LANCASTER, Pa. — Members of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches met at Mellinger Mennonite Church June 1 to celebrate the history and growth of Anabaptist communities in Asia through music, food and storytelling.
In preparation for the Mennonite World Conference assembly in July, the event was co-sponsored by Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Brethren in Christ Historical Society and MWC.
“We are here to celebrate and create awareness of the history of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in Asia,” said moderator Sheldon Sawatzky, a long-term Mennonite missionary to Taiwan.
The evening began with worship from the Philadelphia Praise Center and Nations Worship Center band.
Five speakers representing Anabaptists in Indonesia, India and Vietnam gave 10-minute presentations on their countries, highlighting the growth and persecution of Asian Anabaptists.
Peace in Vietnam
Though the Mennonite church in Vietnam is strong, peace is still a fuzzy concept.
“The Vietnamese people are affected by war,” said Bishop Tuyen Nguyen, who is developing Mennonite churches, leaders and youth in Vietnam. “Peacemaking is a hard concept for the Vietnamese people to understand because of our history of war.”
In addition to a history of war, the biggest obstacles for Nguyen, who also oversees six congregations in the Philadelphia area, are Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. Nguyen sees these as impediments to sharing the Christian faith.
Churches lack spontaneity because the government requires them to submit calendars a year in advance, resulting in zero flexibility.
Mennonites in Vietnam are divided. There are two groups, each with about 6,000 members, divided not on doctrine but recognition. One group is recognized by the government; the other is not. This makes unity challenging for Vietnamese Mennonites and causes confusion for government officials.
Youth of Indonesia
Dutch Mennonites arrived in Indonesia around 1851. Today, Indonesian Mennonites are about 100,000 strong.
Aldo Siahaan, originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, and minister for Mennonite Church USA’s Franconia Mennonite Conference, talked about a new direction for Indonesian Mennonites.
“Our focus is now on the youth, because they are our next leaders,” Siahaan said. “We have about 5,000 to 10,000 youth in Indonesia.”
Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, shared about the Indonesian church in the U.S. He attributes the growth of the Indonesian-American church to 1998 riots in Indonesia in which many Christians were killed.
“Many fled Indonesia to America because of hardships,” Krisbianto said. The U.S. states with the most Indonesian churches are California with 15 and Pennsylvania with three.
Yet people assume they are Buddhist.
“Being Indonesian in America is not easy. People reject us,” he said. “We feel rejected in Indonesia and the U.S. . . . We do not trust other Indonesian people, and we do not trust our government. We lost our identity.”
Quoting Jer. 29:11, Krisbianto said he believes God has a plan for Indonesian people in the U.S.
“The Anabaptists teach welcoming the stranger, loving your neighbors and that our citizenship is in heaven,” he said. Though “we can’t speak English well, we love our communities well.”
Spirit moves in India
The spirit is moving in India, said Ken Hoke, bishop of the Susquehanna Brethren in Christ Conference, who spoke on behalf of the BIC Church of India.
In India, their motto is “each one win one,” he said.
Hoke, who grew up in India, is a U.S. citizen by birth, though he calls India his home.
Problem-solving is a necessity for Indian Christians if they wish to survive. If political leaders will not let them baptize, then Christians go elsewhere, he explained. If the authorities will not let Christians have a “church meeting,” then they will have a “prayer gathering.”
Despite hardships, “people are hearing God’s word and responding,” Hoke said. “They are very responsive.”
Paulus Thalathoti, pastor of Penn Bible Fellowship in Hatfield, concluded the evening discussing the history of Mennonites in India and how people are turning from idols to Christ.