What is a Mennonite? An Ethiopian definitionBy Jewel Showalter For Mennonite World Review
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Is the Meserete Kristos Church of Ethiopia really a Mennonite church? This is a question we frequently hear in the U.S.
In fact, I think that what we are witnessing in MKC today has more in common with 16th-century Anabaptism than with our experience as Mennonites in North America.
Planted by Eastern Mennonite Missions workers who first went to Ethiopia in 1948, MKC has grown to become the largest national body in Mennonite World Conference. Nearly one of every seven Mennonites in the world today is Ethiopian. MKC leads the Mennonite world not only in numbers but also in rate of growth.
Yet how many of MKC’s more than 230,000 baptized members — they number more than 400,000 in their church community — from a wide variety of tribal groups and languages have any idea what a Mennonite is? And who and what defines Mennonite?
My husband, Richard, and I were in Ethiopia April 14-May 12. We talked widely with people from all around the country. We met with regional MKC leaders to hear about the 409 MKC fellowships that have been planted in the last four and a half years. We visited large churches of 1,000 or more and also Akaki MKC, a small church that meets in a simple rented facility with a dirt floor.
So how is MKC different from and similar to other Mennonite groups around the world, and from other evangelical groups in Ethiopia? Here are some of our observations.
— Discipleship and teaching programs. As new believers become members, they go through rigorous training on following Jesus, the cost of discipleship, the Holy Spirit, spiritual authority, forgiveness, the church, accountability and Anabaptist history. To become a member of MKC means something.
“When we get new believers, we keep them,” said Yemiru Tilahun, director of MKC’s mission and evangelism department.
Disciplined, holy lives are important, but the church is also committed to redemptive approaches, meeting people where they are. Several years ago the church agreed a man and his multiple wives can all be instructed and become full members, barred only from leadership roles.
— Holism in ministry. MKC cares about education and leadership training. Sister schools of Meserete Kristos College are blossoming to multiply training possibilities and lower costs.
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