KINSHASA, Congo — With 235,000, Congo is the only country with a large number of French-speaking Mennonites. Otherwise, francophone Mennonites are usually small minorities in their countries.
Through the efforts of the Francophone Mennonite Network, working under Mennonite World Conference, such Mennonites are beginning to develop cooperative relationships.
The first consultation on theological education among francophone Mennonites was held Feb. 26-28 at the Centre Universitaire de Missiologie in Kinshasa.
Forty-five participants came from nine countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, Congo, France, Ivory Coast, Switzerland and the U.S.
Informal conversations within the network have often focused on the importance of theological education in relation to Mennonite identity. In Africa, the Congolese Mennonites sponsor several Bible institutes. In Europe, the French-language department at the Bienenberg Theological School in Switzerland offers the equivalent of one year of seminary-level classes.
No French-language Mennonite theological school offers a seminary degree. Many pastors, preachers and elders are instead trained in evangelical institutions in Africa, Canada or Europe.
For this reason, representatives from seminaries or schools where Mennonites study or teach (Montreal, Paris, Kinshasa, Abidjan, Ndjaména and Cotonou) were invited to take part.
Consultation attendees got to know each other by responding to several questions:
- What is the situation of Mennonites in your country?
- How and where are leaders trained?
- Are there Mennonite institutions of theological education?
- If someone studies in a non-Mennonite school, is there an attempt to teach Mennonite theology and ethics during or after formal theological training?
- What French-language materials and resources are available in each context? What can each context offer, and what are the needs?
- How is Mennonite theological identity fostered and maintained?
The consultation included presentations on the Congolese and African contexts, in relation to Islam and in regard to how Anabaptist-Mennonite identity has shifted over time.
Participants envisioned the network’s potential. The importance of theological education in a Mennonite perspective was affirmed. Non-Mennonite schools all expressed interest in giving a Mennonite perspective more presence in their curricula.
There was interest in seeking a theology that puts peace, reconciliation and forgiveness at the center of a curriculum.
A continuation committee and four working groups were put into place to explore collaboration, including development of online courses, upgrading libraries, development and publication of French-language resources and teacher exchanges.