I’ve heard of borscht, but I can’t really say that I’ve eaten it. And only very recently had I come across the word zwieback. I needed to Google that one. I would hazard a guess that I would receive perplexed looks if I were to ask the people in my church if they could identify these two items.
However, if I asked them if they knew what congee, tong sui and xiaolongbao were, not only would they know what it was, all of them would have probably had it for a meal during the week.
I’ve been part of the Chinese Mennonite church for more the half of my life, but I must confess that growing up in a Mennonite church has been a source of confusion and mystery for me. Naturally, my friends are very inquisitive when they find out that I am a Chinese Mennonite. So when they ask, “How did that happen?” I have a hard time giving them an appropriate answer.
I believe it was by divine appointment that I ended up as a Mennonite, since it wasn’t by choice that I ended up a part of this community. In fact, they came to find me.
One day a pair of really nice people showed up on our front porch. They spoke to my parents about a new Chinese-language school opening up just down the street. They promised we’d learn to read, write and even sing in Chinese. No Asian parent would turn down an offer like this.
This was the humble beginning of my connection to this church community. As I matured into adulthood, I still had no sense of clarity of what it meant for me to be an Anabaptist Mennonite. Having been a part of the church for over two decades, I was still unable to clearly articulate the distinctions of being an Anabaptist.
What kept me connected to the church wasn’t its history, but it was the sense of belonging. I felt a strong connection with the people in the church as we discovered faith together. Although I didn’t have the privilege of being raised in a genetic Anabaptist community I feel that being a Mennonite is a gift. It was not earned nor chosen, but given.
My identity confusion was shelved for a decade as I pastored a church in the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada. However, my identity issues resurfaced very recently. It has been a refreshing experience to be invited to come back and to serve as the pastor of the English-speaking congregation in the church in which I grew up.
It is only now that I have had the opportunity to start my journey in discovering the rich history of Anabaptism. I have been thoroughly enjoying my time learning, reading and interacting with my friends in this community. Reading the experiences of those who have gone before me has been tremendously enriching. At this point, I feel that I’m just beginning my journey of faith as an Anabaptist. The more that I learn, the more I want my life and teaching to reflect the Mennonite convictions of authenticity, simplicity, community, peace and nonviolence.
At this point, do I see a distinction between being a follower of Jesus and being a Mennonite? I would say yes. I don’t believe one can be a follower of Jesus in isolation from a context. There is always a historical and biblical context that defines an individual’s faith. Being a Mennonite means that I’ve embraced a distinct biblical and historical framework stemming from Anabaptism. There is great value in holding these distinctions. For me, being a Mennonite is one way of following Christ, and it is a good way.
Brian Quan is pastor of the English-speaking congregation at Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church. He holds a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Tyndale Seminary, Toronto.
--Posted Feb. 12, 2014