Five hundred years after the first, a second Reformation is transforming the face of Christianity. This time the revolution is happening in the Global South. As historic centers of power decline in Europe and North America, believers in the rest of the world are becoming the dominant face of Christianity in the 21st century.
We’ve watched the hub of gravity shift in the global Anabaptist movement for some time now. The latest sign of the geographic trend comes from Ethiopia, where the Meserete Kristos Church now claims more than 500,000 adherents.
For years the MKC, the Anabaptist church in Ethiopia, has kept detailed statistics on the number of baptized members as well as the larger fellowship. The latest totals in these categories are 295,487 and 527,694, according to the Meserete Kristos College newsletter. The half-million mark is a new milestone.
The college plays a key role in the gospel-sharing work that fuels the growth spurt. The newsletter reports that on Feb. 25, 80 student evangelists conducted an outreach in the vicinity of the town of Dukum. They witnessed to 1,642 people, of whom “79 repented and received Jesus as their personal Savior. And 255 agreed to come and visit a church in their vicinity.”
Any who wonder how the Global South leads the expansion of Christianity could start by observing the Anabaptists of Ethiopia.
Another striking example comes from Tanzania, where, as columnist Richard Showalter reports, Mennonites have set a goal of adding 1 million members by 2034, their centennial year. To North Americans, the target might sound arbitrary and unrealistic. But if faith can move mountains, who are we to doubt?
It is exactly this kind of bold faith that has led to the remarkable fact that today a third of the world’s Anabaptists are African. This actually lags slightly behind a Protestant trend. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Africans today represent 41 percent of the world’s Protestants. At the current pace of growth, by 2040 half of all Protestants will live in Africa.
While Africa has provided fertile ground for Christianity, the flowering of global Anabaptism also is happening in places where the soil often has resisted the seeds of faith. Earlier this year in Thailand, which is only 1 percent Christian, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren encouraged its Thai members by sending delegates from around the world to a consultation on mission and prayer.
In the latest issue of Mennonite World Conference’s Courier, Carol Tobin, a former mission worker in Thailand, notes the diverse streams of Anabaptist witness there. She describes the conservative Mennonite presence in Chiang Mai, where “Anabaptists are known for their head coverings and large families, not to mention zeal for the gospel.”
Whether surging in Ethiopia, setting lofty goals in Tanzania or gaining a foothold in Thailand, Anabaptists of the Global South are leading a 21st-century Reformation. Their style of faith — evangelistic, theologically traditional, not centered on institutions or distracted by affluence — may be the dominant form of Anabaptism in the movement’s second 500 years.