EMM goes back to future
Mission leaders seek direction by returning to roots in East AfricaBy Nita Landis Eastern Mennonite Missions
Sometimes the best way forward is to go back to the beginning. Eastern Mennonite Missions President Nelson Okanya and board chair Joe Sherer did just that by spending 16 days visiting Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia in September.
“I wanted to go back to EMM’s international mission roots, relive what happened there and ask new questions,” Okanya said.
As they traveled, Okanya and Sherer remained aware of two other missions-minded men — EMM administrator Orie Miller and missionary Elam Stauffer — who journeyed from the United States to East Africa almost 80 years ago.
Miller and Stauffer arrived at EMM’s first international mission field in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1933 after a long trip by boat. Okanya and Sherer arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, after a mere 24 hours in the air.
Miller and Stauffer searched for a place to begin mission work. Okanya and Sherer searched for what a partnership with African churches might look like 78 years later.
The Mennonite churches of Kenya and Tanzania recently formed their own mission board, International Mennonite Mission of East Africa. The IMMEA demonstrates their belief that they too can be part of reaching the many unreached people groups in Africa and beyond. Leaders are already working in unreached regions in Tanzania and dream of mission work in Burundi and South Sudan.
Okanya said there was agreement that “partnership” best describes a good way forward.
“We understand the deep gratitude behind the East African insistence that we [EMM] are their parents,” Sherer said. “But we must be resolute that we are now brothers and sisters rather than parents and children. We want to be peers learning from each other.”
The focus on partnership between IMMEA and EMM will impact the role of EMM missionaries serving in Kenya and Tanzania. The team — Aram and Debbi DiGennaro, Rod and Lucy Lehman, Joe and Gloria Bontrager and Julia Bange — has developed four priorities: working with IMMEA to reach the unreached, developing mission leaders, mobilizing partners and supporting like-minded ministries.
Perhaps a new level of partnership between young and older Africans will also grow out of Okanya and Sherer’s visit. Both men noted that the norms of African culture would not typically allow for a 40-year-old man to strategize with older bishops.
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