“Like an infectious laugh that spreads throughout a room full of people, one after another, theological networks have been formed by Anabaptist women in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe,” reports Ruth Guengerich, co-director of Mennonite Women USA (MW USA).
Guengerich, who attended the Mennonite World Conference General Council gathering near Basel, Switzerland, 20-25 May, met women from around the globe, many of whom are current or past recipients of MW USA International Women’s Fund scholarships for church leadership training.
Guengerich met with women from the African Anabaptist Women Theologians, the Latin American Women Theologians, the Asian Women Theologians, and the director of the Dutch Mennonite Women’s Organization, which has created the Anne Zernike Fund. All of these groups had one thing in common: they saw women in the church networking in other places around the globe and began to organize themselves.
Inspired by the presentations from African women theologians at the 2003 MWC Assembly in Zimbabwe, MW USA and the African women in church leadership began to explore ways of encouraging women in the church to use their gifts.
In 2004, a unique Sister-Link (a program of MW USA) began between MW USA and a group of African women in church leadership, known as “the African Anabaptist Women Theologians” (AAWT). These organizations were linked together with the assistance of Mennonite World Conference. This special five-year partnership was formed in order to pursue a goal to increase the number of African Mennonite and Brethren in Christ women trained in theology by the next Mennonite World Conference Assembly in 2009, when the Sister-Link formally concluded.
In 2006, Latin American women saw that the AAWT had organized and were empowering women in church leadership. The Latin American women met for the first time for biblical and theological reflection. This meeting provided a forum to explore women’s roles in the church. The following winter, Latin American Women Theologians began intentional Bible teaching about using women’s gifts in the church.
In 2007, MW USA helped to sponsor three women’s theological gatherings on three continents in which women met to support theological training for more women in their contexts. Throughout these years, MW USA’s International Women’s Fund, begun in 1997, has continued to provide scholarships to women in Africa, Latin America, and Asia for training in church leadership. All of the women come from MWC member and associate member churches.
In hopes of empowering more women, the Latin American Women Theologians hosted a gathering of women theologians just prior to the 2009 MWC Assembly in Paraguay. This gathering inspired women in attendance from Netherlands to establish the Anne Zernike Fund in honor of the first Mennonite female pastor in the Netherlands and the first female pastor ordained in any church in the Netherlands. To mark the centenary of Zernike’s ordination (5 November 1911), the fund was established 6 November 2011, to encourage the ordination of women in churches throughout the world.
In October 2012, Asian Women Theologians will meet with representatives from Japan, India, and Indonesia. Their meeting stems from what they have observed in the other women theologians’ organizations.
Each of these groups – the African Anabaptist Women Theologians, Latin American Women Theologians, Anne Zernike Fund, and the Asian Women Theologians – has their own unique goals and objectives, but each has been inspired by the other groups to empower women in their contexts, in part, by encouraging leadership training for women in the church.
—Mennonite World Conference, International distribution of release from Mennonite WOMEN USA
Mennonite World Conference (MWC) is a global community of Christian churches rooted in the 16th-century Radical Reformation in Europe, particularly in the Anabaptist movement. Today, more than 1,600,000 believers belong to this faith family; more than 60 percent are African, Asian, or Latin American. MWC represents 100 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ national churches from 57 countries on six continents.