Brian Bauman, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada mission minister, and his wife Nancy Brubaker, interim pastor at Shantz Mennonite Church, Baden, Ont., travelled to Myanmar earlier this year at the invitation of Truth Biblical College and Seminary to speak at its 13th convocation service in Kalay. This grew into a week of teaching an Anabaptist understanding of the Bible and faith to 60 students and faculty, and preaching during evening services.
The Chin are an unknown people in a forgotten land. Burma, renamed Myanmar by the hard-line military regime, has been driven to the edge of poverty and ruin despite the nation’s vast resources. My journey with the Chin began when this oppressed minority began arriving as refugees in Canada near the beginning of this century. Pastor Jehu Lian was my introduction to this quiet, industrious and unassuming people. He was one of the first to arrive after spending 10 years in India eking out an existence and starting a new church that now has more than a thousand members.
Jehu’s passion for his newly discovered Mennonite theology, history and practical faith prompted an invitation from the Chin-run college and semi-nary for someone to come and give the convocation address to the graduating class of 2012. After much deliberation, it was decided that I and my wife would be sent to teach and preach the Anabaptist understanding of the gospel.
It is difficult to convey to Mennonites in Canada who have been Mennonite forever the power and appeal of the Mennonite faith. The Burmese student body, faculty and supporting community want to know more about Mennonites. They can’t get enough. They are fascinated with a theology that places Jesus Christ at the centre of everyday life for a Christian. Peace, servanthood, discipleship, justice and community are biblical concepts that they want to understand and practise.
The students kept pushing, “Tell us how to be an every-day disciple. What does it look like?”
I responded with the example that, as a Mennonite, I’m a man of peace and because of this I would never hit my wife. Nancy chimed in that, as a woman of peace, she would never hit her husband. During a question period at the end of the lecture one of the female faculty members stood up and said for all of her students to hear, “If being Mennonite means that a husband does not hit his wife, then all Chin women want to be Mennonite.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I had to trust that our silent recognition in the face of such a powerful declaration regarding the unspoken abuse in too many homes was enough.
On another occasion, their fervour provided us with a glimpse into the passion of the first Anabaptists. After four days of interacting with the stories of the “re-baptizers” from the 1500s, the school’s vice-president came to us and proclaimed, “I and 20 others want to be re-baptized by your hands. We want to be Anabaptist.”
The story had caught their imaginations and would not let go. No amount of caution or hesitancy on our part was going to deter them. So later that day 23 adults were immersed in the cement laundry tub outside the rustic kitchen at the school proclaiming their commitment to follow Jesus Christ every day of the week. It was a humbling and overwhelming experience.
The Chin refugees in Canada, the United States, India, Malaysia, Australia and Denmark, as well as the Chin in Burma, want to hear and understand the Mennonite faith. The school’s president declared that the 140,000 members who support this school want to be Mennonite.
What do we do with this passionate invitation from an oppressed people in a forgotten land? I’ve come to unabashedly believe that, as a church, it is our privilege and responsibility to share the Mennonite beliefs and history with others. The things that God has taught and entrusted to his Mennonite people over the past 500 years are to be shared. No doubt it will be an exhausting and exhilarating journey.
See an update, from 2015: "Chin Christians receive Mennonite teaching with joy"