Seeing the New Church

by Danilo Sanchez, Youth Formation Pastor

The doorbell rang and I knew it was time for baptism class. Four energetic youth stumbled through my door, took off their shoes, and found a place to sit.

“Did everyone bring their Bible and homework?”

One youth held up his English Bible while the others went to the Karen Bible app on their phone. We started the class by going over the homework, which was writing their faith story.

Some shared about Bible quizzes and memorizing Scripture in the refugee camps. Others shared about their Buddhist parents and not knowing anything about Jesus. The one experience they all had in common was camp at Spruce Lake last year. Each of them felt like a spark was lit and they desired to know more about Jesus.

I shared parts of my own faith story with the class and it was a humbling reminder that, despite our different upbringings, we were all called to be Jesus’ disciples.

Many topics in the baptism class, which I taught alongside Pastor Rose and Ah Paung (a Karen leader from Whitehall), were new to the group, and they asked so many questions about the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the big story of God. The most foreign topics we discussed were Anabaptist values, which come from our unique perspective on Jesus and Scripture. Through this baptism class, I found myself wondering, “What does Anabaptism mean for youth and young adults today?”

In my upbringing, Anabaptism meant daily discipleship, simple living, non-conformity, and non-violence. What that looked like in the day-to-day was a strong emphasis on holiness in my personal relationship with Jesus, not spending too much money on clothes, and being against war and abortion.

The values of discipleship, simple living, and non-violence are still present in Anabaptism today, but I see our youth and young adults express it in different ways. Simple living doesn’t just mean not being materialistic, but is also about sustainable resources and caring for creation. Non-violence isn’t just about protesting war or abortion, but is also about practicing peace in our schools, better gun laws to stop mass shootings, and preventing sexual abuse in the church. Many of the young Anabaptists emerging today want discipleship to include values like justice and community to fight against racism, sexism, and broadening the circle of people included in the kingdom of God.

While not all our youth understand or believe in those ideas yet, I recognize that the face of Anabaptism is changing and that our values are growing and expanding. I want the youth at Whitehall and the youth in our conference to know that there is space for them in the church and that they belong. The way youth and young adults choose to express their faith may not look like mine or the previous generations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t being faithful to Jesus or Anabaptism.

As a pastor and a leader in the church, I need to make space for youth and young adults to express and explore their faith. One thing I know for sure is that I’m not trying to teach “Christian behavior” or even “Mennonite behavior” but, rather, to present the resurrected Jesus and trust that the same Holy Spirit that spoke to me is speaking to them.

At the end of August, we celebrated Than’s baptism. It was a joyous occasion and an honor to welcome a new brother in Christ. I looked upon the smiling faces of the youth and children as they embraced Than and said, “Here is the new church. Isn’t it beautiful?”