Bio: Carol Roth [Choctaw] is staff leader for Native Mennonite Ministries, a group that does liaison work between Native Mennonites and the broader Mennonite church.
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1. What are you most passionate about in your vocational role?
I’m passionate about working with the Native Mennonite people and helping them find a place in the Mennonite church. Unfortunately, some of the Native churches aren’t close to the Mennonite conferences, so you have to drive 800 miles to be connected to a conference, especially when you live on a reservation without internet or telephone. So my role is to connect the conference ministers and the conference with the Native churches and get them involved.
2. How did you come to straddle the Mennonite and Choctaw traditions?
When my twin sister and I were born [on a Choctaw reservation in Mississippi], my mom felt like she couldn’t give adequate care to two newborns. It happened that there were Mennonite missionaries who had moved nearby to help with the Choctaw group, and my parents asked if they could care for us for the winter. My parents realized how well they were taking care of us, so they asked if they could continue to care for us. My parents didn’t want them to adopt us, because they wanted us to keep our culture. So we grew up with the Mennonite missionaries, and then pretty much for all our lives attended one of the Choctaw churches.
3. Are there major differences in the Mennonite and Choctaw traditions in communication or worship style?
As I was growing up, the Mennonites in Mississippi were trying to acculturate themselves to the Choctaw people, rather than change the Choctaw ways. So there wasn’t a big difference between the two [traditions.] Still, Native American culture is really slow to process things. They’re not in a hurry to give a quick answer. So sometimes when I’m in a Constituency Leaders Council meeting [to engage in conference-to-conference dialogue], they’ll ask me a direct question and I’ll say, “Let me think about it.”
For the Mennonite church, it’s making an effort to continue to welcome Native Americans to the church, boards, and leadership positions. For example, at the next Mennonite convention, they want to do a display of Native American things, whether it is pictures or hearing our stories. Native Americans have a lot of untold stories that are fascinating. I really feel the importance of hearing them.
5. How do you envision the church in 20 years?
I would like to see more Native pastors in the churches. I would also like Native churches to have good connections with their conferences. I really hope there can be a good connection both ways.
—Interview by Rebecca Kraybill