Our mission is the world
Bible instruction in Mennonite high schools has changed.by Elwood Yoder
Jimmy Zhao came to me at the beginning of Bible class a few weeks ago and explained that he couldn’t complete the faith heritage brochure I had assigned. My students had been challenged to dig into their family, church and denominational history and create a trifold brochure that explains their own faith heritage. Jimmy, from Beijing, China, had no faith heritage.
Jimmy Zhao delivers a report to his Global Christianity class on Matthew Ricci, a 16th-century Chinese missionary. Photo provided.
His background is entirely secular—he had come to Eastern Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Va., for a good education. So we discussed the project and adapted the requirements. Jimmy would give an overview of his life and family in China. Jimmy produced a fine quality brochure on his Chinese heritage.
Later, during a lesson on Matthew Ricci, a 16th-century Jesuit missionary to China, we loaded Google maps in front of the class and looked up Ricci’s burial place in Beijing.
Jimmy quickly realized that his home was close to Zhalan Cemetery, where Ricci and other foreign missionaries are buried. As a boy he had often played in this small park.
Jimmy is now writing a biography on the life and ministry of Matthew Ricci, a Catholic missionary who adapted to Chinese culture, language and religion.
Jimmy’s presence in my Global Christianity classroom illustrates three ways Bible teaching in Mennonite high schools has changed in the past two decades:
First, we as Bible teachers have adapted to a variety of diversities, including the steady increase of international students in our classrooms.
Second, we don’t assume our students, American or from other countries, have a working knowledge of basic Bible stories.
Third, our Mennonite high schools are writing or have created new Bible courses for students from abroad who have limited or no exposure to Christianity.
Hesston (Kan.) College and Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., hosted nine high school Bible teachers on their campuses April 11-13. Since Bible teachers don’t have national or state professional conferences, we teachers value these network sessions to learn from each other and other Mennonite schools. We came from Peace and Justice Academy, Pasadena, Calif., to Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Lansdale, Pa., and seven more schools in between.
I have a memory of attending three prior Bible teacher’s conferences hosted by Mennonite colleges, dating back 20 years, but this gathering was different. We came hoping to learn from each other about how to teach Bible and church history to students from a variety of diverse backgrounds but especially the growing population of international students in our classes.
Through discussions among ourselves and with the Hesston Bible faculty, it became clear to me that our discussions were far less about structured curriculum than about how to teach in the context of diversities that include numerous denominations, a wide range of academic abilities, and students from many countries around the world.
Twenty years ago, I worked with Mennonite high school teachers to hammer out a core curriculum that most Mennonite high schools then adopted. Today, there is little emphasis on uniformity of Bible courses in Mennonite schools; instead, there is an encouragement to find creative and effective ways to teach the basic elements of an Anabaptist Mennonite Christian faith.
Today we as Bible teachers don’t assume our students have a working knowledge of elementary Bible stories. With students from other religions attending our schools and with students who have little or no church background, we have a challenge to teach formative Bible stories.
One senior-level Bible teacher finds that about one-third of his students know God, about one-third are neutral to Christian faith and about one-third are from other religions, are skeptics or agnostics. When I purchased a parallel Chinese-English Bible in Nanchong, China, in 2007, I didn’t realize that the Bible was actually going to be used by my Chinese students in Harrisonburg, Va.
Finally, our Mennonite high schools are increasingly creating new courses or figuring out unique ways of teaching Bible to students with no or little Christian faith background. Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite School offers an Introduction to Bible class for international students. International students at Bethany Christian School in Goshen, Ind., research Christianity in their home countries.
Students in August at Eastern Mennonite, with between 5 and 10 percent international students from five different countries in the high school, took an Introduction to Christianity minicourse before the school year began to familiarize them with our community.
Jimmy Zhao, a junior, is a great student and teaches both students and teachers about the latest technology innovations. He occasionally falls asleep in chapel, like kids from anywhere, but he perks up when we study the history of Christianity, especially stories that connect with China or Asia. More and more students like Jimmy are coming to Mennonite high schools across the country, seeking a good education, hoping to get into a great university and accepting the Bible and church history curriculum that is a part of our programs.
In Jimmy’s Global Christianity class of 16 students, we speak six languages (Mandarin, Greek, Korean, Spanish, German and English), represent 10 denominations, and I’m the only local Mennonite in the classroom. Increasingly, for Mennonite high school Bible teachers, our mission is the world.
Elwood Yoder is social studies teacher and Bible department chair at Eastern Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Va.
- A life of opportunities
- Questions for women leaders
- A ministry of open arms
- Our mission is the world
- Blessed are those who question
- The shared, blackened pot
- An upside to downsizing
News stories, digests and Meno Acontecer
- Congregational unity or the decision to vote?
- Executive Board looks at fund-raising needs
- Ervin Stutzman visits Mennonites in Indonesia
- Savoring the present
- How should we remember 9/11?
- El Centro discovers kindred spirit
- Serving veterans in VA hospitals
- Dark Knight in Aurora
- More than 1,500 visit Global Fair
- 12 Scriptures Project engages churches
- Congolese Mennonites celebrate 100 years
- Lanctot encourages Congolese women leaders
- Geiser remembered at Kidron Church
- Dumpsters and peace vigils new way of life
- ¡Bienvenidos al Meno Acontecer de Septiembre, 2012!
- Consideración importante
- Evento de golf pro-fondos para HPLE
- IMBP Goshen, nuevo pastor
- Asamblea Bienal de IMH
- Convención Nacional Menonita en México
- Reflexión pastoral - Sept. 2012
- Del Dr. Nuñez AFECCIONES DIGESTIVAS
- ¡Bienvenidos al Meno Acontecer de Octubre, 2012!
- Educación: la mejor inversión
- IBA retiro anual de estudiantes
- IBA al sur de Texas
- Mayordomía en congregaciones pequeñas
- Reflexión pastoral: La madurez cristiana. Hoja de ruta.
- Del Dr. Nuñez: Capitulo I
- Signposts: A hospitable community
- Before Pieter Jansz there was Tunggul Wulung
- Are art and violence connected?
- 3 misperceptions about the generation gap
- Expand the conversation on human sexuality
- Can someone 'look illegal'?
- Hazard pay
- What to do when the powers drag their feet?
- Being the church in contentious times
- Read God Wins with Love Wins
- World War II and the Beast
- Out of Afghanistan now
- More on 'missional'
- Address gay membership