Recognizing our interconnectedness

Like the chambers of a heart, the four MWC commissions serve the global community of Anabaptist-related churches, in the areas of deacons, faith and life, peace, mission. Commissions prepare materials for consideration by the General Council, give guidance and propose resources to member churches, and facilitate MWC-related networks or fellowships working together on matters of common interest and focus. In the following, one of the commissions shares a message from their ministry focus.

There is a South African term that has been instrumental in its people’s difficult journey in search of reconciliation – ubuntu. Western languages have no equivalent for ubuntu, a word that expresses the essence of humanity and its interconnectedness. In some ways it has become shorthand for the Zulu proverb umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which can be translated roughly as “a person is a person because of other people.” What affects one affects others, and this matters because our humanity – our being – is dependent on one another.

These notions fly in the face of western individualism. They also provide a different imagination for how we live and relate to others. If we see others beyond ourselves, it allows us to explore ways in which we can walk with one another in our common quest for humanity and dignity.

As our Australian aboriginal brothers and sisters remind us: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

As Anabaptists, we have a historic and ongoing concern for peace (shalom), which is intimately connected to issues of justice. As disciples of Christ who see peace as gospel, we have a heavy but necessary burden: we must walk with one another as we together witness to and participate in God’s peaceable kingdom on earth. Indeed, as the quote above highlights, our quest towards peace and justice in our world rests on walking with one another, from across the street to around the world. To love our neighbours as ourselves as Jesus taught is the foundation on which to build an ubuntu perspective.

Unfortunately, current South African realities also teach us what happens when we fail to recognize our common and interconnected humanity. Greed, misuse of power, racism and selfishness begin to plague and dissolve the community. Those who are privileged and comfortable tend to forget those who are suffering. And pretty soon we, like Cain, also forget to keep our brother (and sister!) (Genesis 4:9).

If we are truly interested in pursuing justice and embodying peace in our world, then we are tasked as a church – a people “called out” to seek God’s peaceable kingdom – to walk with others in this pursuit. As our South African brothers and sisters remind us, this is the way in which we come to better understand our identity and our very being.

May we remember this as we walk with God and with each other.

—Andrew Suderman, Mennonite World Conference Peace Commission secretary