When early missionaries arrived in their respective locations they found that educational opportunities, even on the elementary level were not available to large segments of the population. This was especially true in rural areas and among the economically and socially marginal people. In some cultures formal educational opportunities (schools) were for boys and young men only. The notion of universal educational opportunity, which Western missionaries brought with them, thus motivated the establishment of schools. Records show that as educational efforts showed up on the agenda of the mission agencies, there was also considerable questioning and resistance on the part of certain constituencies in the supporting sending churches. Not fully understanding the needs in the respective fields, there were those who were critical of the attention and resources devoted to schools. These people thought that missionaries and their resources should he devoted to the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of souls.
Missionaries perceived that literacy was important to overcome social and economic exploitation and to enable people, whether Christian or non-Christian, to experience fuller lives. For Christians, literacy was necessary to enable individual and corporate reading of the Scriptures, hymns, and other religious literature. A literate and enlightened body of Christians was essential to the growth and development of the national church and its ministries. Leadership training for men and women would provide indigenous leadership for the churches as well as for the communication of the gospel to non-Christian neighbors. The whole spectrum of educational institutions (elementary, middle, secondary, and Bible schools; colleges and seminaries) emerged on the mission scene. On the collegiate and seminary level involvement was cooperative with other mission groups.
Vocational education of various kinds (e.g., carpentry) as well as professional training, (nursing schools, normal schools for teachers) were responses to the human and institutional needs encountered in most fields where Mennonite missions operated. Such training and resultant economic opportunity provided income-producing employment for people who were then better able to support themselves, their dependents, and the program of the indigenous church. This was especially true in those settings where it was common for converts to be ostracized or boycotted (Hindu caste discipline) or otherwise alienated from the social and economic security of their respective communities. Orphan children who came to the mission orphanages needed more than elementary schooling if they were to become homemakers and self-supporting responsible community and church members.
Religious instruction was included in the curriculum of the mission-maintained institutions. Sometimes this was limited by the social and political climate of the country. Prescribed state curricula and standards needed to be respected. Generally nationals who had the qualifications required by government standards were employed. Although preference was given to Christian candidates because of the objectives of the school, they were not always available in specific subject areas.
Bible schools and pastors' training schools prepared evangelists, teachers, and pastors. In some cases these schools were cooperative ventures supported by several mission agencies. On the seminary level three Mennonite groups (Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, and Mennonite Brethren Church) have participated in the interdenominational Union Biblical Seminary at Pune, India (formerly at Yavatmal). In Colombia the Mennonite Brethren mission participated in the United Biblical Seminary of Colombia, which was unique in its efforts to provide theological education by extension. In Indonesia the Dutch Mennonite efforts in theological education were also cooperative in structure.
Schools established by the missions have in some settings continued under the auspices of the national churches. Others have been closed as respective governments have made provision for educational needs. Others were transferred to government control as part of emerging national educational systems. It can be said that the pioneering in and modeling of education for boys and girls, and young men and women have been significant factors in social change, as well as contributing to the indigenization of the churches. The schools have made a lasting contribution to many individuals and to the enrichment of the communities where they brought the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel's concern for the whole person. The records will show, furthermore, that many persons trained in mission schools have risen to significant places of leadership, not only in the church, but in educational work, commerce, industry, and national governments.
See also Sprunger, Lilly Bachman and Vernon.
Barrett, Lois. The Vision and the Reality: The Story of Home Missions in the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1983: 19-23.
Burkhalter, Martha R. "Higher Education of Women in India under Christian Auspices." MRE thesis, Biblical Seminary in New York, 1934.
Dyck, Ernest P. "An Analyisis of American In-Service Education as a Basis for the Improvement of In-Service Teachers in the American Mennonite Brethren Mission in the Belgian Congo." MA thesis, U. of Washington, Seattle, 1959.
Good, Mary M. "A Tentative Program of Study for the Garjan Memorial School." M.A. thesis, George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville, 1936.
Juhnke, James C. A People of Mission: A History of General Conference Mennonite Overseas Missions. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1979: 35-37.
Lapp, John Allen. The Mennonite Church in India, 1897-1962, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, vol. 14. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1972: 117-135.
Lehman, Martin C. "Experiments in Rural Education Work at Dhamtari C. P. India." Fourteen Experiments in Rural Education. Editor A. B. Van Doren. Calcutta: Association Press, 1928: 26-39.
Martens, Phyllis. The Mustard Seed: Story of Mennonite Brethren Missions. Fresno, CA: Mennonite Brethren Board of Christian Education, 1971.
Miller, Ernest E. "The Problem of National Education in India." MA thesis, Biblical Seminary in New York, 1929.
Muganda, Josiah M. "The Impact of the Mennonite Missions on Mara Region, Tanzania 1934-1967." MA thesis, Howard U., 1978.
Pannabecker, Samuel F. The Christian Mission of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, 1961.
Royer, Mary Neuhauser. "Education of Village Children in a Central Province, India." MA thesis, George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville, 1931.
Schlabach, Theron F. Gospel Versus Gospel. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980: 132-143.
Thiessen, John J. "The Synagogue and the Mission School: How the Synagogue in St. Paul's Time Prepared the Mindset of the People for the Gospel." MA thesis, Bluffton College, 1931.
Yoder, Lawrence M. "The Church of the Muria: A History of the Muria Christian Church of Indonesia," MTh diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1981.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 595-596. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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