Millions of people will never pick up a book about Mennonites or enter a Mennonite church. But they will visit thirdway.com to get a glimpse of what Mennonites are about.
Erwin and Angela Rempel, who previously worked many years in mission settings around the globe and for church agencies in the United States, volunteer for MennoMedia and responded to 60 to 70 email queries this past year. The site averages more than 1,000 hits a day, nearing a third of a million annually.
Third Way is part of the media matrix offered by MennoMedia and its book imprint, Herald Press, based in Harrisonburg, Va.
Six sponsors — Mennonite Mission Network, Everence, Abundance Canada, Mennonite Health Services, Conrad Grebel University and Goodville Mutual — help sponsor the free website, which was founded in 1998 to help dispel myths about Mennonites and to convey solid information. While a fluffier FAQ titled “What’s the difference between Mennonites and Amish?” gets the most clicks (146,000 this past year), the second most accessed section, “Key Teachings of Jesus,” is a meatier section that totaled 65,000 clicks this year.
The inquirers offer windows into the questions — and misconceptions — people have about Mennonites.
1. Were [Mennonites] from the Moabites in the Bible?
2. What is the view on beards for men? Modest dresses for women? Headcoverings?
3. Can you tell me where we might purchase a traditional Old Order River Brethren bonnet?
4. Do you grow vegetables and sell to the public? Are you located in Perth, Australia?
5. Which year [was] Jesus Christ born?
6. Why do the women sit separate from the men at church services?
7. I’m doing some research on the Mennonite culture for nursing school. What are your verbal and nonverbal communication patterns? Any slang/dialect? How do you view personal space (how close when talking to someone)? If you were in the hospital, would there be anything that you would want the nurse to do/not do?
8. I am an African-American male married to a white woman. Do the Mennonites accept this marriage?
9. Why do some people baptize infants?
10. I’m interested in becoming a part of a Mennonite community in an agricultural community somewhere in the U.S.
Probes to ponder
1. I am not Mennonite but my boyfriend is. I understand views on divorce in the Bible. . . . I just have one issue. I have been talked bad about, against and to my face. I have been through a lot in my life and faced a lot of demons. But none worse than my boyfriend’s parents. I am pained to say this, but due to the way one Mennonite family talks, it’s . . . causing me to lose faith.
2. I have been brought up as a Christian, and I find what the Amish believe, from what I can see, is a lot closer to what I believe than what a lot of other Christians believe. Is there a church or discussion group or someone in my area that I would be able to discuss or have meetings or get together for drinks of some sort? I am from Adelaid, South Australia. [Numerous inquiries about Anabaptists in Australia have been referred to Mark and Mary Hurst, workers there.]
3. I am a homeless woman, 41 years old. I am in desperate need of help. I have nowhere to live and I am having a very hard time finding work in the Leola, Ephrata, Pa., area. . . . I do not even have the money to eat anymore. I try so hard to be a good person, and because of that people take advantage of me. I cannot live on the streets anymore. I have no family to help, and I am feeling hopeless. [She was given a local help number to call.]
4. The Bible has no credibility to me. . . . I couldn’t even name all the dumb things that are listed there that don’t make any sense and are just so laughable. It’s a joke that this is what people live by and believe. . . . I highly doubt that this is what God wanted people to live by.
5. I was raised Catholic. Many years later I was rebaptized as a born-again Christian. I have lost my faith. But sometimes I still believe. I want to believe in Jesus. I want to believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. I want to believe that there is hope for me.
6. I am a student at Texas A&M University. What do you consider your identity to be as a Mennonite? What aspect of your identity do you want to be remembered by? What do you believe others in different cultures view your identity as?
7. Does the Mennonite church consider the United States a Judeo-Christian nation?
8. Two of my dear friends are Mennonites. They shared with me that they are taught to love and help one another, especially the Jews. Could you provide more information regarding the Mennonite/Jewish relationship?
9. I am looking to get saved. I was reading about the Mennonite church. I tried to find a church near Augusta, Ga., but had no luck. Is there a Mennonite church in Augusta?
10. I have heard Mennonites refer to Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Did Jesus ever display signs of anger or violence?