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Fall 1988 · Vol. 17 No. 2 · pp. 97–98 

Book Review

The Black Mennonite Church in North America 1886-1986

LeRoy Bechler. Scottdale, PA and Kitchener, ON: Herald, 1986. 196 pages.

Reviewed by Hans Kasdorf

This story contains many stories, most of which have never been told before. It is the story of mission efforts by fourteen Mennonite-related groups seeking to establish believers’ congregations in black communities. There are four parts to his larger story.

  1. Bechler delineates the historical and cultural legacy of blacks in the United States, including the role of the church during years of slavery. He calls it a miracle that blacks can still “love, work, and create in spite of 300 years of oppression” by whites (p. 23). Eventually, blacks found “solace in religion” (p. 30) and the church became the springboard “to find meaning and purpose in life” (p. 35).
  2. The story of Rowena and James Lark is fascinating. “The Lark vision” was to have “plant, personnel, [and] program” to build the church (p. 48). Their contribution to the Mennonite church is unique. The chapter is filled with insight and humor.
  3. Present Mennonite Brethren churches in North Carolina—begun by the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren in 1886—make up the oldest black Mennonite conference in history. Thirteen other Mennonite-related groups pioneered among blacks between 1898 and 1950. Two reasons why results have been disappointing despite heavy investments of resources may be in the perception that mission was to black Americans rather than with them (p. 104); and that it was rooted “primarily in the doing rather than in the being” (p. 105).
  4. The last chapter deals with “Black Church Models in the 1980s”. It deserves careful reading by anyone committed to cross-cultural church planting in North America in general and in the black communities in particular. The author writes from experience and shares a wealth of insights.

Statistical analyses, bibliographical notes, pictorial illustrations, and an index add to the value of the book. While this pioneering study is well written from a white perspective, the author hopes that it will be followed up by stories and studies {98} giving the black Mennonite church perspectives and experiences.

Hans Kasdorf, Professor of World Mission, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

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