New Perspectives on a Familiar Story

Grebel Professor Derek Suderman is passionate about connecting with global Anabaptist churches and contributing to cross-cultural teaching. This summer, he taught courses in Cuba and Thailand to resource the Global Mennonite Church.

Amid food shortages and electricity blackouts, Derek traveled to Palmira, Cuba this past June to teach a 26-hour course in Spanish, “El Pueblo de Dios en el Antiguo Testamento” (The People of God in the Old Testament). Participants included leaders in the “Hermanos en Cristo” (Brethren in Christ) denomination, a member church of Mennonite World Conference. The several dozen pastors, church leaders, and Cuban missionaries appreciated the depth and new insights that emerged from a focus on the language, culture, history, and geography of the Bible. Derek recounts how students resonated deeply with a long history of living under the shadow of foreign powers, while the implications of water scarcity in the Old Testament provided a sharp contrast with their lived reality. Seeing the Bible as a library and exploring diversity within it on the issue of how to interact with foreigners generated significant discussion about the Bible itself and its contemporary implications.

“The denominational leadership in Cuba has a very strong commitment and desire for their churches to be Anabaptist, but many pastors come with little religious background or from other denominations. So, developing this identity is a challenge,” explained Derek. “The economic situation in the country is also dire and getting worse. The fact that organizers were able to find enough food for this large of a group to gather for a week, and were able to find transportation for all of them to come, seemed like a miracle.”

“The church in Cuba is growing and providing leadership training is one of their primary priorities. The kind of support Derek provides in teaching a course on ‘The People of God in the Old Testament’ is not available elsewhere,” remarked former MC Canada General Secretary Jack Suderman, who coordinated the effort and co-taught a course with Rebecca Yoder Neufeld at the same location in September.

Derek then travelled to Roi Et and then to Cha’am, Thailand in July where he taught two courses on “Why is the Old Testament important for followers of Jesus?” for the Friends of Grace, a network of house churches supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness. Witness worker Tom Poovong provided essential support as both translator and cultural interpreter, along with local leader Pastor Khamphan.

“It was invigorating to engage with such passionate and resourceful leaders,” commented Derek. “For me, it was also eyeopening to witness these dedicated Christians sharing the good news of Christ and engaging constructively as a tiny minority in the broader culture, which is approximately 99% Buddhist. After talking about the gods of Egypt in Exodus, one leader commented that ‘in Thailand there are thousands.’ Interacting with these Thai leaders gave me a new perspective on a familiar story and it’s clear I still have much to learn.”

“It is very exciting to see this developing partnership between Conrad Grebel University College, Mennonite Church Canada Witness, and the global church to share gifts in this way,” remarked Jeanette Hanson, Director of International Witness for Mennonite Church Canada. “Derek’s willingness, energy, and ability to teach well cross-culturally is a gift that can be shared. He then brings what he has learned through interaction with training participants in various contexts back to Conrad Grebel and congregations in Canada. It is a beautiful example of God’s gifts to the global church being shared with each other.