By Rick Derksen
Mennonite Church USA has committed itself to developing and encouraging church-to-church relationships with other Anabaptist churches in the global family of faith including the Mennonite Churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
As someone who lived and worked as a Mennonite mission worker under Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM) in the DRC over a period of 21 years, I am both excited by the opportunity that we have to forge a new type of relationship – one that truly reflects mutuality and interdependence on a grassroots level as well as on a larger, structural level – and at the same time well aware of the ongoing impact of colonial legacies in the DRC and in the U.S.
One of my biggest challenges while working in the Congo was repeatedly hearing my Mennonite sisters and brothers refer to us, that is, white North American Mennonites, as their parents, as the mother church. It was clear that long-standing patterns of paternalistic behavior on both the interpersonal and institutional levels had been internalized by the colonizers and the colonized, the christianizers and the christianized, the missionizers and the missionized.
As much as I would have liked to discard the baggage and language of the past, I came to the painful realization that as a white mission worker sent by the Mennonite churches in North America to work with the Mennonite churches in the Congo, I had come with a significant degree of power, privilege, and control accompanied by my own conscious or unconscious sense of internalized white superiority.
And yes, what about the fact that until very recently all of those sent by Mennonite Church USA, or its predecessors, to the Congo were, like myself, white? Or the fact that when Congolese visitors came to the U.S. they visited mostly white churches even though we pride ourselves on being a multicultural church and much of the growth in MC USA comes from African-American, Latino, and Asian-American churches? Does this not reflect our own colonial legacies right here in the U.S.? And if so, what do we want to do differently now? It is not enough for us to say that we are no longer going to repeat the mistakes of the past, that we are not going to do things the way missionaries and mission agencies did things before us.
In their book entitled Sharing Gifts in the Global Family of Faith, Pakisa Tshimika and Tim Lind ask the question, Why gift sharing? In response they refer to the following aspects of a major shift that has taken place in the world: 1) the majority of members of our global denominational family are from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while much of the control and power of church institutions remains in North America and Europe; 2) economic disparity between the rich and the poor continues to increase; and 3) there are entrenched patterns between churches in the South and in the North that contradict our biblical beliefs (e.g. churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are understood as primarily “needy,” while churches in Europe and North America are understood as “wealthy,” or churches in the South are understood as “receiving,” and churches in the North as “giving”).
If we in Mennonite Church USA want authentic relationships with Congolese Mennonites we may want to begin by confronting our own colonial legacies right here at home. After all, how can we build church-to-church relationships of integrity between the North and the South unless we have confronted the same patterns mentioned by Tshimika and Lind in relationships between white dominant churches and churches of color right here in the U.S.?
I’m suggesting that if we share the vision of an antiracist church not only at the denominational level, but also at the congregational and individual levels, and at the same time learn as much as we can about the impact of colonial legacies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we will find ourselves better able to develop church-to-church relationships built on honesty, trust, gift-sharing and power-sharing with Mennonite churches in the Congo.
- “Signposts on the journey toward an antiracist, multicultural church,” by Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, Spring 2010 issue of Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology
- “The ongoing impact of colonialism on the Democratic Republic of Congo,” by Toss Mukwa and Suzanne Lind, Winter 2014 issue of Intersections: MCC theory & practice quarterly on “Legacies of Colonialism”
- Ch. III Mennonite Churches in Central Africa, by Eric Kumedisa, Anabaptist Songs in African Hearts, Africa volume of A Global Mennonite History, Good Books and Pandora Press, 2003
- Sharing Gifts in the Global Family of Faith: One Church’s Experiment, by Pakisa K. Tshimika & Tim Lind, Good Books, 2003
- The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History, by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Zed Books, 2002
For more on Rick’s role, see this news release by Mennonite Church USA.
To be in touch with Rick directly, you can email him at this address.