What If…

For some 500 years Mennonites have differentiated themselves by adhering to some fundamental beliefs. No one belief by itself makes Mennonites different, but taken as a whole they certainly can claim a unique status. Among these basic principles are the priesthood of all believers, separation of church and state, simplicity of life-styles, not swearing an oath, belief that community is both vertical and horizontal, that the Bible is central, adherence to believer’s baptism, and abstaining from military service. While these principles do not mention it specifically, Mennonites have attempted to live out those principles with practical service.

It appears that during the Coronavirus epidemic people are even more willing to serve by offering to help, checking in on neighbors, or planning to help once out from under the restrictions.

So what is the What if…? Service is innate to most Mennonites. What if rather than responding to government-offered alternatives to the draft, what if Mennonites would volunteer for such service – even when no draft is existence. What if Mennonites of drafting age would show up at conscription centers and announce that they are here to help in any way needed, as long as they were not asked to carry weapons? Without weapons these volunteers might even choose to put on the military uniform if a peace emblem prominently displayed. What a wonderful opportunity this would be to pass out tracts about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7), to participate in evening discussions, and, in case of war, volunteering for go to the dangerous front lines aiding wounded soldiers!

The military might understandably be doubtful, shocked, even suspicious, but eventually might slowly adopt a new mode of thinking, and, in some cases, even become converts. What if we were bold enough to try this new way of evangelizing? I believe the world might take notice.


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Service While Standing Still

I grew up spending many days at Aunt Lucy’s house. In Lucy’s room there was a bulletin board with a large heading: “THINE FOR SERVICE,” and as a nurse, a children’s Sunday School teacher, a neighbor, a friend, and certainly as an aunt, Lucy lived out that motto more than anyone I knew.

Mag with her Aunt Lucy

As a child I remember Edna Ruth Byler, the founder of MCC’s self help ministry, bringing her trunk-load of mother of pearl jewelry (actually only pins) and Palestinian needlecraft into our living room and setting up shop for a few days. And there was Grandma, in her 90’s, hunched over her sewing machine, still piecing comforters for Mennonite Central Committee. That field trip I took to the city to shop for items for MCC Christmas Bundles was an annual highlight.

And my college education had a motto: “Culture for Service.”

Being a Mennonite-Anabaptist has meant looking for ways to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and shelter the destitute.  Following Jesus has meant looking out for the needs of others, as much as we look out for ourselves, and “THINE FOR SERVICE” has meant, in addition to our own daily arenas of service, supporting our sisters and brothers who are doing the hands-on, front -line action in all areas of the world.

As I write this, service in the Kingdom of God now includes social isolation, considering the needs of others and doing our small part in flattening the curve of spreading a virus. “Looking to the needs of others“ means walling up, staying home and standing still. This is NOT the kind of service we have known before.

Art by Annabella Habegger

So I am reminded of Darryl Byler’s father. Darryl, the long-time director of MCC Washington Office, shared in a sermon some years ago about his dad’s lifetime of active ministry. But near the end of his life, Darryl’s dad became a shut-in, and was stymied, not knowing NOW how to be useful in serving others. But then he began sending a note of encouragement to a different person each day. At his death, it was not his many years of active ministry that people were remembering, but it was those notes that became his lasting legacy.

There is a quote from MJ Sharp written on of a large vat in the Goshen Brew Company:  “We can always listen.”  MJ began his work in the CONGO with Mennonite Central Committee and then continued to work there under the auspices of the United Nations.  As many of you know, MJ and his colleague were abducted and murdered as they worked for peace among warring factions. Reporters from the New York Times and NPR describe MJ sitting under a banana tree with a warlord, listening to his story, offering alternative ways of meeting his goals. Over the course of several years, MJ and his team persuaded some 1,600 rebels to lay down their weapons, which impacted some 23,000 family members. Profound change and greater peace came from sitting still under a banana tree, listening.

In these days of being walled up and shut in “We can always listen.” We can listen to each other’s heart-cries. And we can listen to a SPIRIT OF PEACE that enables us to be bearers of peace to others. We can listen to a SPIRIT whose LOVE is larger than all our fears, We can attend to a SPIRIT who is creative and imaginative and offers us new ministry opportunities, when we stand still enough to listen. 

