Peter M. Sensenig, Peace Clan: Mennonite Peacemaking in Somalia, Pickwick, Eugene, OR, 2016. 260 pp. $25.60. ISBN: 9781498231015.
What happens when sincere disciples of different faiths meet in weakness? That’s the question Peter M. Sensenig explores in Peace Clan: Mennonite Peacemaking in Somalia. In this volume, he documents the story of over sixty years of Mennonite witness and service in Somalia. Working from primary sources, Sensenig documents the relationships between Somali Muslims, pacifist Mennonite missionaries, and Mennonite Central Committee workers.
Drawing on the work of many who have taught conflict transformation and world religions, Sensenig often cites John Paul Lederach and Mark Gopin. He embraces the just peacemaking theory and practice pioneered by his mentor Glen Stassen at Fuller Theological Seminary, and he echoes the missiology of David Shenk; keeping one’s identity in Christ clear while welcoming and valuing the contribution of the other is a constant theme.
Mennonites in North America have long struggled with how to understand the calling of the Great Commission in relation to the Sermon on the Mount. Should we emphasize evangelism or service? In his strongest chapter, “Salt, Light and Deeds,” Sensenig uses the Mennonite experiences in Somalia as a lens to help us better understand Matthew 5:13–16. He argues that Mennonite peacemaking work in Somalia followed the mission Jesus gave his disciples to be a community of salt, light, and deeds. Mennonite peacemakers used these terms to describe their commitments: salt refers to communal practices that witness to Jesus the Prince of Peace, light points toward God’s saving work and elicits the cultural resources that will glorify God, and deeds refer to acts of service that reflect God’s concern for the well-being of people. The community that embodies these traits embodies an alternative to the violence of the powers. As Sensenig states, “In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus initiates a family whose means and ends are peace—in Somali terms, a peace clan” (92).
“What can it possibly mean when someone identifies as a Somali Muslim Mennonite?” Sensenig asks (220). He then argues that such a label is not an oxymoron if Mennonites are understood as a peace clan that provides the imaginative framework for Muslims and Mennonites to partner together. In this argument, he makes a distinction between the peace clan and the church. The peace clan centers its identity on peacemaking, while the church centers its identity on Jesus crucified and resurrected. If we understand Mennonites as a peace clan, then it is quite reasonable to think that it is possible to be a Somali Muslim Mennonite.
Sensenig quite rightly suggests that Mennonite peacemakers should draw on any and all sources for peacemaking. He makes a strong case for the resourcefulness of Sufi peacemaking traditions and encourages us to draw on Quranic sources, even as we return to biblical texts.
Peacemaking is something lived, even by Jesus. It is not singularly based on his teachings. From my Anabaptist theological perspective, however, peacemaking without Jesus, the one who returned grace and mercy even in the face of death, is powerless to bring forgiveness and reconciliation. Mennonite peacemakers in Somali lived what Dr. Larycia Hawkins calls “embodied solidarity”:1 knowing their suffering Lord, they were empowered to enter fully into the lives of their communities.
Mennonite institutions should consider making this text required reading for anyone engaged in theology, missiology, peacemaking, service, or witness in their many forms. Peacemakers from other traditions will also benefit from this research. Why? “Mennonites have understood rightly that the seeds of peace are sown in relationship, founded on the hope that God is calling out a peace clan who can teach one another how to walk in the light of the Lord” (235).
Jonathan Bornman is a consultant on Eastern Mennonite Missions’ Christian/Muslim Relations Team. He enjoys sharing life with his wife, Carol, in Lancaster, PA, and with friends from many nations.