Adult Education Series: Anabaptist Essentials, by Palmer Becker

Part of the 2018-2019 fall/winter adult education session at First Mennonite Church, we will read and discuss, Palmer Becker’s book, Anabaptist Essentials.  Why will we read and discuss this book?

When people think of Mennonite various images come to mind: different style of dress, horses and buggies, or closed communities.  Sometimes Russian Mennonites reference food: perogies, Mennonite farmer sausage, or Schaubel Zup (Green Bean Soap). There is even Mennonite garlic, which is, according to the website, “a very nice Porcelain variety”!

I lived and worked in Asia for more than 16 years.  During those years I had the opportunity to work with Chinese, Koreans, Mongolians, Taiwanese, and Japanese on various regional peace projects. 

I remember Leah, a bright young women who we recruited for MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Programme (IVEP). She spent a year living with a Mennonite family and attending a Mennonite Church in the US. She returned to China eager to work with other people in NE Asia on peace and reconciliation.  NE Asia has a long history of war, animosity, and hate, and Leah had a vision of peace and reconciliation between Chinese and other people in Asia.

Or, there was Jae, whose father worked in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)-run school for orphan boys during and after the Korean War. Jae attended CMU and is now the director of the Korea Peacebuilding Institute.  Not only is Jae working at restorative justice in the public school system in S. Korea, but is also working together with Leah, the IVEPer from China, and others on peace in the NE Asia region.

I met others who were active in peacebuilding and conflict transformation because they had read and were influenced by the books written by Howard Zehr, John Paul Lederach, and the late John Howard Yoder.  Those Asians I met may not have heard of “mennonite food”, and if they had, may not have liked it.

I know I shouldn’t say what I’m about to say, because Christians, especially Mennonites are humble lot.  We’re almost proud of our humility!  But, I’ll admit that I was proud to wear the Mennonite label in Asia.  Though I appreciate the food of the Russian Mennonites as it is part of my heritage, what made me proud was that there were/are Mennonites who continue to think about the way of Jesus, translate, and apply the gospel message across cultures and into today’s rhyme.  I am proud of Mennonite communities who continue worship and follow in the footsteps of the carpenter from Galilee, and, proud of these communities who see peace and justice as central to the way of Jesus.

First Mennonite Church is part of the Anabaptist movement that began in Europe in the 16th century Reformation.  Anabaptist Essentials is therefore a good reminder/primer on Anabaptism. It’s written in a very clear and simple style, making it easily accessible to the average reader. The author, Palmer Becker, is a former pastor, conference executive, and educator.  Becker says there core-values for Anabaptists, and they are:  Jesus is the centre of our faith, community is the centre of our life, and reconciliation is the centre of our work. Becker argues that these core values “are essential to the Christian faith and central to what it means to be an Anabaptist Christian.”

My hope is we will discover something new about the Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective of the Christian faith, as well as, gain a new appreciation for it.