partnership is another step to coming to a place of greater mutuality.”
South African Partnership Council participants
African Inter-Mennonite Mission, a mission agency that describes itself as family gathering in which African, North American and European members are working together to accomplish God’s plan for the world.
A Rocha, an environmentally-focused Christian ministry
Anabaptist Network in South Africa – ANiSA, a relational web of Christians who are serious about following Jesus in contemporary life.
Bethany Bible School, centered in Mthatha, has provided biblical and leadership training to African-Initiated Churches for two decades. Mission workers Anna and Joe Sawatzky and their children are currently participating in BBS life.
Breakthru Church International, based in Pietermaritzburg is led by pastors, Russell and Nina Toohey. Mission workers Christine and Phil Lindell Detweiler and their children participate actively in this Christian community and have helped the congregation develop social ministries.
Grace Community Church, a Mennonite World Conference affiliated denomination with headquarters in Philipstown, South Africa.
Harvest Time Ministries, a congregation in Mthatha where the Sawatzky family worships regularly, founded by Mthethiseni Ntapo.
Mennonite Church Canada Witness
Mennonite Mission Network
New Beginnings Ministry with headquarters in De Aar where Carman and Gerald Mulenga are pastors.
Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha is led by Xola Skosana and works to bring resurrection power into the lives of its surrounding community.