“THINE FOR SERVICE” does not stop when we stop our regular routines.  Always, always there are ways to reach out to those in need, to be of encouragement to one another and to keep those on the front lines (especially our health care workers and the MCC workers who are serving the most vulnerable) bathed and undergirded with our resources, prayers, and creativity.

LISTEN!


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About the artist

Annabella Habegger

Annabella Habegger is an artist living and working in Indianapolis. She graduated from IU Bloomington with a BFA in Digital Art. She enjoys exploring all types of media, often combining drawing with other materials.

The Bumps in the Road

Facts: My wife Lisa and I served with MCC starting in June 1994 for a three year term in Zambia. We served on a catholic mission where there was a school and hospital in the “bush”. I was a math teacher and Lisa was a nurse. We both worked in our respective profession with the Zambian’s at St. Joseph Mission in the copper belt of Zambia. We returned to the US earlier than expected in May 1995.

There is so much more than Facts. So much so that I will say the experiences we had in Zambia made us better people, made us more caring, made us have a better marriage.

We arrived in Zambia not knowing much at all about Africa. We found a lot of hardships. The poorness of the people, the rough living conditions, the lack of jobs available, the scarcity of medical facilities and supplies, and schooling children was financially out of reach and many had to travel great distances to attend.

But, with all of the hardships, the people were kind, caring, willing to help.  I loved playing soccer with all the children every Sunday afternoon. I started to plant a couple of banana trees in the front yard of our house only to have many people come over and dig for me. Lisa enjoyed her walks and sitting around talking with the other Zambian nurses. Lisa and I did everything together! No friends to talk to. No phones within 30 miles. No internet all! Our relationship became stronger.

But there were a lot of bumps in the road as we experienced our Zambia service. And when I say bumps, I literally mean horrible roads. Every road, every interstate had major crater problems that were unavoidable. With all these decrepit road problems, Lisa’s back problems came back in a vengeance. She needed back surgery. She was pregnant with Marie. We made the tough decision to end our MCC assignment earlier then we wanted.

Our bumps in the road changed to more challenges. Coming back in May, I could not find a teaching job. We didn’t know where we were going to live. Lisa was unable to work. I felt empty for not completing an assignment I signed up for. We felt we let our Zambian friends down, but we had no choice.

Lisa and I took these bumps and moved forward. The lack of finding a teaching job led me to the financial services industry. We have found ways to help the poor and marginalized. We have instilled a sense of volunteerism in Marie and Nolan. We have tried to look at ways to connect with foreigners.

We are so happy we went to Zambia. We are so happy we had bumps in the road to make us come back early. We are so happy that our life bumps has lead us to the places we have lived and the experiences that made us better.

Listen to God’s call. Be open to change. Take risks. Work through disappointments. And enjoy the life you have.


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MennoExpressions Volume 33, No. 2 | Spring 2020

Articles in this Issue

We Will Overcome by the MennoExpressions Editorial Board

Service While Standing Still by Mag Richer Smith

What If… by Erv Boschmann 

A New Way of Seeing by Carla Schmid

The Bumps in the Road by Kevin Schloneger

Leprosy, foreign languages and new cultures by Heidi Boschmann Amstutz

My Connection to Missions by Doug Schwartzentruber

Sewing Seeds of Service by JB Miller

A Year of Growth and Giving by Karla Hovde

Expanding Horizons by Carol Mullet

Obituaries by Erv Boschmann

A New Way of Seeing

“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”

–Dave Hollis

Did you watch The Wizard of Oz as a kid? There’s this moment when Dorothy first sets foot into the magical Land of Oz. Suddenly, the black and white film transitions to a world of color—everything changes. Sights, sounds, shadows—nothing is left untouched by the change into this sunburst world. Our entire perspective as viewers is altered as everything comes into hyperfocus.

I have had this moment on instant-replay in my head as the world has shifted underneath our feet these past few weeks. We, too, have had an entire shift of perspective. We, too, are entering unknown territory. For us, this journey has not been a benign, cotton candy experience. This journey, which is not yet over, has been painful, anxiety-producing, and downright scary. But there has also been beauty.

