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

MCC: Receiving by Giving

“It is in giving that we receive” – St Francis of Assisi

“They who lose their lives shall find them” – Jesus of Nazareth

While much of the MCC centenary celebration is focused on the untold millions who were the fortunate recipients of MCC, this article concentrates on the benefits that accrued to the MCC and it’s constituency. 

MCC helped the constituency pushing back old boundaries

In 1920 the North American Mennonite constituency consisted mostly of persons of Europeans ancestry. They were hard working, God-fearing people, living mostly in rural enclaves. Many were first or second generation immigrants. Their world was small and simple. On Sundays, these large families gathered in modest but functional church buildings where many still sang from German hymnals and were ministered to by devout but untrained preachers.

MCC was essentially in recess in the decade of the 1930s. It had neither a permanent staff nor a headquarters. The office moved from Scottdale, PA, to Akron, PA, in 1935 when Orie O. Miller was named Executive Secretary.

As the decade of the 30s was coming to a close, Mennonites began to feel threatened by war clouds in Europe that culminated in WW II. That was a watershed moment. To populate the armies needed to fight this two-front war, the Selective Service System was brought into being. It’s long arm reached into these rural communities and found draft age men who refused to participate in the military. They were assigned to camps strategically scattered across Canada and the United States in a program known as Civilian Public Service, administered by MCC. 

Following WWII, and MCC’s robust feeding and resettlement programs, MCC was catapulted into an internationally known organization. 

The Mennonite map was redrawn. In the next decade the historic Mennonite “capitals,” like Mountain Lake, MN; Marion, SD; Meade, KS; as well as areas in Canada such as Coaldale, Alberta and Swift Current, Sask, etc, became hollowed-out. Concurrently, the urban option ushered in church plants in cities such as Indianapolis, IN; Topeka, KS; Denver, CO; Cincinnati, OH and New York City.

So it was that, completely unintended, but guided by God’s invisible hand, MCC participated in reshaping and modernizing the North American Anabaptist world. 

MCC’s role in inter Mennonite cooperation

Yet another unintended consequence of MCC’s sudden appearance was its role in inter Mennonite relationships. North American Mennonites have never been one homogeneous body. The Swiss migration began already in the late 1600s, followed 150 years later by an influx from Russia. Within Russia they came from many different villages. The Mountain Lake, MN, community, for example, came from more than 50 Russian villages. They eventually organized themselves into 9 semi independent congregations representing 3 conferences.

Both streams, upon arriving on these shores, were attracted to good land in the Midwest expanse, but there was little or no coordination between the two bodies. In some cases, they did not even know that the other existed.

In 1940 their quiet way of life was interrupted by the draft to man the Army to fight WW II. There was no provision to exempt conscientious objectors from participation in the military. The scattered Mennonite communities had no mechanism through which to make a united appeal. In a search for options, someone recalled that Central Committee through which they had helped their brothers and sisters suffering in Russia. So it was that through MCC, joined by the Quakers and the Church of the Brethren, the Civilian Public Service was brought into existence. Administered by MCC, more than 5,000 men served their alternate service through this program.

The miracle of MCC is that this scattered, diverse constituency became acquainted with each other while serving side-by-side in MCC in behalf of a needy world. It set the stage for more inter Mennonite activity to follow.  

MCC’s role in educating its constituency

William T. Snyder, MCC’s longest serving Executive Secretary, was fond of saying, “MCC is not a check writing organization. Its first medium is not money; it is workers.” This philosophy made MCC programs lean on budget and rich in personnel. At its peak MCC had more than 550 workers on assignment, most of them drawn from its constituency. After serving 2-or 3-year terms, this stream of MCC alumni enriched the congregations to which they returned. 

It is a partial answers to the question outsiders ask, “How is that a constituency so urbane has become so global in its reach and awareness?”

Thus it was that MCC service, along with other influences, played a major role in helping the historically insular North American Mennonite churches to make the transition to the 21st century, while adhering to its Anabaptist roots.

Ah yes, Jesus and St. Francis had it right. By sharing generously of treasure and talent, by opening itself to the needs of a hurting world, God has seen fit to use MCC to help the Mennonite Church reach out to a needy world while itself being born again. God be praised.

Reflecting on Service

I was asked to write a reflection on service. It is proving one of my most difficult assignments. The more I think about it, the more questions arrive. Who is serving whom? Is the power differential poisoning the effort? Is this the right approach? Service in a church context vs service in a Christian context vs service in a secular context? Military service? Public service? My experiences of various service have raised these questions and more.

