by Larissa Swartz
“You are the body of the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member.” 1 Cor. 12:27 (The Voice)
As North American Christians, we are privileged. We often recognize this, but it’s easy to forget—once we start counting, we come to realize in just how many ways. Whether with regards to food, education, utilities, church buildings & programs, medicine, travel, or freedom to worship, most things are easily accessible to us, even if on credit. We don’t need to rely on anyone else, let alone God, for anything if we don’t want to. We value our independence and freedom highly, taking it for granted and often not realizing what we’re missing because of it until we personally encounter another worldview.
As I have regularly interacted with international students, primarily from collectivist cultures, my worldview as a Christian has changed as my Western values have been challenged. If I could learn so much from non-Christians, how much more could I learn from my international brothers and sisters in Christ? This is what drew me into the community of Mennonite World Conference.
After Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2027 event in Augsburg, Germany this past February, I reflected on the value of the global church:
How is something or someone renewed? Romans 12:2 (NIV) keeps coming to mind: “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” How, then, do we renew our minds? We do this by dwelling on truth, found in the living and active Word of God.
Unfortunately, humanity is sick with a disease known as pride, which can lead us into legalism and self-righteousness and ethnocentrism, even when reading and studying God’s Word. I find it interesting that this verse comes right before the passage talking about the body of Christ. Our Father, in His mercy, has provided us with a cure to our pride: community – a global and local family made up of people from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, languages and genders.
Individually beautiful and unique people who think differently than we do. People that bring a different understanding of Scripture. People that have different experiences and stories. People to remind us and show us that none of us has everything figured out.
In order to be continually renewed and transformed, we have to be continually brought low and humbled, in order to receive instruction. In our humility, we allow Jesus to challenge our perspective and understanding of God over and over again so that the Spirit can renew us, producing His fruit in us and bring new life to our lives. The result is a third culture, a Kingdom culture that is formed when all of God’s children bring their culture to the table and allow Jesus to redeem it and the Holy Spirit to purify it so that it reflects the Kingdom of God in its own beautiful and unique way.
North American brothers and sisters, there is danger in thinking we don’t need the global church, or that our role is one of superiority or patronage. Nor is it healthy to completely disengage out of fear, albeit valid, of repeating the patriarchal tendencies of the past and unconsciously or consciously exerting disproportional influence. The reality is that we need each other. As the body of Christ, each member is a vital part and cannot function well without the others: “The eye cannot wail at the hand, “I have no need for you,” nor could the head bellow at the feet, “I won’t go one more step with you.” (1 Cor. 12:21, The Voice).
This idea of dependency rubs against our Western values. I think the North American church, while theoretically embracing the need for the global church, still has a long way to go in learning how to build interdependent relationships with our international brothers and sisters. It comes from a posture of sitting and listening and learning from others before jumping in with our theological knowledge and Western answers. This requires time and patience, things that don’t come easily in our time-conscious and efficiency-driven culture.
These kinds of relationships don’t just happen, especially given the required cross-cultural effort. Knowing my own weaknesses, as well as the tendencies of my culture, my concern for the North American church is that we will be so consumed with our own busy schedules crammed full of church activities, family life, work, school, and social events that we won’t take the time to sit and listen, to pray for, and intentionally engage and learn from our global church family (which is continually growing in the global south, but declining in the global north). The North American church often excels in reaching out locally and building community at the local level, even regional and national, but as the wider North American Mennonite church decentralizes and fractures, the danger of isolation looms ever larger, making a broader, diverse community more valuable.
Essentially, this conviction to value and embrace interdependent relationships in the global family is how I ended up volunteering with Mennonite World Conference (MWC) on the Young Anabaptists Committee. It’s the most natural avenue for me to be connected in prayer and fellowship with my global Anabaptist family.
The difficulty, however, is “How can I participate?” since relationship across distance takes a good measure of intentionality. How do we learn to depend on and value each other around the world? This is what we as the Young Anabaptists (YABs) Committee of MWC try to facilitate among young adults: bringing them together in fellowship, but also empowering them so their voice is heard in MWC and in their churches. We do this currently in three main practical ways:
- Ongoing sharing of stories and prayer requests online (Facebook and Instagram). This happens as each continental representative networks and visits with churches and young adults in their region as they are able. If you would like your continental representative to come visit and/or speak, email us at email@example.com
- The new annual YABs Fellowship Week (in June)
- Our Global Youth Summit (18+ yrs) that takes place alongside MWC’s Assembly Gathered every six years. The next will take place in Indonesia in 2021 (start saving)!
The mission of maintaining a globally interdependent fellowship of believers is a tall order, but we—the YABs Committee—are dedicated to it, because we believe it’s worth it. The beauty of diversity in relationship is worth the mess it brings. We are always brainstorming new ideas for how to facilitate better long-distance communication and relationships between young Anabaptists so please don’t hesitate to contact us with any ideas or input you have!
The Young Anabaptists Committee is made up of a representative for each continent along with a mentor from the previous committee. They serve as volunteers and their work is funded through people who want to give towards the vision of empowering young adults at a global level. If you would like to give towards the work of the YABs Committee, you can do so here (specify for YABs). Please contact us with any questions, stories, photos, etc. at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more about the YABs Committee and their work on their website. Larissa Swartz serves as both the North American Representative and chair of the committee. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and works on staff with International Friendships Inc. (IFI) in Dayton, Ohio. If you want to read more about how our culture shapes the way we view Scripture, she would recommend the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.