GABORONE, Botswana (Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission/Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Mennonite Mission Network) — When North American Mennonite Church ministry workers arrived in Botswana in 1975, they met with many local church groups to assess needs. African Initiated Churches offered very specific advice — work with them in partnership to provide Bible teaching and leadership development instead of planting a Mennonite church.
Thirty-five years later, the fruits of the collaboration are evident in numerous AIC congregations in the capitol of Gaborone and other parts of the country.
Boitumelo Madisekwana now ministers at a Gaborone Spiritual Church congregation, one of many AIC sub-groups. Madisekwana met Jonathan Larsen, one of the first Mennonite mission workers here, in the early 1980s. Soon after, she began taking his Bible classes.
“He taught us to always work together and become a united group,” she said, “and taught the Bible in a way that did not bore you.”
The Botswana people, it turns out, were naturally drawn to the humble ways and simple lifestyles of Mennonite workers, creating a strong bond that remains strong to this day.
Madisekwana, a women with decades of life experience behind her, proudly holds up a series of certificates she earned from years of Mennonite-led Bible classes. She appreciated that the teaching was focused on people with a “modest” education, she said through a translator, her cousin Jeremiah Billy Gabaake.
Over the years, Madisekwana helped organize a total of five different Bible study groups. She also gained confidence in preaching, presiding over funerals and radio-broadcasting.
“If I get to a place where there is a funeral or a church service, I feel that I am able to make a very worthwhile contribution. I don’t need anybody to teach me what to do. I can simply go on my own, independent of help from anybody,” she said.
Today Madisekwana works closely with Kefilwe Cordeliah Osupeng, who first met Mennonites in 1989. With Madisekwana as her tutor, Osupeng studied with Mennonite Church Canada workers Don Rempel Boschman, now a pastor in Winnipeg, and Rudy Dirks, a pastor in Niagara-on-the-Lake, respectively (Niagara United Mennonite Church) – and Bryan Born, who now teaches at Columbia Bible College.
“Mr. Rudy taught me how to teach the Bible,” Osupeng said.
Today, Susan Allison-Jones and Glyn Jones carry on the Bible teaching work as part of their ministry with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
The deliberate strategy to not plant churches has made a significant impact in a denomination that was strong on praise and worship but had less of a focus on biblical understanding.
“Before the teaching of the Mennonites, we in the Spiritual Churches used to believe that if you were singing and clapping your hands, that was enough. But afterwards we realized that we needed to put more emphasis on preaching and interpreting what the Bible was saying – something we didn’t do before,” explained Madisekwana.
The strategy has also helped develop leaders for the Spiritual Churches.
“As a result of the teaching we got from the Mennonites, we have been able to produce many more ministers from many places,” said Osupeng, who started teaching with Madisekwana’s help. “The teaching we have got from the Mennonites has had a multiplier effect.”
Both leaders are grateful for what they have received. Madisekwana shrewdly observes that, “If you don’t read the Bible you can’t understand what kind of person you are.”
Osupeng believes God has a plan for Botswana.
“It is peace, cooperation and unity among the people of Botswana,” she says, and in almost the same breath sends a greeting to North American congregations.
“Peace be with you all the time. The love that you showed to the people of Botswana, let’s hope it will continue and grow in the name of Jesus Christ," she said. "Please keep on as you have been doing all these years.”