Radical faith todayBy Richard Showalter
For six weeks this April and May, Jewel and I divided our weeks between Ethiopia and Switzerland. At the outset of our journey we little anticipated the impact of the encounters before us. But upon setting foot again on Pennsylvania soil, we knew we would learn from those meetings for years.
First, we walked for a month with contemporary Ethiopian Anabaptists. The Meserete Kristos Church is the largest regional Mennonite communion in the world with more than 220,000 baptized members and nearly 400,000 total attendees, including children and adults in preparation for baptism. Less well known is that worldwide approximately one of every seven Mennonite or Brethren in Christ members is Ethiopian.
Helping launch a new school of mission, we found ourselves in constant fellowship with 35 keen MKC student missionaries from every part of Ethiopia. Classes met daily for seven hours, and each day we also heard spiritual pilgrimages from the students.
We were stirred, often awed, as we heard the stories. Abebayu Kebede, for example, had been so filled with powerful evil spirits that he roamed the streets of his city naked and untouched, well known and feared. When a group of believers prayed for him and in the name of Jesus commanded the evil spirits to leave, he was freed, and today is equally well known as an evangelist.
Others met Jesus in prison, founded local Christian movements numbering in the thousands, and persisted in their faith against overwhelming odds despite great opposition. Their lives had been transformed, and now they dreamed of taking the good news ever outward, becoming worthy to be called missionaries. Hearing their stories, I sometimes trembled to walk as a teacher among them.
From Ethiopia we went to Switzerland for the Mennonite World Conference General Council meeting. We immersed ourselves once again in the stories of our Swiss Anabaptist ancestors. Sitting on an old Anabaptist farm overlooking the village of Trub in the Emmental, we relived the suffering love of the simple Swiss farmers in that “Anabaptist nest.” For nearly 200 years they clung to their faith and their farms in the foothills of the Alps. Many were arrested, imprisoned, executed or enslaved. They were often protected by sympathizing family members and neighbors but just as often had to flee from one parish or canton to another in attempts to escape arrest.
Finally about 1710 Dutch Anabaptists used their government to persuade the Swiss authorities to allow them to emigrate. In heart-wrenching decisions, many chose to leave and find their way to the British colonies of North America.
Everywhere in western Europe new believers were making costly decisions to follow Jesus — not only in the first 30 years of the Anabaptist movement, as some imagine, but for hundreds of years.
Just as in Ethiopia today.
Sitting there on the farm above Trub in the Emmental, one thing was abundantly clear. The movements to Jesus in Switzerland in the 16th and 17th centuries, and those in Ethiopia in the 20th and 21st centuries, were cut from the same cloth: radical, costly faith held by those willing to die for Jesus and fired by loving passion to share that faith with others.
Just as in North America today?
May God give us grace to embrace the movement we claim.
Richard Showalter, of Landisville, Pa., is chair of the Mission Commission of Mennonite World Conference and coach for the International Missions Association.
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