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A look at the multicultural horizon


Used with with permission from Canadian Mennonite

Winnipeg, Man.--It's a church within a church. Every Sunday, about 2000 members of this church gather to worship. It has no official name, but includes 40 congregations that worship in 12 languages; 29 of these congregations have formed since 1975.

They represent 5.5 percent of the 250 Mennonite Church Canada congregations. And they're growing. It could be called a miracle-especially since there is little Mennonite/Anabaptist material available in their rainbow of languages.

These are just a few of the observations in a MC Canada study led by Hugo Neufeld (pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Calgary) and Tym Elias (pastor of Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg).

The Diversity Project, a Canadian Edition, is a 21-page look at the kaleidoscope of cultures and issues that make up this segment of our church. The project's primary goals were to identify cross-cultural issues in church planting, understand what effective mission means in a cross-cultural setting, define congregational life issues in this context, and to encourage and empower non-traditional Mennonite voices to participate in the broader Mennonite Church dialogue.

A survey to collect data for the project revealed some surprises. Host congregations (those involved in cross-cultural ministry) noted that the benefits of this ministry outweigh the struggles. Some respondents said their "understanding of what it means to be Christian and Mennonite grew." Other comments included:

  • "We became much more aware of and concerned about world events."
  • "We had a keener sense of what we were about."
  • "We became much more aware of our cultural assumptions-not all of which were flattering."
  • "Coming into conflict with the pragmatics of reaching out challenged us to reassess whether our values were of God."

These comments hint that the journey of outreach and cultural inclusion has considerable, but not insurmountable, struggles. But the checkpoints along the way imply individual enlightenment and a better collective self-awareness.

Even more remarkable are responses from the newer congregations themselves. When asked about their hopes for the next few years, 25 of 31 congregations surveyed indicated a strong desire for growth and outreach. A number of these congregations are starting international mission projects in their homelands.

In addition to asking what worked well in church planting, the study also sought advice on how Mennonite Church Canada could do better. Suggestions for prayer and financial support was seasoned with comments like:

  • "The Mennonite Church needs to have a strong mission vision that includes planting churches, seeking out where churches need to be planted, setting aside money for church planting, and calling out and training church planters."
  • ". new churches need affirmation and encouragement by the area and national conferences and their pastors."
  • "Everything in church planting is new and complicated. We have to listen and discern where God is acting-not an easy task."

Some respondents expressed a desire to shed the Germanic tradition and promote a more multi-ethnic church. "Mennonites are open to that, but need more work," said one respondent.

The Diversity Project makes 10 recommendations (see sidebar). Kathy Fast, Christian Witness Council executive assistant, says the council will address the recommendations by staffing a new multi-cultural ministry office.

"With new hires, a concerted effort is being made to represent more broadly the cultural diversity of Mennonite Church Canada," said Fast, noting the recent appointment of Colombian Raul Enns Bogoya as associate director in the Christian Service Ministries office.

Neufeld concludes the study by saying that the church needs to foster more mutual relationships with minority-culture congregations. But he also warns that if their passion for mission is not given priority, "they will undoubtedly begin drifting further away from the conferences and church organizations that unite us."

Data compiled by demographic forecasters add urgency to Neufeld's conclusions. They suggest that in one more generation, a single racial group will no longer represent the majority of Canada's population.

One respondent from a minority congregation summed it up succinctly: "To me, the world needs the Mennonite Church." What a beautiful expression of hope.

-MC Canada release by Dan Dyck

Diversity Project recommendations

  1. Celebrate our diversity in ways that move beyond sharing international foods and reading scriptures in different languages.
  2. Record the experiences of host congregations so others can learn from their stories.
  3. Foster minority/majority partnerships for church planting/development, evangelism, and growth.
  4. Become intentionally mutual, so all voices are heard
  5. Establish a Missional Church Development Centre to support church planting and development, with leadership from wider cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
  6. Involve our educational institutions in training church planters/developers.
  7. Consider how other organized groups (e.g. the Vietnamese Mennonite Conference) can work together better.
  8. Better represent our cultural diversity in denominational structures and staff.
  9. Consider ways to more effectively hear aboriginal voices.
  10. Conduct a major consultation on cultural diversity in the Mennonite Church with agenda set and led by representatives of newer cultural congregations.

The complete study is available in from the Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre (1-866-888-6785) for $5.00, plus postage. It is also available for free download.