While serving in South Africa with Mennonite Mission Network, theologian Joe Sawatzky often learned as much about God from his cross-cultural engagements as he did from textbooks.
It’s the potential for gift sharing across cultures that Sawatzky — a church relations representative for MMN — is most excited about in his new role as international education liaison for both MMN and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
The two organizations finalized a relationship in late August in which Sawatzky will serve one-third of his time with MMN alongside AMBS as a consultant to help develop AMBS’s Global Anabaptist Education initiative. It is part of a partnership recently forged between AMBS and Mennonite World Conference.
“It’s been a dream of my heart for a long time to walk through a door like this,” Sawatzky said. “The new role promises to integrate my two biggest passions — mission and theological education. I am excited to join with global Anabaptist organizations who want to partner together to further develop Anabaptist theological formation.”
Sawatzky is a doctoral student in theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He sees this development as opening spaces for prophetic voices to be heard from around the world.
“We need to better hear their voices and understand their cultural perspectives. I believe this initiative will deepen the teaching and learning in both directions,” he said.
The partnership is structured so AMBS students in other countries can be part of educational opportunity development in their lands. One such student is Henok Mekonin of Ethiopia, who is pursuing a master of arts: theology and peace studies. Mekonin lends cultural and technological expertise to AMBS professors and Ethiopian students enrolled in AMBS’s online master of arts: theology and global Anabaptism degree.
“So many great leaders, pastors and evangelists are paying a high price to proclaim the gospel on the front lines of evangelism in Ethiopia,” Mekonin wrote in an email. “They are already in the field doing this marvelous work.
“Nothing empowers and encourages me to do more for this initiative than hearing great stories and testimonies from these leaders and pastors about the impact the courses they have taken so far are making in their lives and ministries.”
AMBS alumnus Patrick Obonde, who graduated this year with a master of arts: theology and peace studies, said he found his Anabaptist education at AMBS strong on addressing racism, tribalism, patriarchy, misogyny, injustice, violence, poverty and migration.
“Deeply rooted in spirituality and technical competence training, a student of contextualized Anabaptist education would be aptly equipped to lead the necessary charge for missional leadership in the East and Central Africa region,” he wrote in an email.
Sawatzky is primed to build relationships with partners such as Mekonin and Obonde. Together with local leaders, he will help assess how leadership, technological infrastructure, academic resources and financial structures in various locations may enable or inhibit viability for an AMBS partnership.
“There is a tremendous convergence here that feels like the Spirit’s leading,” said AMBS President David Boshart. “We’re especially grateful for Mission Network’s generosity in making this partnership possible financially.”
Sawatzky earned a master of divinity degree in mission and evangelism from AMBS in 2005 and used it during his service in Mthatha, South Africa, where he was a mission worker, teacher and administrator from 2006 to 2014 at Bethany Bible School with his wife, Anna, and their children.