How I Became an Anabaptist

I grew up a prairie boy,
I grew up rural,
I grew up separate,
I grew up sheltered,
I grew up Low German,
I grew up in the church,
I grew up conservative,
I grew up evangelical,
I grew up Mennonite.

In school they called me a Nazi.
They called me a Croute.
They called me a Mennonite.
I wanted out.
All the words meant the same to me.
And it wasn’t pleasant.
I did not want to be a Mennonite.
Did I know what it meant?
Not a mite!

Mennonites have bled.
Mennonites have fled.
Mennonites have become Alliance and Baptist and Pentecostal instead.
I didn’t want to bleed. I couldn’t flee.
There were no other churches in the community.
I had no options. I left my church. I left my parents’ faith. I left my Jesus.

But Jesus did not leave me.
My parents prayed for me.
I returned to Jesus but I thought, it really bites
this thing about being Mennonite.
And I had never even heard of being Anabaptist.

I wrote this in my journal at age 16:
“Ed Wiebe [another preacher] came to see me about baptism into the Mennonite church! I told him no bloody way! I wasn’t even a good Christian, and I told him that church didn’t seem very attractive because many members were backslidden and it was a bit dry. He was a little hurt and asked if I needed any spiritual help. I said no even though I did at the time. I still can’t stand help from preachers. I still can’t understand some.”

(Even well into college I continued to be embarrassed about being Mennonite. It seemed so old-fashioned and conservative. When I had to take Anabaptist History in college I was surprised to learn that the Anabaptist movement which gave birth to Mennonite denominations was a radical youth movement! I was forced to re-evaluate my background.)

I’ve swallowed my words. I’ve swallowed my pride. My old self has died.
For thirty years now a Mennonite minister, I’ve been bona fide.
Now I’m one of those “hard to understand preachers!”

I chose then, and I choose now, to be called Mennonite.
My sister, she’s not a Mennonite, even though she eats vereneki.
My pastor, she is a Mennonite, even though she’s a Yamasaki.


(Note: In November, 2018, after 25 years as our pastor, April Yamasaki moved on to focus on her writing and speaking work but the concept and the rhyme works so well I will keep it for a while, at least till our church gets a new long-term pastor!.)

How did it happen?
How did I become Anabaptist [a theological movement]?
How did I become Mennonite [a church of the movement]?

So, back to my youth; I was pretty uncouth.
I flirted with a lot of churches;
they seemed like so much more fun
than my old Mennonite one.

What a shock! What a surprise!
It was in public university that my faith had a reprise.
Christians were ridiculed right wing republican war-mongers,
but the Anabaptists/Mennonites were nonviolent peacemakers.
It is an offense. It doesn’t make sense.
But I had an opportunity. I shared the Jesus story. I shared my story.
My own faith came alive when I told it.
It was radical then. It is radical now. How can I learn from it?

500 years ago the Anabaptists died for the freedom to choose… their faith.
500 years ago the Anabaptists lived for the kingdom only to lose… their lives.
500 years ago the Anabaptists died for their political rebellion.
500 years ago the Anabaptists lived out their salvation.

500 years later… What are we dying for?
500 years later… What are we living for?

The author of one of our texts, Stuart Murray, a non-Mennonite Brit,
thinks that Anabaptism is a movement “whose time has come.”
I went to England in 2011 to visit and learn and understand
this thing of which he writes called “post-Christendom.”

(Stuart Murray is a Pentecostal-Anabaptist. There are no Mennonite churches in UK but there are over 200 who are part of the Anabaptist Network which he facilitates. Less than 50% of CBC students come from a Mennonite church. My purpose in the opening research on your own church and/or denomination will hopefully help you to appreciate your own background, whatever it is. After the course you may even find yourself to be a “hyphenated Anabaptist” like Stuart Murray!)

Now I have a renewed excitement
about the contributions of the Anabaptist movement.
It seems particularly relevant I’d say,
for our theology, for our church, and for our world today.

I have become an Anabaptist.
I have become a Mennonite church loyal participant.
I have become an enthusiastic advocate of Anabaptist thought.

I became all of these because of what it meant and means.
It meant something in the 16th century.
It means something for us in the 21st century.
What does it mean? I hear the shout!
That is what this course is all about.

(The above spoken word piece obviously focuses on Anabaptist/Mennonite being a term of faith. Anabaptist and/or Mennonite have also been used to describe food, names, literature, music, clothes, ethnicity, even race. How have you seen or heard the words Anabaptist/Mennonite in the past? What do they mean to you? Are Anabaptist/Mennonites radical in any way today?)