In Ethiopia, almost every Mennonite church has an evangelist; in fact, there are more evangelists than pastors.
Having so many evangelists has formed the church to be very outward looking. This partly explains how the Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia, a denomination that is part of Mennonite World Conference, is baptizing 20,000 new believers each year. There are now more Anabaptists in Ethiopia than in any other country in the world.
At the end of July, many people attended the Mennonite Church Canada gathering in Edmonton where we were challenged to consider the theme, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard,” taken from 1 John 1. What good news do we declare and how should we declare it?
Questions I am curious about are: What would happen if every Mennonite Church Alberta church hired an evangelist? What would an Anabaptist evangelist even look like? And what would be their message? With “evangelism” currently being a loaded term due to its association with colonialism, what language could we use instead?
The gathering showcased many social justice issues such as Indigenous relations, environmental concerns and inclusion. As Anabaptists with a radical and passionate evangelistic heritage, how can we declare the good news of peace and justice? What is the relationship between this proclamation and the proclamation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?
The global Anglican Communion holds an international meeting of the bishops every decade (the Lambeth Conference), and at Lambeth 2022 the bishops gathered to discuss many things, including global mission. According to Stephen London, the Anglican bishop for the Diocese of Edmonton, Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of York, gave a barn burner of a talk about the importance of evangelism. His theme was that the church makes disciples and disciples make peace and justice. “Evangelism is a core work of the church, sharing what we have received,” he said.
The word “evangelist” literally means, “bringer of good news.” We have good news to share. The good news that Jesus brings freedom and joy as we grow into a personal relationship with God, and the good news that Jesus inaugurated God’s reign of peace and justice.
Without inviting anyone into God’s kingdom, we cannot expect the church to grow. We need to be passionate about social justice and evangelism. We bring the good news because we really do believe we have a great God who has given his life for us that we might truly live.
One highlight of our Mennonite conference was a video entitled “About those Fish…” featuring a fisherman named Peter (played by the fabulous Arlyn Friesen Epp). In the video, Peter is asked why people are attracted to Jesus and he replies that they are attracted to his unconditional love. That sounds like good news. We are caught and called to share God’s offer of unconditional love!
As we reflect on the question, “How can we declare the Good News in all its entirety?”, I wonder if we could start by asking our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia to share their experiences. Maybe a Zoom lecture? To hear the passion for Christ directly from leaders in the Ethiopian church could inspire us as well.
As we learned from Arlyn’s video this summer, “We are caught and called together into this wonderful group project.”
Let’s go fishing!
Joanne De Jong is a Mennonite Church Canada Witness Worker in Ethiopia and formerly the Alberta correspondent for Canadian Mennonite. This reflection originally appeared in the Aug. 18, 2022 edition of The MCA Communiqué, MC Alberta’s weekly e-newsletter.