As nature has seemingly hit the “pause button” and lives have been disrupted and forced to slow down—we’re beginning to see things differently. Our family has begun to treasure a daily walk, waving to neighbors from a safe distance, taking the time to listen to the birds chatter, and simply experiencing one another in new ways. I’ve begun baking homemade bread again, and the feel of my hands kneading the dough is as sacred as the beads of my rosary I used to clasp as a child. We have also begun to “see” people in our personal circles who we took for granted—mail carriers, garbage collectors, cashiers, people bagging our groceries, environmental service workers, the list goes on and on. These people are now, quite literally, heroes during this crisis—keeping civilization going–and last week we didn’t even SEE them!

Prior to the COVID crisis, I was already working through some anxiety issues and seeing an amazing therapist. We have moved our sessions to conference calls in light of recent events. This week I was sharing with her how my anxiety has almost vanished—stressors that kept me up at night no longer have any relevance (deadlines, my boss’s approval, the hell that is Microsoft Excel.). It’s really got me thinking about the future and what patterns/choices we invite into our lives as we move forward. I pray that for those of us who have the privilege of doing so, we lean into the opportunity of evaluating our life choices and honestly “see” ourselves for, quite possibly, the first time in a looooong time. Maybe this looks like mindfulness practices—meditation, journaling, or yoga. Maybe it looks like having hard conversations with our life partner or family. Whatever it is, may we be brave enough to reflect, heal, and explore new ways of being.


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Expanding Horizons

Packed trains, crowded sidewalks, unfamiliar smells, bewildering signs and a perplexing language that sounded completely unlike the vocabulary and grammar lessons that we so diligently studied before our arrival. Here we were in Tokyo, Japan – a city and country unlike any in our experience.

Married Goshen College graduates, Wade and I had enjoyed several jobs each, but both felt a tug toward doing some type of service. After exploring a variety of options, we surprised ourselves and our families when we settled on working as support personnel for JEM, a small mission organization centered on providing Bible training for church pastors and teachers in Niigata prefecture, on the west coast of Japan, a country where less than one percent of the residents identify as Christians. Wade focused on photography and creating slide shows while I composed newsletters and other communication as needed by the organization. Preparing for this venture included three months of language and cultural training in Washington DC before finally arriving in Kashiwazaki, our hometown for two amazing years. In that time, aside from one preplanned phone call, staying in touch with family and friends in the US was through blue aerogramme letters and occasional photographs.

Adjusting to an ancient culture vastly different from our rural Ohio setting provided exciting as well as daunting experiences that broadened our Mennonite horizons, expanded our spiritual growth, and taught us more than we could imagine about working together harmoniously as a couple and as part of a caring team of diverse coworkers. Several have remained special friends for fifty years. The most consequential event during our time in Japan was welcoming our dear baby daughter Leah, born on the Emperor’s birthday!

Art by Annabella Habegger

Looking back after many years, we can still see life changing lessons and habits from our time of service. Some are simple, like never wearing shoes in the house, eating Asian food with chopsticks, or feeling the need for a slight bow when greeting or thanking someone. These actions became so much a part of our everyday life that we almost forget their origin.

We remember gracious manners that permeate the culture, and understand the value of adopting behaviors that benefit the community, rather than insisting on personal freedom to do as we please.  

Respect for history, tradition and beauty is so ingrained, that Japan designates artists, and others who have contributed to society as Living National Treasures. I think this focus has inspired us to appreciate the ever-changing beauty in nature and also to encourage the talents and skills of family and friends in their ventures. I could also wax on and on about the techniques and delights of arranging flowers that are so esteemed in Japan!

We remain grateful for the Lord’s leading and protection that we felt in so many ways. Wise leaders supported us and became “family” to fill in when ours were far away. Singing and worshipping together in varied settings brought encouragement. Our lives have been immeasurably enriched through the time we spent in the Land of the Rising Sun, and the joy lingers in myriad ways.


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About the artist

Annabella Habegger

Annabella Habegger is an artist living and working in Indianapolis. She graduated from IU Bloomington with a BFA in Digital Art. She enjoys exploring all types of media, often combining drawing with other materials.

Sewing Seeds of Service

I made my first trip to Cuba in April 2012 with a group from Witness for Peace (WFP). Soon after that visit, I began organizing People to People trips there under the auspices of the Sarasota Chapter of MEDA. People to People trips provide opportunities for travelers to have direct contact with Cuban people and provide a window to their everyday life.