I once “served” on a church-based Appalachian housing project. A team of middle class mostly professionals from Indianapolis went to somewhere in the economically and educationally trampled Appalachian area and spent a week building and repairing houses. We had quite a bit interaction with local folks. We had a good time working in fair weather. It was kind of a lark. I wonder what the local folks thought and felt about the invasion of do gooders? There were many teams through there that summer.

Service often is pretty much like work in any organization. Sometimes we find ourselves working on a seriously flawed project or one with predictable bad outcomes – and we have to ask “What happens if I just walk away from this? Will that make it any better or worse?

Volunteering on Habitat projects, I found myself working on houses for people with disabilities in a setting where several such houses were clustered together creating a small disability ghetto in an impoverished section of the community. The right thing to do? Folks needed the housing. The Habitat organization was unwittingly exercising a kind power over those they were serving by creating a limited (probably unavoidable) choice of neighborhood.

Sometimes I find myself working with leadership that have the same flaws as we find in the everyday work environment, flaws that make the situation unpleasant and may have a negative effect on the project or the people served. Well, what did I expect? Sometimes I find myself questioning the motives of fellow volunteers. That is usually time for me to check my own.

 A “service” project involved writing a solid grant proposal for a volunteer organization that insisted on presenting it to a funder who had rejected a previous proposal. The funder told them not to come back until they met certain conditions that the applicant refused to meet. The organization was a basically good one and we wrote a proposal that would serve well when they used it properly.

I will soon be involved in aiding a community of immigrant agricultural workers. I struggle with this. How do I show/live out my respect for them in this situation? I come into their community from across barriers of language and money. The food and clothing we bring are banners of those barriers. The situation unavoidably creates a social power dynamic with the “server” having greater power than the “served.” When I served in a kitchen for disadvantaged folks, I answered that question by simply saying to myself “They’re hungry. I fill the plate. They eat. We leave and get on with our lives. It is not great, but they are less hungry today.”

Maybe that is the approach I should take in Immokalee. If we deliver to the center quietly, leave the truckloads of goods and go, we will have done a service. It may be the best we can do this day. On the other hand, what if we get into extensive interactions with the folks we seek to serve? Do you see the paradox? How do we assure dignity for those served without assuming the power that cancels that dignity?

Which brings me to public service, civil, military, political. I have worked in civil and military service, finding no one who considered themselves servants. Most are just trying to do the best they can to go forward in life and make a living and see some good happen in the world where the work. They serve without obeisance but with hope for positive change in the face of great frustration. When people spoke to me of the good work I was doing in civil service, I always replied that I loved my work but could not do it if I did not get paid, always trying to maintain perspective.

I have written previously in MennoExpressions about military service. I only say here that throughout the history of the “civilized” world, the young and strong are conscripted (openly or subtly) to carry out war. The winning sides have momentary celebrations of the returning “heroes” followed by various means of making them disappear. Underneath it all I suspect we are subconsciously afraid of the people we have required to do our killing.

In political service there has always been the question of who is serving whom. Sometimes we like the answer. Sometimes not.

Finally, the most important service, personal. Here is where all the questions and ambiguities become most incarnate, most glorious and most painful. I have done personal care at different levels for both family and non-family. It takes so many forms that much of it goes unnoticed by the servant. You give someone a ride, kneel for a conversation with someone in a chair, run for the juice when the blood sugar drops, just sitting by, listening, leaving for work an hour early to drive a guy in an accessible van to his work, learning to clear a trach, changing adult diapers, cleaning up in the midst of another person’s embarrassment. You will find yourself doing it when you are both irritated, when you have already put in a full week, when you can’t quit because there is no one else to do it.

Our church in Florida has a next-door neighbor who hated the church and spoke out against any effort to modify, expand or otherwise enhance the place. When he fell last year and began to use a wheelchair, our folks built a ramp for his front entrance. When I told John Hofstetter about this he replied “Oh, Mennonite revenge.” If you can still find a copy, I recommend the movie MY LEFT FOOT. It is a real-life story of a person with a major physical disability who is also obnoxious in various ways and hard to deal with. I am trying to say personal service is often HARD.

I have often found myself confused when attempting to be of service to others. When I was younger I usually did not realize when I was serving myself more than the one served, when the service was more about me feeling good or when my ego initiated a service that was not requested and may not have been wanted. Now I do what comes to be done, try to be respectful and carry the questions, live with ambiguity and paradox.

Mel Swartzentruber’s Legacy

“Leaving a legacy means being remembered for what you want to be remembered for.” Google definition. Service is Mel Swartzentruber’s legacy. He will be remembered for being a kind and gentle God loving man who performed innumerable service projects during his 65-year stay at First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis (FMC). It’s estimated that he performed at least one service project every week that he was at FMC.

