What is a Mennonite?

From Our Leaders

March 23, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 6
Kevin Barkowsky | Mennonite Church B.C.
Kevin Barkowsky (seated third from left) pictured in Vietnam last month. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Barkowsky)

Last month I was sleeping in my hotel in Vietnam when loud karaoke music started playing outside. The music was so loud that I thought my window was open, so I turned the lights on to check, but no, the window was closed. I put my earplugs in, put my pillow over my head and fell back to sleep.

The next night the same thing happened. I began to wonder if Vietnam’s cultural preference for loud music would reflect in their Mennonite churches as well. After all, in Colombia the Mennonite churches were loud, and the worship music at the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Indonesia was loud too. True to form, Evangelical Mennonite Church Vietnam worship was loud.

In Romans, the Apostle Paul is explaining the gigantic change that had happened in the world through Christ. The ethnic followers of God were having difficulty adjusting to all the changes. It used to be that Israel was the vessel of God, but now, instead of 12 tribes of Israel, it was 12 disciples of Jesus. Instead of Israel’s temple of stone holding all the tools for worshipping God, the temple of the Holy Spirit was now in the hearts of believers.

It used to be that Israel held the identity markers of who was in and out with God. But now, instead of lineage, circumcision and last name determining if you are in or out, it was Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I learned a mic-dropping statistic in Vietnam: 84 percent of the world’s Mennonites do not live in Europe/North America, and do not worship in English. In general, European and North American churches are shrinking, while Mennonite churches elsewhere—the loud ones—are growing. Like Paul’s letter to the Romans, these are epic changes, and the percentage will only continue to grow.

This change is significant. If we accept the change, it means that when someone asks me if three of my grandparents’ last names, “Regier, Friesen and Doerksen,” are Mennonite, the new answer is no. If my last name was Choi, Pham, Hoajaca or Abebe, then I could say yes, my name is Mennonite.

Same with the food I eat. Are rollkuchen, watermelon and farmer’s sausage Mennonite food. No, but kimchi, tacos, pho, nasi goreng and injera are.

We, like the early Christians in Rome receiving Paul’s letter, face a massive change. We in Canada are the ones who need to put on our servant and student shoes. We need to learn to listen, even if it means finding some good earplugs.

What is a Mennonite? Mennonites are loud and charismatic; most speak Vietnamese, Amharic or Spanish; love Jesus; and are willing to suffer for him. That is what a Mennonite is. 

Kevin Barkowsky is Mennonite Church B.C.’s interim executive minister and church engagement minister.

Read more From Our Leaders columns:
Driving Miss Darcie
Camp really matters
New ventures in faith formation
Embracing diversity
What exactly do regional churches and MC Canada do?

Kevin Barkowsky (seated third from left) pictured in Vietnam last month. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Barkowsky)

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Thanks for sharing your (ear) awakening experience, Kevin. Yes, yes, it is now time to redefine who we are and where we are headed. Change should be a constant.

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