International Relations

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Mennonite global awareness and involvement has been shaped by several activities of which the first is migration. Mennonites have moved around considerably in this century and that has had a broadening influence. The major 20th century Mennonite movements have been from the Soviet Union to Canada (1920s and 1940s), South America (1930s and 1940s), and Germany (1970s, 1980s and 1990s); from Canada to Mexico (1920s), Paraguay (1920s and 1950s), and Bolivia (1970s); and from Mexico to Belize and Bolivia (1970s) and back to Canada. In the 1980s Mennonites helped a significant number of Asian refugees to immigrate to Canada and the United States. This activity has diversified the cultural exposure of North American Mennonites.

Mennonite world awareness and involvement has also been broadened through participation in mission and service activities. From 1852 to 1935 Mennonites and Brethren in Christ went as missionaries to the East Indies (Indonesia), India, China, the Congo, South Africa, East Africa, and Argentina. Mission work expanded to Japan, Taiwan, and other countries of Latin America, Europe, and Africa in the 1950s and following decades. In 1920 the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) was established to minister to Mennonites starving in Russia. Following World War II MCC engaged in sizable relief and reconstruction projects in Europe and helped relocate war refugees in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. This experience helped to establish a partner relationship between Mennonites in North America, South America and Europe.

By the 1950s the Mennonite world awareness had reached a point where Mennonite agencies were expected to respond to major needs wherever they occurred. Major development and relief programs have been undertaken in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Central America, Greece, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Korea, and Vietnam. In Africa the emphasis was on education through the Teachers Abroad Program initiated in the early 1960s. Literally hundreds of teachers have served in a variety of schools under church and government administration with a special concentration in such countries as Malawi, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. Teaching assignments in China and Japan became common in the 1970s and 1980s (international exchanges).

As of 1984 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ mission and service boards had 1,397 appointed workers in overseas assignments with a combined budget of $27 million. In 1999 the Mennonite World Conference listed Mennonite or Mennonite-related groups with a combined membership of 1,060,143 in 60 countries. Representatives of these churches meet approximately every 6 years in the Mennonite World Conference which provides a truly global experience of international sisterhood and brotherhood.

Through participation in these activities Mennonites have gone beyond studying the global scene theoretically. Mennonites have become involved, not only by sending money but through sending their sons and daughters, and in following them with their support.

The practice of addressing world need through the medium of workers who come out of the membership ranks has resulted in many congregations having one or more members who have served overseas. Most of the faculty members of Mennonite colleges have served or studied overseas. Most Mennonite colleges have programs which permit or in some cases, require students to study abroad. Mennonite business persons have created their own organization (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) to support and partner with entrepreneurs in other countries. In the 1930s the Kansas Institute for International Relations at Bethel College (Kansas) was an early effort to raise consciousness about issues of international politics, economics, and disarmament.

Mennonites, because of their history, have felt a special concern for suffering which results from political disruption. Mennonites have experience and skills which permit them to participate in development and disaster relief programs. Mennonite understanding of Scripture calls for a readiness to help persons in need. Mission and service organizations have been brought into existence to give practical expression to these concerns.

Through this multifaceted global exposure Mennonites are coming to a new understanding of Christian responsibility which transcends national borders, of the missionary character of the church, and of the enrichment which results from exposure to other cultures and other Christians.


In addition to Nelson Springer and A. J. Klassen, compilers, Mennonite Bibliography, 1631-1961, 2 vols. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977, nos. 7731, 8057, 25172, 27131, see An Annotated Bibliography of Mennonite Writings on War and Peace, 1930-1980, ed. Willard Swartley and Cornelius J. Dyck. Scottdale, PA : Herald Press 1987: 230-37.

Peachey, Urbane, ed. The Role of the Church in Society: an International Perspective. Mennonite World Conference, 1988.

Additional Information

Mennonite Central Committee

Mennonite Economic Development Associates

Mennonite World Conference

Author(s) Edgar Stoesz
Date Published 1990

Cite This Article

MLA style

Stoesz, Edgar. "International Relations." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 19 Aug 2022.

APA style

Stoesz, Edgar. (1990). International Relations. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 August 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 452. All rights reserved.

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