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Spring 1994 · Vol. 23 No. 1 · pp. 82–85 

Internationalization: Where Are Those Ends of the Earth?

Responses by Valdemar Kroker 23/1 (1994): 86–88; and Takashi Manabe 23/1 (1994): 89–90.

Harold Ens

While the church had its roots in Jerusalem, cross-cultural mission began in an organized way from Antioch. Jesus had given the command to go to the ends of the earth. In obedience, the church in Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas. In later centuries, Christendom was rooted in Europe. The church was extended around the globe, hand in hand with the discoverers and conquerors of “new” lands. European culture and Christianity often came in a single package.

We must work toward responsible partnership and allow for greater national initiative.

But the face of our globe and its peoples is an ever changing one. The church has been established on all continents and among an ever widening array of people groups. The term “foreign mission” has increasingly brought with it the question, “foreign to whom?” As Beaver put it back in 1972, “Christendom is no longer existent, and the base for world mission is found in every land where there is a community of Christians, and fundamental thought about mission must be in terms of the entire church” (Boberg, 186).


Mennonite Brethren have only recently come to realize that this is indeed true for them. They have also been active in cross-cultural mission that has circled the globe. For them, the term “foreign mission” quickly came to mean taking {83} the gospel to places outside of North America, since that had become their sending base early in this century. But the Mission Consultation of Mennonite Brethren held in Curitiba, Brazil in 1988 gave a dramatic visual image of the new international nature of the denominational family. Delegates from more than a dozen national conferences attended, giving proof that Mennonite Brethren are a multi-ethnic, multi-national, multicultural, and multi-lingual denomination. The statistics were perhaps even more startling: the Mennonite Brethren Church in both Zaire and India had more members than the sending base back in North America.

How does this reality of the internationalization of the Mennonite Brethren church affect the understanding of “foreign” mission. The old understanding was based on the fact that most of the membership was in North America. Those countries outside the power bases of Europe and North America were known as the “third world.” But today, the population in general as well as the Mennonite Brethren membership, is greater in that so called “third world.” It has become the “two thirds” world. God has blessed past mission efforts with the formation of a dozen new indigenous national Mennonite Brethren conferences around the world. They too are called by our Lord to be obedient to the task of the Great Commission, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.


How have Mennonite Brethren and the younger sister conferences responded to this new reality? For several decades, we from North America have entered into partnership agreements with the younger conferences for new outreach and the multiplying of churches in the countries where those conferences exist. In so doing we shared the view of Warren Webster:, “In the Biblical interdependence of both younger and older churches lies the future of the church’s mission to the world” (Wagner, 99).

However, this practice of partnership between the Mission Board of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America and the emerging national conferences in other countries has had a mixed record. Regular consultation visits by North American based mission administrators have been helpful in building bridges of understanding. The visits included an opportunity to discuss joint programs and to seek a common vision for expansion. But the visits have often focused on the details of budgets and financial subsidies. In the crucial areas of planning and allocation of resources, the initiative has often come from North America. As Robert Ramseyer has stated, “How can we truly be partners when one side is so strong and wealthy and the other is so poor and weak?” (Ramseyer, 32). {84} Indeed, we must work toward more biblically responsible partnerships as we continue to work at mission in the countries where these indigenous conferences have emerged. We must allow for greater national initiative in both the planning process and in the allocation of resources.

For the record, Mennonite Brethren have moved toward partnership as indicated by the following ten-year diary of events:

  • 1984 - International delegates meet with the Board of Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services in Reedley, California.
  • 1988 - The consultation in Curitiba, Brazil discusses both regionalization and internationalization.
  • 1990 - The Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services Vision for the 90’s makes a commitment to open Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services structures to appointing international teams and to the appointment of area administrators outside of North America.
  • 1990 - An ad-hoc international committee of Mennonite Brethren is formed in Winnipeg Manitoba.
  • 1993 - Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services appoints new area administrators in Austria for Europe and in Bogota for Latin America
  • 1993 - A Mennonite Brethren International Committee formally organizes in Winnipeg.


But even such growing partnerships within these countries is not enough if the mission of the Mennonite Brethren Church is to be truly global. Christ told his disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. How are the growing Mennonite Brethren churches of the “two-thirds” world to respond in obedience to that command? Are they not also to become involved in the work of “foreign” missions? Webster proposed: “The establishing of indigenous churches is no longer seen as an adequate end and goal of Biblical missions unless such churches become “sending” churches in, and from, their own milieu” (Wagner, 104).

Yes, what was for us in the past the challenge of “foreign mission” has become for our new worldwide family of faith the challenge of global mission. If once we thought of foreign mission as sending the light from Winnipeg, Manitoba, or Hillsboro, Kansas, we must today recognize that the light of the gospel is also emanating from Kinshasa with its 34 Mennonite Brethren churches, from Osaka with its 18, and from Curitiba and Asuncion with close to a dozen each. And from their perspective, North America is included as part of their “ends of the earth.” In such a world, the familiar categories of “sending” nations and “receiving” nations have shifted. We are part of a global body of believers and for that {85} body to function well, each part must exercise its gifts.

So is there still a mission role for North America within this new context of a global Mennonite Brethren Church? There is indeed! Much of the world is still unreached with the gospel. We must send workers from our North American churches to join with workers from other conferences to form “international teams” with a variety of gifts. And while some of our sister conferences have well-prepared workers and a vision for mission, they may not have adequate financial resources. We can join with them in financially supporting those workers. As J. Lara-Braud stated a decade ago, “Although the Christian community is now worldwide, it is not truly world-encompassing. More than half the population of the earth has yet to hear the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. That fact has graver missionary significance because the same “unreached peoples” are the poorest of the poor. There can be no greater concern than that in planning for the future of the missionary enterprise. The question is whether the responsibility for that enterprise belongs to the whole Christian community, or only to those who can afford missionary personnel, training, transportation and technology” (Lara-Braud, 2).

Our answer must be that the mission of the Mennonite Brethren Church in the world is the responsibility of the global Mennonite Brethren community of faith. This may require new structures that are radically different from our conference and board structures of the past. But as all pray, plan, and work together, all will see the effective implementation of the internationalization of mission at its various levels.


  • Boberg, John T. and Scherer, James A., Mission in the 70’s: What Direction? Chicago: Chicago Coalition of Theological Schools, 1972.
  • Lara-Braud, Jorge, “The Role of North Americans in the Future of the Missionary Enterprise,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 7/1 (1983), 2-5.
  • Ramseyer, R.L., “Partnership and Interdependence,” International Review of Missions 69/1 (1980), 32-39.
  • Samuel, V. and Sugden, C., “Mission Agencies as Multinationals,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 7/3 (1983), 152-155.
  • Wagner, C. Peter, Church/Missions Tensions Today, Chicago: Moody Press, 1972.
Rev. Harold W. Ens is the General Director of Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services, Fresno, CA.

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