Participants in Réseau mennonite francophone (Mennonite Network of French-speakers) meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sept 27-29, 2017. Photo provided.
A shortage of French-language Anabaptist literature and training motivated 21 participants from eight countries on three continents to gather Sept. 27-29, 2017, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in search of a solution.
The Réseau mennonite francophone (Mennonite Network of French Speakers) worked toward creating a consortium of theological schools and partner institutions to develop an online training program in Anabaptist theology for French speakers in Africa, Europe and North America.
Most French-speaking Mennonite pastors are trained in interdenominational institutions and don’t have specific training in Anabaptist theology, said Neal Blough at the Réseau mennonite francophone (Francophone Mennonite Network) meeting. He teaches about Anabaptist life and thought in universities and congregational settings and is a foremost authority on Anabaptism in France.
Although there are Mennonite Bible schools in many countries where French is the educational language, the only university-level theological program taught from an Anabaptist perspective in the French language is at the small Bienenberg seminary in Switzerland, Blough said.
A proposal presented by a working committee that had been named at a 2014 meeting of the Mennonite Network of French Speakers in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, served as the foundation on which the September gathering was built. Attendees decided that the curriculum will focus on Anabaptist issues of justice and peace.
“An Anabaptist training program could make reconciliation, justice and peace available to all Christians,” said Rubin Pohor of Faculté de Théologie Evangélique de l’Alliance Chrétienne (FATEAC), a Missionary Alliance university, which hosted the gathering.
Jean-Claude Girondin, who has a Ph.D. in sociology, teaches at an evangelical seminary in France and is pastor of a Mennonite church near Paris. Originally from Guadeloupe, Girondin explained the importance of creating an intercultural, rather than a multicultural, program.
“Multiculturalism is a juxtaposition, sometimes an opposition, of side-by-side cultures,” he said. “Interculturalism includes reciprocity, relationships and valuing each culture. The important question is how to give power to each culture [involved in the project].”
A starting point must be program leadership that represents the culture of each participant, Girondin said.
By the conclusion of the three-day meeting, the new program had a name, Centre de formation à la justice et à la paix: Centre universitaire anabaptiste [Justice and Peace Training Center: Anabaptist University]. It will be housed at FATEAC, which is already accredited by theological organizations on the three continents involved in the project. Courses may be proposed by any of the participating institutions. A governing body will begin functioning in January 2018.
Fabéadama Traoré, a Bible translator and Mennonite pastor from Burkina Faso, is enthusiastic about the new online program.
“The need for training God’s servants is urgent in Burkina Faso,” Traoré said. “This initiative is a welcome remedy for our situation.”
Francophone Mennonite Network is a ministry of Mennonite World Conference. The Abidjan gathering received significant funding from the Schowalter Foundation. Founding members of the online Anabaptist consortium include 14 schools and institutions. The participation of additional organizations is welcomed.