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Mennonite teaching makes an impact in Botswana


Bible students in Botswana make significant sacrifices to diligently participate in classes. “You can tell who has been a regular attender of the [Mennonite] Bible class because of the quality of their sermons,” one student told Glyn Jones, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker.

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October 13, 2006
-by Jennifer Rempel and Dan Dyck

Botswana and Winnipeg, Man. — Although there are no Mennonite churches here, people say that Mennonite theological instruction is making a difference in sermons preached in local churches.

A student recently told Glyn Jones, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker, that “you can tell who has been a regular attender of the [Mennonite] Bible class because of the quality of their sermons.”

Mennonite mission workers have been developing materials and teaching classes in Botswana for the last 30 years – but have made a deliberate decision to work with the African Independent Churches (AICs) rather than start Mennonite congregations.

AIC pastors are unpaid and work other jobs, so their study time and costs involve a significant sacrifice. There are approximately 20 classes throughout Botswana that meet weekly. A leader guides the participants through the discussion and questions from one of a collection of textbooks written over the years.

Recently the couple have been working to reduce textbook publishing costs by adjusting the format, making them more affordable to produce. But it’s been a bigger challenge than anticipated; they discovered that the computer files are out of date compared to the hard copy masters, so they now face the significant effort and cost of updating and then translating the materials. They also assist students by providing Bibles at a subsidized cost for those who otherwise could not afford to purchase one.

The couple is grateful for the impact of the work done by leaders who preceded their arrival in 2003. In a recent newsletter posting Susan Allison Jones writes: “Once again we were impressed with the connections that have been made throughout the years. Mennonites have been faithful at helping to nurture Christians in their faith. Our decision many years ago to not plant churches in these countries has helped to strengthen the faith of people in AIC congregations. Together with our AIC brothers and sisters we are building up the kingdom of God!”

Glyn summarizes one significant difference between the African church and the North American church, and provides a challenge for the North American church.

“During the class I mentioned that sometimes in North America we think that sermons are the most important part of worship. I tried to suggest that this is not good theology. The class agreed with me. They said that there were three elements of worship that were important: sermons, music, and healing. They emphasized that all three were important for true worship. For them the healing is made visible in worship through the amount of time spent praying for people.”

Glyn Jones (Wilmot Mennonite Church, Ont.) and Susan Allison-Jones (Breslau Mennonite Church, Ont.) are Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers together with Mennonite Mission Network in Botswana since December 2003. They offer Bible classes and HIV/AIDS education in the African Independent Church community.