The MEDA Sarasota chapter had particular interest in supporting entrepreneurial activities which might be emerging in Cuba in a changing economic landscape. As a communist/socialist country, Cuba is not known for its support of entrepreneurial pursuits, and yet there were many people who were operating small businesses in challenging environments.

In 2016, we met two women who had just launched a sewing cooperative. The leader, Alina, a domestic abuse survivor, shared her vision. If she could teach other survivors to sew, they could gain economic independence, and the cooperative members could provide emotional support for each other. As I listened to Alina speak, I was moved by her passion, but I had to wonder how she could accomplish this with a couple old sewing machines, a few accessories, and working out of a small screened front porch. She had one cloth bag for sale, which we bought. As we left, we said, “When we come back next time, have more things for us to buy.”

Returning a few months later with our group, the sewing cooperative was prepared for us. There were now four members. They had Christmas ornaments, clothing and small stuffed toys for sales. Our group purchased some items, but most of their customers were people from the community.

On our last trip in November 2019, the cooperative had 16 members and included a woman with Down’s Syndrome and a man who was deaf. The cooperative was now co-ed. They had made enough profit to purchase their own space, a third-floor room that held numerous sewing machines and other accessories needed for their business. They were clearly a sustainable organization.

A late update. On March 30th, we received a message from Alina. In November, someone from our group had donated squares of cloth; probably quilt patches, that the women didn’t know what to make with them. Here is her message. “Without realizing it, we were preparing for this time. We designed a really useful mask with three layers of cotton fabric and then the colorful fabric on the outside of the masks. We donate the masks to people who can’t afford to buy them and sell the others. It is so wonderful to provide employment to more women who are making masks, thanks for all the fabric.”

One of the greatest satisfactions that I’ve had in my time in Cuba is to see this group of women, under the leadership of a visionary, succeed and thrive. In our last time together, Alina shared that her Christian faith compelled her to help people who are in need, and they plan to continue to grow.


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A Year of Growth and Giving

When I was in college, I knew that I wanted to do a year-long program after graduation to get experience in digital media, my field of study. More importantly, I realized that I have been given so many opportunities and blessings in my life, and it was time to start giving back.

Initially, I looked into programs within the US, because the idea of serving internationally for an entire year seemed like something only other, braver, more confident people did, not me! But when I heard that Mennonite Central Committee‘s one year service program for young adults (SALT) had a social media position open in Bangladesh with an organization called Basha, I was intrigued. When I learned that Basha works with women survivors of trafficking, I was convinced. Using my digital media skills to serve an important cause was clearly an opportunity I was meant to take. Ten months later, and I can say it was absolutely the right decision!

My role includes social media, filming, photography, and graphic design, and matching saris for the kanthas! I love my work at Basha, but living in Dhaka has not been easy. With an estimated population of 20 million, Dhaka was a huge shock coming from a small town of 2,000! Going through culture shock is a difficult and ongoing process, but I have surprised myself in my ability to be flexible and to adapt to circumstances. Now the thought of navigating the city alone by bus or rickshaw seems normal rather than terrifying!

During my time in Bangladesh, I have learned that I can make do with so much less. I don’t need more than 7 sets of clothing. I don’t need air conditioning, even when it is 100 degrees for weeks. I don’t need most of the “necessary” things we spend money on in the US. I have also found what I do need. I need my family. I need friends. I need people to worship with each week. I need a time and a place to exercise. I need to see the sky.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is trying to understand the lives of the women who work at Basha. Their lives have been different from mine in every possible way, full of poverty, exploitation, and indescribable trauma that I have never experienced in my sheltered, privileged upbringing. I have no reference to be able to understand their anger and their pain. I don’t know if I can say that I’ve overcome this challenge, but perhaps I have gotten a little better at having an attitude of compassion rather than one of judgment.

Young people, if you’re considering volunteering internationally, DO IT! Even if you have doubts, concerns, or fears. You don’t have to be particularly brave or qualified. Service isn’t about changing the world but about being changed yourself by joining the work that is already being done in the place you serve. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do and one of the best things as well.

