Know the past to navigate the future

Photo: Juan Moya, Anabaptist World.

Basketball player Jimmy ­Butler of the Miami Heat once claimed he removed the rearview mirrors in his cars as a reminder to never look back at his past. 

Now, let me be the first to let y’all know that this is dangerous. We all should have rearview mirrors. But I understand Butler’s sentiment. 

The past can hold us back. If we dwell on the past for too long, we could miss out on what is happening in front of us. 

At the Hope for the Future conference last month, we took a different approach.

Hope for the Future is a gathering hosted by Mennonite Church USA for Black, Indigenous and people of color leaders in the denomination (pages 26-30). It is an opportunity for us to gather and connect. 

Keynote speaker Felipe ­Hinojosa took us through a history lesson on the contributions of ­Mennonites of color within the church. He shared stories about the Minority Ministries Council and Cross-Cultural Youth Convention. His talks highlighted the importance of both knowing and keeping our history.

When I first heard this information, I was frustrated — not with Hinojosa or the information he presented but with my own lack of knowledge about it. 

This history felt important to me, but it does not seem to be as celebrated as Eurocentric Mennonite history. For years now, I have sat in White Mennonite spaces and listened to people share about their family history in the church. I often feel isolated and left out in these moments.

Eventually, this frustration turned into inspiration. I became inspired to look into this history. I want to uncover more of the history of Mennonites of color so it can get the shine it deserves. 

Hope for the Future showed me that the path I am walking as a Black pastor in the Mennonite church has been traveled before. There have been people invested and involved in the Mennonite church who look like me.

History is important. By getting a grasp on the past, we are able to look forward. 

After the conference, I wondered about all of the Mennonite history that is not celebrated. I think about the many voices that are left out. What about queer Mennonites? Have we documented their contributions? What about the Mennonites who pushed against the dominant culture? What are their names and stories?

The Hope for the Future conference gave me a lot to think about as a Black person in the Mennonite church. It was an important reminder that people of color have been a part of Mennonite history and will be a part of our future. 

There is no good future for the church without people of color and the queer community. There is no hope for the future without diverse voices. 

When we celebrate Mennonite history, let us not forget all of the people who have contributed to make the church who it is and who it will become.  

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. A 2015 graduate of Bethel College, he has a Read More

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