Greek conjugations, stone cathedrals, and stories from catacombs may not seem relevant to the Mennonite churches in East Africa, which use an assortment of indigenous African languages and meet in structures built of corrugated tin. Still, Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) graduate Aram DiGennaro, MDiv ’05, gives testimony to the relevance of advanced theological training within today’s simple-church movements in developing nations.
Although most of DiGennaro’s classmates were preparing to pastor established North American Mennonite churches, DiGennaro sensed that he was preparing for something different.
And he was right. Today DiGennaro is directing the work of Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) in East Africa. He designs and implements EMM’s projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Africa, and his team hopes to stretch into Somaliland in the near future.
DiGennaro’s work in seminary focused on Western church history,and his familiarity with past faith movements helps him analyze the societal factors and belief patterns he encounters in African missiology today:
“When I look at a church’s trajectory, I instinctively look through the lens of hundreds of years of history. By understanding the past, I can help create the future.”
Class assignments he completed eight years ago continue to speak into DiGennaro’s perspective on current issues in Africa. One paper he researched and wrote for his “Theology of Economics” class continues to be particularly helpful, as he interacts daily with Africa’s grinding poverty and broken social structures.
“An accurate appraisal of the economic reality in Africa – neither submitting to poverty nor idolizing wealth – is one of the most powerful assets a leader in this context can hold,” he explains.
He says it was “a tremendous privilege” to set apart three years for study at EMS. The atmosphere at the seminary – with a firm belief in the movement of God’s Spirit, and a nuanced understanding of God’s will for the world – generated life in a deep and rich way. His time at seminary was a time of reflection, looking toward action, which now grounds his life of missional engagement.
Although DiGennaro initially wondered if advanced theological education was a good investment for someone headed into cross-cultural missions, he frequently experiences convergence moments between the two. “My layered understanding of the Gospel changes everything.”
Courtesy of Eastern Mennonite Missions