The 12 Mennonite World Conference (MWC) regional representatives gather online every quarter to reflect on the struggles and joys of the Anabaptist churches in their regions. During its latest gathering, the representatives shared the burdens and creative resilience they see in their churches in response to COVID-19.
The struggles seem to be the same everywhere, although the extent to which churches are affected varies from place to place. The lack of personal contact and the loss of income due to the significant risk of contagion cause significant stress and misery in Anabaptist churches. Each regional representative emphasized this.
Nine of the 10 countries that currently have the highest number of COVID-19 cases have a significant number of Anabaptists. Some of these are countries with populations smaller than 50 million (Argentina, Colombia, Peru), resulting in a very high per capita impact.
But moving church online has left out elderly people who are not able to use online technology, including some in the Global North.
The online world has also left out rural communities and urban people who live in deep poverty, most of whom do not have the finances or technology to access electricity and the internet. This is particularly true in Africa, where 50 percent of MWC’s members live.
Mariano Ramírez of the Caribbean talked about the challenge of paying pastors’ salaries, and paying rent for church buildings.
Willi Hugo from Central America and Mexico noted the loss of beloved pastors and church leaders who have died from COVID-19.
Gerald Hildebrand of North America talked about how guidelines for COVID-19 life have been so politicized that they have become divisive in society and in churches, particularly in the United States.
Every regional representative also emphasized the creativity that they see in Anabaptist churches in their region.
Jeremiah Choi of Northeast Asia reported that three Hong Kong congregations decided to share resources and meet together online as one larger group for the last seven months.
Paul Stucky said that an amazing variety of activities—including worship, prayer meetings, Bible study and webinars—have successfully moved online in the Andean region of Latin America, with strong participation in all of them. This is true around the world, although shorter sermons and services seem to be a trend.
Hugo observed that both preaching and practice show a growing commitment to Anabaptist values of community, service and love for their neighbours in Central America and Mexico.
Barbara Nkala of Southern Africa said that both lay people and pastors are leading daily devotions that are circulated on WhatsApp across Zimbabwe.
Francisca Ibanda said that worship services in family and small group settings have strengthened lay leaders and local congregations in West Africa.
Hildebrand said that he sees a growing understanding in North American congregations that church is not a building, but church is its people, every day of the week.
Agus Mayanto noted a strong spirit of love as southeast Asian congregations become communities of caring for each other and for those around them in their neighbourhoods.
The grants from MWC’s COVID-19 inter-agency task force have enabled many churches to provide food and health supplies in their communities, and they have been received and distributed with joy. Donations and applications for funding continue.
Ramírez gave a summary observation: “Churches are called to be prudent in following all of the COVID-19 rules, but fearless in being a public witness to God’s love.”