The old family and the new

Ibrahim Tunggul Wulung and Menno Simons. Photo: Astrid von Schlachta Ibrahim Tunggul Wulung and Menno Simons. Photo: Astrid von Schlachta

Returning from the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Indonesia, I carry with me the friendly and colorful “Ayo” welcome. Here are four highlights from the event:


“The forgotten country.” This phrase, used at the General Council meetings that preceded the assembly, came from Amos Chin, a church leader in Myanmar (page 23).

Why is Myanmar forgotten? Its leaders took advantage of the world being spellbound by the war in Ukraine to massively increase persecution of Christian minorities. Here in Europe, we know little about this.

“Our people are living hidden in forest right now,” responded a delegate from another Southeast Asian country. Deceitful politicial games are being played under the world’s radar. Not all Mennonites are tolerated and recognized by their governments. This oppression is challenging for the global peoplehood. It is an opportunity to look beyond our own nose.


This figure humbles Europe. Europeans make up only 1% of Mennonites worldwide — and we cannot assume this number will increase. 

Here in Europe, we see our significance declining as growth continues on new shores. Does the old Anabaptist family in Europe celebrate the new family around the world? Yes! We are encouraged to see the historical qualities of trust, peoplehood and solidarity translated to new times and places. Will we get to know and understand each other? I believe so. And together we can ask: What is the significance of our European heritage in the global context as we approach Anabaptism’s 500th anniversary in 2025?

Menno and Ibrahim

Mennonite World Conference is not just a meeting once every six years. It is an enduring community to be lived across a spectrum from exuberant “Mennocostals” to subdued “rationals.” It spans from wealthy social climbers to those living on the financial and political edge.

What the American Anabaptist -writer Brian Zahnd observed in When Everything’s on Fire becomes clear: The theological house we live in changes, but Jesus Christ remains the same. To put it another way: Anabaptists are all members of one household of faith, but we decorate our homes differently.

A Menno Simons foreign to European eyes but familiar to Indonesians presented himself to visitors at the entrance of a Salatiga hotel. There Menno stood, stripped of his Frisian (Dutch) appearance and robed as an Indonesian, in front of an Indonesian landscape. Next to him stood Ibrahim Tunggul Wulung, the 19th-century renewer of the Mennonite faith in Java.

A father of the old family and a father of the new — two symbols of one faith.


Renewal 2028 is MWC’s motto for events surrounding the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism. As regionally specific as Menno Simons is, some developments in Mennonite congregations are global. 

Indeed, “renewal” is on the lips of many. Declining and aging fellowships, generation gaps and traditionalized piety are struggles not only for “old” Mennonite congregations but younger ones as well. 

Reflection on who we are as Mennonites in 2022 is happening. We should use the time between now and 2025 to engage in conversation about this.

The world conference will come to Ethiopia in 2028. On the way there, we can make a stopover in Zurich. MWC invites you to a day of commemoration on Ascension Day 2025 in the Swiss city where the first adult baptisms took place. 

We have three years to prepare and reflect on a 500-year history that is just as colorful, diverse and changeable as today’s worldwide Anabaptist movement. 

Ayo! Grüezi! Welcome! 

Astrid von Schlachta

Astrid von Schlachta of Weierhof, Germany, is head of the Mennonite Research Center and lecturer at the University of Regensburg. Read More

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