The choir travelled 50 kilometres on foot. When they entered the church compound they burst into song. They came with nothing, but with it made the most beautiful music. Their rich harmony filled the air. It was a symphony of souls, and it gripped my heart.
No better salute could be given to the 100th anniversary of the Mennonite Church in Democratic Republic of Congo. There was no need for instruments, sheet music, or worship CD’s. The number of choirs that came to celebrate was dizzying. To celebrate this way was simply the right thing to do.
This scene epitomises the experience of my African summer, a journey that took me to DR Congo, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Kenya. In each setting I connected with the global Anabaptist church and celebrated the church in solidarity.
I grew up in a time when the relationship between the churches in the global north and the global south was modelled on a needs-based relationship. But my African summer revealed to me something different – something I already knew, and yet continue to understand.
In most Christian expressions today, the church in the global south is larger than the church in the north. This is also true for the Anabaptist church. Church planting is now as common in Africa as Sunday morning worship – a ministry often sustained by entrepreneurial pastors who use small businesses as a natural and necessary way to fund their ministry. The Anabaptist church in DR Congo is 225,000 strong (compared to 31,000 in Mennonite Church Canada). In Ethiopia it will soon be reaching 500,000. It’s too easy to measure success by numbers alone, but neither can such growth be discounted. We in the west are no longer needed in the same ways we once were.
I am not suggesting that our relationship be halted. Our generosity is still incredibly important. But it does require reconsideration. We are no longer needed in the same way – but we are wanted. Our solidarity is still important. Our recognition is significant.
This maturing relationship with the global church in the south reveals areas of growth still necessary in us. While we are no longer needed in the same ways, I fear our North American faith expression requires need to motivate us. Generations in the global north have for decades understood the church in the south as one in perpetual need. Our sense of call has been nurtured in need. Generosity was awakened by need. Will our faith find expression if no longer motivated by need? Is a completely needs-based generosity a healthy and faithful foundation on which the church can build a future? Or can we be generous simply because it is the right thing to do?
Thankfully, a mature relationship of equals fosters other motivators. Strong relationships understand mutual responsibilities. Healthy relationships embrace joyful and loving duty. As global brothers and sisters, we have responsibilities. As part of the global family of faith we have duties: a duty to share, to seek and express global justice.
We express love and solidarity to our global family of faith because it is the right thing to do. We evaluate our lifestyle choices because that is how God’s people behave. We embrace sacrifice as an expression of our spiritual worship. Need no longer drives us. The overflow of God’s love and our love for God propels us.