Relics from the early years of Mennonite mission work in Argentina: Catholic religious medals and symbols “given up” by converts. T.K. Hershey carried this little collection with him when he returned to tour North American churches. Sewed on to green sateen cloth and rolled up with a black velvet tie, he could unfurl this object lesson of mission success in individual or group presentations. From the museum collection, Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen (Ind.) College.
Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Mennonite missions in Argentina. On September 11, 1917, the families of T.K. and Mae (Hertzler) Hershey and J.W. and Emma (Hershey) Shank stepped off the S.S. Vauban in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Shank had pursued a vision for mission outreach to Spanish-speaking people for over a decade. The Hersheys, inspired by the example of earlier missionaries to India, had first worked in a city mission in Youngstown. The call to Argentina reached them in La Junta, Colorado where they had gone due to T.K.’s health. In January 1919, after language study and scouting trips, the two families settled in Pehuajó, about 230 miles southwest of Buenos Aires. Hershey later recalled that they were viewed as “foreigners, heretics, Protestants—despised, hated folks.”[^1] (Hershey. I’d Do It Again, 1961) In those early years, most of the Mennonite mission work in Argentina focused on evangelizing Catholics. (See Hershey’s translation of the tract they distributed in Pehaujó during that first year). In the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen, we have many published and other resources to explore some of the many results of those first Mennonite steps on Argentinian soil: evolving approaches to mission, influence on outreach to Spanish-speaking people in Chicago, examples of collaboration and alienation, and much more.
Joe Springer, Curator, Mennonite Historical Library
Lines of Memory and Encounter on the ‘Mission Field
Panel 2: Friday, June 23, 8:30 to 10
Three presenters gave papers focused on women on the “mission field”—either those serving as missionaries, or being missionized.
Joel Horst Nofziger presents his paper on Eastern Mennonite Mission workers in Ethiopia.
‘I Was the Kind of Woman Whom the Culture Expected’: The Experience of Mennonite Missionary Women in Ethiopia
By Joel Horst Nofziger, Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society
- Recorded and transcribed oral histories of ten Eastern Mennonite Mission workers who served in Ethiopia in the 1940s-1990s.
- Explored the challenges of language training—and lack thereof. While women missionaries wanted such training, mission administrators rarely supplied it. As a result, these missionaries often experienced loneliness and tended to communicate only with those who shared their language, mostly other missionaries and male converts.
- Described the interpersonal, cultural, and religious challenges associated with “intercultural mixing.” Although EMM actively discouraged it, some single women missionaries married Ethiopian men. These couples faced discipline from the mission board as well as social stigma.
- Conclusion: EMM workers crossed national lines as well as cultural and religious boundaries in their work.
“Mennonite Brethren Missionary Women Encounter Dalit Women in Colonial South India”
By Yennamalla Jayaker, Mennonite Brethren Centenary Bible College:
- Twentieth-century Mennonite Brethren mission workers in colonial South India had significant impact, especially in uplifting Dalits (the “untouchables,” members of the lowest caste system) through education.
- MB missionaries provided not just religious education, but also general education in subjects such as reading, writing, etc.
- Women missionaries played a key role in these educational endeavor, as school builders, teachers, and more. The key to their success was learning the local language of the Dalit and teaching in that language, rather than English.
“Gendered Historical Memory, Tanzania Mennonite Church Women and the East African Revival, 1940s-1950s”
By Jan Bender Shetler, Goshen College:
- Due to a family situation, Bender Shetler could not attend and instead sent a student to read her paper.
- Advancing the work of Africanists such as Derek Peterson, Bender argued that the East African Revival was not only a cosmopolitan, transnational discourse that provided Christian converts with an alternative to the nationalist discourse of ethnic patriots—but also a gendered discourse.
- Through participation in this revival movement, church women learned a particular kind of life narrative or testimony (in which they described their move from spiritual darkness to salvation) that they repeated in church settings. This testimony enabled them to resist certain tribal rituals (i.e. female circumcision) and to understand storytelling as a form of empowerment—one that was threatening to male leaders.
- In this sense, the East African Revival was a “feminist space,” one in which women participated in cross-ethnic fellowship and forged relationships beyond the Mennonite Church and beyond Tanzania.
See other writings on “Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries” here.