In Karla Braun’s most recent editorial in the MB Herald, the publication of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference, she writes about her experiences in a small-town high school, where there were two groups of students: “. . . those who spent their breaks inhaling nicotine and those who didn’t.” Her observation was that it was the “smokers” who were actually the “welcoming” group.“. . .refugees, weary servants, international visitors, even people we prefer to characterize by their sin.”
Sadly, I have heard stories of less-than-welcoming experiences from people visiting our Mennonite churches and communities. Perhaps we shouldn’t be at all surprised by these stories. After all, we have spent the better part of 450 years separating ourselves from those who have different beliefs than ours. We moved from Europe to Prussia (now Poland) to Russia to North America for the purpose of remaining “separate”. Some of us moved on to South America for similar reasons to isolate ourselves from society at large. (Side note: According to the news agency Reuters, the December 13 edition of the Moscow Times carried an article about a group of Mennonites in Mexico currently contemplating moving back to Russia – coming full circle.)
More encouragingly, there is much evidence that numerous Mennonite churches have strategically begun to invite various people groups into their services and activities in the last number of years.
Braun’s editorial challenges us to exercise a biblical hospitality to all people groups, including “. . .refugees, weary servants, international visitors, even people we prefer to characterize by their sin.” For those of us steeped in a history of separation, this can be challenging.