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Training multi-cultural leaders


July 14, 2012
-Deborah Froese

Vancouver, B.C. — Mennonite Church Canada has almost 50 multi-cultural congregations across the country speaking many languages other than English. Helping pastors of these congregations meet their congregation’s needs requires more than the provision of Anabaptist materials in their mother tongue. It involves negotiating cultural differences and helping newcomers to Canada adjust to an unfamiliar culture and lifestyle.

A special offering in support of Multi-cultural Leadership Training was taken on July 15, 2012 during the worship service at Mennonite Church Canada’s Assembly 2012.

Since 1992, First United Spanish Mennonite Church (FUSMC) in Vancouver has ministered to the Latin American community in the Lower Mainland, working closely with their sister congregation, First United Mennonite. “For the last few years we have been celebrating joint worship services at least three times a year,” says Pastor Jorge Hoajaca. “Our desire is to at some point do ministries together.”

Despite sharing a common language, this congregation is diverse. It’s composed of refugees from 10 to 12 different Latin American countries. “The fact that we minister to refugee claimants has been challenging for us because we have to re-invent ourselves every year after we see many of our church people deported by Immigration Canada.”  This is painful for those who leave and those who stay, and Hoajaca welcomes prayer for the congregation.

Pastor Nak Sun Kum of Sherbrooke Korean Mennonite Fellowship (SKMF) says that language does provide one of the biggest challenges for his Vancouver congregation—and he is grateful for the Korean language resources Mennonite Church Canada provides.  But Kum also points out the language barrier goes beyond resources; it can be difficult for the congregation to build deep personal relationships with English speaking people. In addition, the theology of Mennonite Anabaptists contrasts with the Korean culture with which his congregation is most familiar. “Korean culture as well as Korean churches are very hierarchical; however we [SKMF] emphasize a horizontal relationship between people in Jesus Christ.”

While SKMF is independent in their worship and finances, they keep a close relationship with Sherbrooke Mennonite Church (SMC), whose facility they use for worship.  They have a joint service and potluck lunch each month and work together in ministries like Sunday School and Family Camp.

Even within more traditional Mennonite communities, distinctives between English and German-speaking members can create a struggle between “heart languages”.  Eben-Ezer Mennonite Church in Abbotsford has taken an integrated approach; German and English languages are used together for the first part of worship services, and then two simultaneous sermons take place in separate areas.  Kristina Toews, Youth Pastor says, “With this integrated service our unity as a church family has grown, everyone knows more about what is happening with different parts of our church, and our congregation feels more like a family.”

“When people come from diverse cultural backgrounds and want to worship God in the way they are most comfortable, it makes it hard to find ways to worship together if we’re not flexible,” Toews says. “Everyone needs to be willing to change and try different ways for the benefit of others, and that is easier said than done.”

See complete coverage of Assembly 2012