Derek Suderman, a professor at Conrad Grebel University College, is passionate about connecting with global Anabaptist churches and contributing to cross-cultural teaching. This summer, he taught courses in Cuba and Thailand to resource the global Mennonite church.
Amid food shortages and electricity blackouts, he travelled to Palmira, Cuba, this past June to teach a 26-hour course in Spanish, “The people of God in the Old Testament.” Participants included leaders in the “Hermanos en Cristo” (Brethren in Christ) denomination, a member church of Mennonite World Conference. The several dozen pastors, church leaders and Cuban missionaries appreciated the depth and new insights that emerged from a focus on the language, culture, history and geography of the Bible.
Suderman recounts how students resonated deeply with a long history of living under the shadow of foreign powers, while the implications of water scarcity in the Old Testament provided a sharp contrast with their lived reality. Seeing the Bible as a library, and exploring diversity within it on the issue of how to interact with foreigners, generated significant discussion about the Bible itself and its contemporary implications.
“The denominational leadership in Cuba has a very strong commitment and desire for their churches to be Anabaptist, but many pastors come with little religious background or from other denominations,” he says. “So, developing this identity is a challenge. The economic situation in the country is also dire and getting worse. The fact that organizers were able to find enough food for this large of a group to gather for a week, and were able to find transportation for all of them to come, seemed like a miracle.”
Suderman then travelled to Roi Et and then to Cha’am, Thailand, in July teaching two courses on “Why is the Old Testament important for followers of Jesus?” for the Friends of Grace, a network of house churches supported by MC Canada Witness. Witness worker Tom Poovong provided essential support as both translator and cultural interpreter, along with local leader Pastor Khamphan.
“It was invigorating to engage with such passionate and resourceful leaders,” says Suderman. “For me, it was also eye-opening to witness these dedicated Christians sharing the good news of Christ and engaging constructively as a tiny minority in the broader culture, which is approximately 99 percent Buddhist. After talking about the gods of Egypt in Exodus, one leader commented that ‘in Thailand there are thousands.’ Interacting with these Thai leaders gave me a new perspective on a familiar story and it’s clear I still have much to learn."
“It is very exciting to see this developing partnership” between Grebel, MC Canada Witness, and the global church “to share gifts in this way,” says Jeanette Hanson, MC Canada’s director of International. “Derek's willingness, energy and ability to teach well cross-culturally is a gift that can be shared. He then brings what he has learned through interaction with training participants in various contexts back to Conrad Grebel and congregations in Canada. It is a beautiful example of God's gifts to the global church being shared with each other.”