MWC president led amid global shift

Charles Christano speaks at the 1984 Mennonite World Conference Assembly in Strasbourg, France. — MAID CA CMBS NP149-1-6398 Charles Christano speaks at the 1984 Mennonite World Conference Assembly in Strasbourg, France. — MAID CA CMBS NP149-1-6398

Charles Christano, president of Mennonite World Conference from 1978 to 1984 and one of the cornerstone Anabaptist pastors in Indonesia, died Sept. 22. He was 84.

During Christano’s presidency, MWC transformed from a Europe-based movement to a global fellowship of churches linked in worship, service, witness and fellowship. He also served as moderator of GKMI (Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia church), one of Indonesia’s three Anabaptist synods.

Colleagues remember Christano as generous with his time to be a role model to younger leaders.

“His involvement as president of Mennonite World Conference when I was still a teenager inspired me to be involved also with the global church, because he often spoke to me personally about MWC and its work,” said Paulus Widjaja, chair of the advisory board for the 2022 assembly in Indonesia and former chair and secretary of MWC’s Peace Commission.

Nindyo Sasongko, Asia representative of MWC’s Creation Care Task Force, said Christano “was adamant about protecting the church from a monopoly of what’s right and true by an individual pastor.” Sasongko, who calls Christano his spiritual father, cherishes these words from a sermon by Christano: “Truth doesn’t belong to an individual, rather a community.”

Charles Christano — Mennonite World Conference

Born Tan Ing Tjioe in 1939, Chris­tano wanted to be a doctor but felt called to be a pastor when he was in high school. In 1976 he became senior pastor of GKMI Kudus, one of ­GKMI’s pioneer churches and the mother church of many congregations in Central Java.

Christano welcomed laypeople in leadership and evangelistic ministries. Their outreach in the 1970s resulted in many young people coming to GKMI Kudus. Today, many are leaders and theologians in the Mennonite church.

Eddy Sutjipto of Indonesia said Christano helped him see beyond the local church, as they attended the 1990 MWC assembly in Winnipeg, Man.

“He said the experience in connecting with Mennonites and Anabaptists from all over the world would be good for us and our ministry in GKMI. And it was!” he said. “Our being there opened many doors for closer collaboration with churches, as well as development and mission agencies in different countries.”

Christano followed Million Belete of Ethiopia as the second MWC president from the Global South.

MWC President Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands called Christano “a wonderful man, humble and joyful. He brought his principled but generous leadership to help shape MWC into a global communion.”

Christano is survived by three adult children.

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