As reported on CFAM / Golden West Radio on March 17, 2019
1/Gloowen Low German Network
The Mennonite World Review reports many Low German-speaking Mennonites have had little access to the outside world, but times are changing, and a new network wants to capitalize while it can.
The goal is to evangelize Low German-speaking people who, despite membership in a Mennonite community, may lack a basic foundation of faith.
Al Kehler, Conference Pastor of the Manitoba-based Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, says, “There are 250,000 to 300,000 Low German-speaking people, and many of them don’t have a clear understanding of the gospel.”
About 60 people representing 20 ministry organizations and denominations from Canada, the United States, Mexico, Belize and Bolivia gathered January 30-31, 2019 at Steinreich Bible School in Mexico to discuss how they can better network with each other to more effectively share the gospel in Low German.
Using the name 1/Gloowen (One Faith) the emerging network hopes to leverage pockets of expertise across a multitude of groups that work in Low German and to consolidate training at the Bible school.
Kehler, who was elected at the gathering to chair an interim 1/Gloowen board, says the meetings used a model of a wheel, with Steinreich Bible School at the hub. He stressed it is not a new agency or denomination but a way to help network existing groups.
He explains, “We’re looking to the local churches having a lot of autonomy. We’re not calling ourselves church planters. We’re planting the gospel and knowing the church will grow out of it.”
Low German is the primary language for a variety of conservative Mennonite groups. Kehler says most live in colonies in Latin America or in Canada.
Many have migrated multiple times to avoid worldly influences such as public education. This, combined with a bishop leadership system focused on tradition and rules, can have shortcomings.
For example, sermons and Scripture are read in otherwise unused High German, and biblical instruction for children can consist of copying catechism in script they can’t read. Those who do choose to talk about the Bible in the more common Low German can face excommunication from the church, the colony, their job and even the colony store, a daunting prospect for people ill-prepared for the outside world.
Kehler believes tradition, rather than faith, has shaped these communities, adding, “They lost the beliefs, but they kept the practices. There are lot of very good people, but there are also bad things happening. And many, when they come to Christ, are excommunicated and can’t work. Many can’t read or write, and when they learn, they are understanding and hungry to learn more.”
Education is often the door to evangelism.
Kehler says, “We’re working with radio and translation to make it more accessible to do children’s programs and gospel music.”
Kehler says there are about 90,000 colony Mennonites in Bolivia alone, and they are growing by about 10 percent a year. But, he adds, only 1 percent are being reached with the gospel.
Working together to address this challenge was difficult in the past because congregations and conferences had split over disagreements.
Kehler says, “What’s different today, rather than a few decades ago, is churches are understanding the urgency.”