ICOMB Consultation on MB Higher Education, June 4-9, 2007
Educational leaders representing 23 Mennonite Brethren and MB related institutions of higher education from around the world gathered June 4 to 9, 2007 in Fresno, California, for a first Consultation on Higher Education. ICOMB 1 initiated and convened this historic gathering to consider the challenging theme, “Shaping Mennonite Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century.”
MB educators came from as far away as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Japan, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, as well as from Canada and the USA. The event was sponsored by the Academic Community of Fresno, whose members include Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (MBBS), Fresno Pacific University (FPU), and the Council of Senior Professionals. Dr. Dalton Reimer, professor emeritus of FPU, coordinated the gathering.
The purpose of the consultation was to have educators reflect on four questions:
- What does it mean to be a Christian-Anabaptist-Mennonite institution of higher education?
- What can we learn from each other that will help us develop our respective educational institutions in regard to vision/mission, libraries/technology, governance, curriculum, faculty development, support systems, and the like?
- How can our educational institutions better serve our church and societal constituencies?
- How can our educational institutions better serve each other through regional and global networks of mutual assistance?
The Findings Committee consisted of Heinrich Klassen (Germany; Vice-Chair of ICOMB) chair, Ray Harms-Wiebe (MBMSI) secretary, Hartwig Eitzen (Paraguay), Pascal Kulungu (Democratic Republic of Congo), Nzash Lumeya (Fresno), Joy Joseph (India), and Victor Wall (ICOMB) ex-officio. Its task was to observe and listen to the discussions and presentations that took place in various venues. The report that follows documents key points made during our joint deliberations on current MB higher education, but it also seeks to point in the direction MB higher education might go in the future. We trust that the report will prove itself useful.
Findings Committee Report
1. HIGHER EDUCATION WITHIN A GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP
This historic consultation is addressing a felt need in our global MB family. We commend FPU, MBBS, and the Council of Senior Professionals for planning this event and express our gratitude to the funding organizations.
The gathering reminds us that we are a global family sharing common beliefs, objectives, and needs in the area of higher education.
Although each school is creatively working within its own reality, with the resources available, many Western and Majority World schools are searching for ways to connect with educational institutions of their own continent and from other continents in order to improve the quality of their faculty and course offerings.
It is necessary to appreciate the realities of both local and global economics in order to promote MB higher education around the world.
2. HIGHER EDUCATION WITHIN THE ANABAPTIST FRAMEWORK
Each educational institution must examine the epistemologies, prevalent in its faculty and students, which serve as a foundation for its learning and knowing. Faculty and students must also take their Anabaptist and cultural traditions into consideration as they evaluate their learning frameworks.
Each school must have a clear idea of what they are doing (mission statement) and what they are called to become (vision). Written statements, however, do not always reflect praxis. Mission and vision statements should be revised periodically in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ, and the changing realities of the societies within which they serve.
Perhaps it is necessary for our global ICOMB community to define or re-define its Anabaptist identity by going back to Jesus and the Scriptures within their local communities and then bringing their understandings to the global ICOMB forum.
Jesus Christ is the centre of the biblical message. If He is the center of our MB faith, then He should be the center of MB higher education and define the mission of our schools; that is, to teach disciples to obey all that He commanded.
Old Testament wisdom literature teaches that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The New Testament teaches that the truth will set us free. That truth is a person, Jesus Christ. We need to trust the Spirit of the living God to lead us into truth.
Jesus called His disciples to Himself. Within this community of learning, He modeled the ways and values of the kingdom. Historically, Anabaptism valued a community-based hermeneutic where Jesus led the learning process. How should this life-on-life, community learning model inform our educational theory and methodology? Should educators form communities of learning around themselves, living before and with their students?
In the past, students entered academic institutions with a comprehensive understanding of life inherited from their home communities. This inherited intuition provided a framework for discerning truth in their particular academic journey. Currently, students enter the academic world without this community-based understanding of reality. Perhaps we could help each other understand what it would look like to hold things together in a comprehensive whole.
3. HIGHER EDUCATION WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF WORLD, CHURCH, MISSION, AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
We recognize ambiguity in our MB understandings of church, mission, education, and world. How do we define church (e.g. local church, board of trustees, conference leadership, individual members)? Are we comfortable with a messy, zigzagging theology, pedagogy, ecclesiology and missiology? Are we willing to live with the tensions and continue to work for the glory of God and the good of all?
Educational institutions can exist distant from the counsel, discernment, and mission of the church. What should be the nature of the relationship between the educational institutions and the churches? Should our schools have a mandate from the churches? Should our schools respond to the counsel and direction provided by local church communities? How can submission and the prophetic voice be held in tension?
MB educators should be seen as people active within the life of the church, open to conversation and contributing to the local church. Beyond this, educators must be seen as people committed to and engaged in mission to the world. For example, engagement with the poor and oppressed may keep institutions of higher education sensitive to the realities of the larger society.
Church, mission agencies, and educational institutions must maintain an ongoing dialogue. Education can inform missionary thinking and missionary praxis can stimulate (motivate) the educational process. Should educators submit to the leadership of the church? Brilliant educators and passionate missionaries may have to submit to the wisdom of the less-educated and less missional church leaders just as the rich may need to submit to those with less financial means. How do submission and free thinking (vision) come together in the life of the church, mission agencies, and educational institutions? How do educational institutions become as much an expression of the church as mission agencies are thought to be?
MB institutions of higher education are part of the formal, established structures of society and feel called to nurture and sustain their educational structures. What happens when higher educational institutions become enslaved to society’s rules (federalization of US education)? The leaders of educational institutions must be willing to suffer for their faith by standing for righteousness sake.
The real challenge and test case for Christian higher education is to have faith in the church and to stay convinced that ministry and service in this world is done through the church and in the name of the church. If the church is the body of Christ, then all we do “in the name of Jesus” should be done in the name of the church.
MB higher education must flow from passion (heart), meaning (mind), and purpose. It should be Christian (see the world through the lens of faith), community-based (knowledge is socially constructed), and prophetic (speak to the culture and transform society). We need being in the process of doing.
4. PROPOSALS FOR BUILDING GLOBAL NETWORKS OF MUTUAL SUPPORT
ICOMB should facilitate an ongoing forum (e.g. consultations on world, church, mission, and educational issues; theology symposiums), perhaps every three to five years to promote institutional partnership. A future ICOMB Consultation on MB Higher Education could be held during the 150th anniversary celebrations in 2010.
Regular communication between schools would strengthen the network (e.g. regular newsletter, common academic journal, a network website with links to local institutions).
Faculty and student exchange programs should be encouraged and facilitated. The exchange should be from everywhere to everywhere.
Books and materials written by MB faculty should be publicized and shared.
Financially self-sustaining models of education should be developed in each learning context. Fund raising principles and insights should be shared.
Income generated by local schools should be supplemented by a well-orchestrated international scholarship plan.
More well-established MB schools should offer post-graduate education on-line, thereby assisting those who do not have access through traditional educational methods.
The network could also study the possibility of offering collaborative graduate programs. In the meantime, prospective faculty members should be sent for further training to countries which offer a higher academic degree within our Anabaptist framework.
Our global learning environment would be strengthened through the building of inter-MB institutional libraries (e.g. online access to the libraries of other MB education institutions) and a virtual center for Anabaptist studies.
The Fresno Pacific University Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies should continue to develop sites around the world.
- ICOMB is the acronym for “International Community of Mennonite Brethren.” It includes 17 national MB conferences. ICOMB seeks to better understand the international character of the Church of Christ and to find new ways in which MB churches might actively support and encourage each other.