When I go home, I will tell the Basha story to everyone I can. I will share the stories of women who have gone through so much hardship, yet have changed their lives with little more than a bit of education and a safe place to work. I will share about the children who would have grown up to be exploited themselves, but are now thriving and planning for bright futures. I will share about these beautiful kantha blankets and the women who are keeping their traditional craft alive and pulling themselves out of poverty at the same time.


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Leprosy, foreign languages and new cultures

In January 1991 (as the Gulf War had just started), I spent four months volunteering at the Leprosy Colony KM 81 in Paraguay. My great grandparents had volunteered there in the early 1950s. I had just graduated from Goshen College with a Biology degree, and had worked short term jobs in landscaping and in a laboratory. I was still figuring out next steps toward a career. Through family and friend connections, my friend Maria and I embarked on a four month service term in Paraguay. I volunteered at the Leprosy Colony which was 81 kilometers from the capital city (hence the name KM 81). Maria volunteered in a daycare (“Guardaria”) in Asuncion.

The Leprosy Colony is a compound staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, pharmacists, a physical therapist, prosthetist and others. Local people travel hours for health care needs. There is a hospital onsite for those needing acute medical attention. There is also a clinic where people come for basic health care needs and medications. The Physical Therapist, Annie (a volunteer from Germany) would educate patients on the importance of daily foot inspection for any injuries or skin issues. Leprosy, while mostly eradicated in the US – but not in Paraguay – is a highly contagious disease. It damages nerve endings and decreases blood flow (similar to diabetes) which can also delay or prevent healing. If patients with leprosy have a small foot wound, the patient will not feel pain. Patients walk on a small wound unknowingly for weeks until a severe foot wound develops. Often patients need surgeries, and have resulting misshapen feet, or even amputations. The prosthetist assists in creating custom made shoes, or new prosthetic limbs as needed.

There were and still are many young volunteers at the Leprosy Colony from the surrounding Mennonite Colonies (i.e. Fernheim, Loma Plata, Bergtal), as well as from abroad. I spent my time with the young volunteers rotating between the kitchen, laundry room and general cleaning. Many of the volunteers were German Mennonites speaking Low German. I had studied High German throughout college, but this was different than the Low German spoken here. The patients were often native Paraguayans speaking Spanish. There are also many Indigenous people in Paraguay speaking Guarani. I learned that Paraguay is a melting pot of cultures and languages, making communication challenging at times.

On one “field trip” I was able to travel with a doctor to the outlying villages. Here the doctor did follow up visits with patients who were unable to travel to the clinic. He even took lab samples to check for the status of various diseases right there in their homes. It was a mobile lab!

A typical carved horn for drinking ‘mate’.

Despite my language barrier, I made friends and connections with other volunteers. On weekends off, I traveled by bus to Asunción to be with my friend Maria, and visit my Opa and Oma.

While adjusting to the language and cultural differences was challenging, this was a very rich four months away. This is one of the life experiences that helped to steer me into the path of Physical Therapy.


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We Will Overcome

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.

Hebrews 6:19

Help each other bear your burdens! In this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2
By Dorothea Lange – Public domain

We resonate with the image of this depression-era young mother who was looking for hope. She was destitute; she was looking for work, how could she feed her many children, and what will tomorrow bring?

In this COVID-19 time we too are looking for hope. We are looking for hope that our friends and family will be well. We are looking for hope that those most needy will be comforted. We are grateful for all the good deeds performed by our friends and neighbors; kindness is indeed contagious; and we are looking for a solution for this mysterious virus sweeping the world; we are looking for hope that the future will be bright.

It is curious that this challenge comes as we celebrate 100 years of MCC, whose slogan is to serve “In the name of Christ.” There has been a rather extensive discussion among the MennoExpressions board and writers how to structure this edition: some said to postpone it, some said it did not matter to them, some said to publish a special issue, and some said it would be best to have an opening statement, then proceed as planned.

And it was pointed out that during this self-imposed quarantine it will be good to have some celebratory reading. We will overcome!

Before continuing to read, do take a moment, go to YouTube, and listen to Yo-Yo Ma playing a J. S. Bach suite, and/or a version of your choice of “We Shall Overcome.”

Do share with us your hopes and fears.


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