Asia Frye is a seminary student through the Connect program at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She lives in Hillsboro, Kansas, with her husband and two daughters. Their family attends First Mennonite Church where Asia previously served as youth pastor before becoming a full-time student. She likes table top games, climbing, driving in the demo derby, dumb t-shirts, and heirloom tomato gardening.
I didn’t grow up Mennonite. I don’t have a good Mennonite name like Swartzendruber, and not long ago, I was unfamiliar with strange foods like borscht and verenika – let alone whatever you Eastern Mennos eat.
No, I didn’t grow up Mennonite.
I don’t have a good Mennonite last name like Martinez (10 percent of the global Anabaptist population is in Latin America). Nor did I grow up eating traditional ethnic Mennonite foods, but I love all sorts of curries, and India has the second highest population of Anabaptists in the world next to the USA.
I didn’t become a Christian until my teens, and I didn’t become a Mennonite until my mid-20s. But I have come to embrace Anabaptist ideals such as peace-waging, discipleship in the context of community, and Jesus as the center of scripture.
Eight years ago, we moved to Hillsboro, Kansas, so that my husband could teach mathematics at Tabor College, a Mennonite Brethren institution. I had a background in campus ministry and youth ministry, so I quickly found myself as the part-time youth pastor at First Mennonite Church. After teaching through the denominational curriculum during youth group and Sunday school,
I found out that I am a Mennonite. I just hadn’t known it before.
Being a Mennonite is not based on who we are related to, what we eat, or how we dress. Being a Mennonite is based on professing and practicing Mennonite-Anabaptist beliefs (even if we fail sometimes). Do not mistake me, I like the ethnic Mennonite stuff, and we can keep it; it just cannot be what defines us as Mennonites. Imagine this too common scenario: A Swiss-German man named something like Yoder rejects pacifism, but still claims the ethnicity “Mennonite” because of his eating habits. Meanwhile, a Latina woman teaches youth about nonviolent reconciliation and defends Jesus as the center of scripture. Who is the true Mennonite?
Unlike me, my husband is an ethnic Swiss-German Mennonite and can trace his Anabaptist lineage on both sides for several generations. He’s how I found the Mennonites. Together, we are raising ethnically Mennonite daughters in a Mennonite/Mennonite Brethren town. As I write this, they are at church with him helping to bake the 600 pounds of peppernuts, an annual tradition at First Mennonite. Last week, the older one attended Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp while the younger helped her Nana bake zwiebach and cinnamon rolls.
I struggle with this tension as we raise our daughters. How do I teach my tiny insiders who already belong, to welcome the outsiders who want to belong.
How do we integrate our culture(s) with our beliefs?
As a youth pastor, I found this to be one of the most difficult things to teach. In a town with fewer than 3,000 people, but more than five Anabaptist churches, getting them to separate what is the Gospel from what is simply the cultural water that they swim in is difficult. Perhaps even more troubling, how can I teach them what Anabaptists believe, when we have never agreed on what we believe?
How about this for a new Mennonite slogan?
Disagreeing since 1525
Anabaptists have never agreed. It is sometimes possible to describe Mennonite beliefs (especially if we are looking backwards), but is very difficult to prescribe Mennonite beliefs. From the Schleitheim Articles to A Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective,
our confessions have been descriptive – intended to be magnets that draw people in, not fences to keep believers out.
So how do we let go of the ethnic Mennonite insider mentality? Only one-third of the global Anabaptist church is in North America, and many North American congregations do not fit the ethnic profile. At the Kansas MCC Relief Sale, the booth for burritos is right by the booth for New Year’s cookies.
I want my daughters to know and understand their Mennonite ethnicity, but I want them to live their Anabaptist heritage.
We are not a church that languishes in the gated community of cultural isolation. We have the strength to let go and the strength to embrace. We are a peace that disrupts, a quiet that prophesies, and a spirit that moves.
All figures are from Mennonite World Conference’s World Directory, 2015