As we were walking through Paris, searching for the Centre Mennonite, we felt like Christopher Columbus “discovering” the New World. Except that we were those from the new world discovering an older one.
Of course we knew that there was land on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. But we were about to meet French-speaking Mennonites, a people whose existence we had not suspected a few months before. Under the auspices of the Quebec office of the Mennonite Central Committee, directors Claude and Muriel Queval, along with Quebecois Mennonite historians Richard Lougheed and Zacharie Leclair, were offered the historic opportunity to connect with French and Swiss Mennonites.
We came back home with a renewed commitment to become more and more relevant to the world we live in"
To our great amazement, the Mennonite communities we visited could trace their origin back to the Reformation Era. But as “ancient” as they were, most of them lived as modern people. In fact, they sing the same French worship songs we use to sing in our Quebec churches and they dress just as we do. What made a lasting impression on us was the fact that they had found a way, from their very beginning and despite a great deal of persecution over the centuries, to pass on their faith and institutions to the next generations. A tour de force that we have not yet been able to carry out in Quebec.
As a result of a missionary effort in the early 1960s, Quebec Mennonite (and Mennonite Brethren) churches are still in their infancy and are still struggling to produce a next generation of Anabaptist Christians. They were encouraged to see the fruits of a remote outpost of Mennonite faith and mission in a North American French-speaking society which, like in France, was formally Catholic but which is now increasingly secularized.
What made a lasting impression on us was the fact that they had found a way...to pass on their faith and institutions to the next generations."
We were able to share about contemporary social issues like religious pluralism, ethnicity and immigration, identity, the churches’ response to the challenges of terrorism and others. We were inspired by the fact that French Mennonites have found a positive and reasonably influential voice amidst the public debate and even with the government, who consults with them especially on matters relating to the migrants crisis, terrorism and peace.
We came back home with a renewed commitment to become more and more relevant to the world we live in and with new possibilities of partnerships in the global mission we share with our brothers and sisters in France and Switzerland.