One of the main groups helping with the Syrian refugee crisis is the Mennonites. Although the Mennonites first settled in the Ontario region in the early 1800s, they can now be found across Canada. Worldwide, there are over 1.7 million Mennonites spread over all the continents, except Antarctica. In 2012, Canada had 137,000 Mennonites, which isn’t anywhere near a majority, but it’s important to understand their heritage and culture to see why they are making a difference with the Syrian refugees.
Ethnic or Religious Origins
Some historians believe that Mennonites are an ethic group within the religious denomination. Others argue that Mennonites are a religious denomination without any ethnicity. For this discussion, the focus will be on their religious beliefs—not their ethnic foundations. The Mennonites are pacifists who are committed to peace and social justice. The congregations tend to be very close-knit, but they are typically very dedicated to humanitarian efforts.
The group started in Europe out of the Anabaptists, who were part of the Protestant Reformation. The Menists were a sect of Anabaptists who were hardworking and peaceful. One small European country got tired of the Anabaptists’ violent efforts against the church and banished them, with the exception of the Menists. Still, the Menists fought hard for religious freedom and often had to flee the countries where they were living.
Eventually, the Menists made their way to the United States, and from there migrated into the Ontario regions in Canada. The Mennonite Church Canada (MCC) is headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with five regional conferences across the nation. The churches tend to be independent but interconnected within their core philosophy.
There are seven core beliefs common to every Mennonite congregation.
- Christian Formation – centralizing Jesus Christ in their commitments
- Community – coming together to worship and learn
- Christian witness – sharing the gospel
- Stewardship – taking care of and giving back what God has provided
- Leadership Development – helping all members reach their potential
- Undoing Racism – reaching across cultural boundaries to value everyone
- Church-to-Church Relationships – sharing faith between congregations and nations
The Mennonites understand what it means to give up their home country and come to another, even though many of them have been in Canada for generations. They do not serve in the military; they choose to work for peace, as well as for humanitarian aid and missions. It’s this core belief that keeps them serving others who have lost everything in wars or other natural disasters.
The Mennonites are raising money and providing relief for Syrian refugees when they come to Canada. One group has been working with an Islamic foundation to get individuals resettled in the community. The Mennonites in Canada aren’t just trying to relocate refugees; they have 27 different programs that are giving Syrians hope and dignity as they wait to find a home or return to their country.
According to one report, MCC’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis is their largest humanitarian effort to date. Unfortunately, it cannot keep up with the needs. The resources just aren’t growing fast enough. The MCC continues to make pleas for donations and other resources to aid their efforts.
The MCC also is asking for Canadians to call on their leaders to encourage peace in the Middle East. The region cannot rebuild until a ceasefire happens and a peace settlement is reached. It is understood that there are many forces at work that may prevent a quick end to the conflict, but the MCC still hopes that peace can be reached.
Until that time, the Mennonites work to bring hope to the refugees being relocated to Canada or staying in the camps. The group is working beyond ethnic and religious boundaries, and their efforts should be acknowledged.