I’ve been pondering the learning experiences of Jesus’ disciples as told in the Gospels. Jesus’ vision of God’s reign was so different from the reality they were used to, and they were curious. There was something about this Teacher that invited them to walk alongside him, to learn more.
As Jesus’ companions on the road, his followers listened and watched his way of being. They asked questions and expressed doubts. Attempting to imitate the Master, they tried out new practices, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Although Jesus occasionally got exasperated with his followers’ lack of understanding, he stuck with them, expecting that they would learn, change and grow.
Also consider the members in the early Christian community, as portrayed in Acts and the Epistles. You can delve into the books of the New Testament and see how learning happened there: through dreams and visions, through questions and experimentation, through challenges, conflict and mistakes.
Jump ahead to the twenty-first century.
Twice a year, this magazine carries a Focus on Education, reporting mainly on the educational efforts of Mennonite schools connected to Mennonite Church Canada. In today’s issue, you’ll find stories of individuals and institutions engaged in formal education. It’s easy to recognize the many ways in which everyone has had to adapt and re-imagine education in these pandemic times.
For the past 18 months, Mennonite congregations have also been seeking new ways to form faith for the young, the older and the oldest in our midst. With limitations for in-person gathering, churches can’t do the traditional Sunday school and vacation Bible school activities inside their buildings. Faith formation becomes difficult when it needs to happen through screens and physically distanced events.
In this new reality, it’s good to remember other ways in which learning happens—in more informal settings. For example, this issue’s feature, “The great Mwenezi cook-off,” (p. 4), tells the story of how men in one community acquired new skills and, in the process, discovered new ways of relating to the women in their lives. A whole community saw the positive effects of the men’s learning.
We might be tempted to think of Christian education as something adults simply impart to children and youth. But, like the early followers of Jesus, all of us—adults, youth and children of today—also acquire knowledge “on the road,” outside of classrooms. In our own unique circumstances, we observe and we experiment; we ask questions, and we try new ways of doing things. Our growth and new knowledge can influence our neighbourhoods and beyond.
Today’s disciples are seeking wisdom for living faithfully in new times. We have new problems to solve—challenges that require curiosity and creativity. We’re learning how to cultivate resilience and how to practice generosity. Sometimes this learning process has been painful; change can be hard. Sometimes we get impatient with each other. On the learning path, we are invited to practice patience with others, and with ourselves.
In many issues of this magazine, you can find stories of people on the learning path. These individuals are taking steps to educate themselves about the problems around them, as well as grappling with their personal struggles. Their faith is being formed amidst uncertainty. Sharing their stories is a gift to all.
The challenge for today’s disciples is to be clear-eyed and honest about the past and at the same time to watch for how new insights lead us to new actions. It takes courage to admit: “I used to think x, but now I think y. I used to do w, but I’m learning to do z.” But when we do that, whole communities can benefit from our learning.
On our journey toward wisdom, there may be no diplomas or degrees in sight. But we can heed the promise that Jesus made to the first disciples, and which still applies today: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:26-27).
A lesson to remember: the Master is walking alongside today’s disciples, offering encouragement and love on this path of learning and growth.