By Joanna Shenk
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA)—Rick Derksen of Seattle, Wash., began May 1 in the role of volunteer Congo coordinator for Mennonite Church USA. Derksen and his wife, Marilyn, served with Africa Inter-Mennonite Missions (AIMM) from 1977 to 1998 in Congo.
In recent months, Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, and Rod Hollinger-Janzen, executive coordinator for AIMM, approached Derksen about taking on this position. Given his respect for their work and his experiences in Congo, Derksen was glad to consider the invitation, and after discernment, he accepted.
“Last year I was able to participate in the centennial celebrations in Congo together with my family,” he says. “The centennial celebration experience provided an amazing opportunity to renew many significant relationships with Congolese Mennonites and reinforced my interest in the relationship between Congolese and U.S. Mennonites.”
As Congo coordinator, Derksen’s responsibilities will be two fold. First, he will assist in coordinating the relationship between Mennonite Church USA and Congolese denominational partners. Second, he will assist in connecting to each other congregations in the U.S. who already have relationships with Congo, so that they can work together better.
Reflecting on Derksen’s role, de León-Hartshorn says, “We feel so blessed to have Rick serve in this capacity, given his years of experience in Congo and his commitment to helping Mennonite Church USA be shaped by relationships with Congolese Mennonites and vice versa.”
De León-Hartshorn, who is responsible for Mennonite Church USA’s global connections, will work with Derksen. Years ago, she was one of Derksen’s anti-racism trainers when he participated in a Damascus Road training event. Today, Derksen is an anti-racism trainer with Roots of Justice, the successor organization to Damascus Road, and sees anti-racism work as crucial to his role as Congo coordinator.
“It is my conviction that mutually enriching relationships can only happen with an awareness of the history of colonialism and paternalism as well as the ongoing power imbalances in the dynamics of our relationships,” he says. “Congolese and U.S. Mennonites have many gifts to share with each other as we participate together in the ongoing work of God’s mission. I look forward to being a part of that.”
Marilyn and Rick Derkson near the Congo River outside of Kinshasa, Congo. (Photo provided)