Service; that’s Mel’s legacy. Services of all kinds to FMC, to neighbors, with Mennonite Disaster Services, for Habitat for Humanity and to anyone who needed help. He did carpentry, cabinet building, painting, fixing anything that’s broken, maintenance of facilities or machinery, grounds keeping, snow removal, construction and construction supervision, locksmithing, and much more. Anywhere you look around FMC you see his handiwork. For example, the kiosk in the Fellowship Hall was a creation of Mel’s. He was a part of the crews that built the first FMC building as well as the current building and the 2009 addition.

Mel was born April 2, 1930, to an Amish family in southern Indiana near Montgomery. There would eventually be 14 children in the family, Mel is the third from the oldest. His father was a blacksmith who had a shop to repair buggies and harnesses as well as a hardware store that served the Amish community. Mel remembers his family performing services in the Amish community especially to families with newborn infants. The women would prepare meals and the men would do men’s chores as needed. “Just like we do today”, Mel states.

Along with two sisters Mel began attending the Mennonite church as a teenager. That’s where he met Mary Graber who would become his wife on October 11, 1952. In the summer of 1953, they moved to Indianapolis so Mel could complete his two-year Voluntary Service commitment at Methodist Hospital. Then he spent 23 years doing home construction before returning to Methodist Hospital where he directed the locksmithing crew until he retired in 1996. Mel and Mary have three children: Keith, Lynette and Sheila. Mel and Mary now live in Illinois.

“I praise the Lord for all the opportunities and abilities he gave me. Without Him I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I did. When we pair up with God there is a lot we can do.” One of his favorite Bible verses is “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths” Proverb 3:6.

Top Ten Reason to Serve

  1. Learn from others.
  2. Learn about yourself.
  3. Learn humility; you may need it someday.
  4. If you wait until the time is perfect, you will never serve.
  5. Because you want to.
  6. In serving, you will be blessed.
  7. Set an example for other generations. 
  8. It is what we are called to do. 
  9. It is much more difficult to be served than it is to serve.
  10. You will want to serve again!

Editorial

This issue of Menno Expressions explores the concept of service and acknowledges the 100th Anniversary of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) taking place in 2020. MCC was founded in September of 1920 to provide food and assistance to people affected by war in southern Russia which is now the Ukraine. (To learn more about its inception, watch the YouTube video Tractors for Ukraine. )

In the summer of 2018, I went to Ukraine on a Mennonite Heritage boat tour with my daughter and my parents. We visited the villages of our ancestors and the train station where their journey to the United States would have begun. We shared the experience with others who were also tracing their roots. While my family immigrated to the United States in the first migration from the Ukraine in the 1800s, there were some families that did not flee Ukraine until the second World War. We heard many first-hand accounts from the other travelers of how MCC had kept their families alive with the relief they provided and also stories of how upon arriving in the U.S. and Canada, they donated their few resources to MCC to help those left behind. With immigration a part of our national agenda today, I’m reminded that immigration is part of the Mennonite story of service as well.

For me, service has been a concept that I have not given much thought to the “why” we are called to serve. As I reflect on service, it has been a substantial part of my identity personally and professionally. My great-grandmother was a missionary doctor in India who treated leprosy, my paternal grandfather continued her work running the leprosy mission in the Madhya Pradesh region of India and my parents were missionaries to West Africa where I lived until age 10. I attended a small liberal arts college where “Culture for Service” is the motto and spent a semester in Costa Rica in the 1980s (before it was a tourist destination) studying the language and working in a Cooperative. My career has been in the Human Service field working with terminally-ill patients and their families, and in behavioral health settings as a counselor. I don’t think of my day-to-day responsibilities as ways of providing service to my community or think about how I might incorporate more service opportunities into my life. Maybe that’s because service has been an expectation, or part of my ethnic and cultural identity as a Mennonite, or as my professional role or what I witnessed the role models in my life doing. This 100th anniversary of MCC is challenging me to find ways I can be more intentional about the purpose of my service and to view service as an act of love.

Service does not have to be the larger acts of traveling to a foreign land for a development project or a medical mission. It might be through simple, daily actions and commitments that we make the most difference in the lives of others. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions but I’ve been thinking about a practice my sister’s family does each year of adopting a word for the year and finding ways to live that out throughout the year.  As a way to honor the anniversary of MCC and be more intentional in my life about the role and act of service, “Service” might become my word for 2020.

In my role as a counselor, I sometimes use the work of pastor Dr. Gary Chapman and his book “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.” One of the love languages he identifies is Acts of Service which is love we demonstrate by doing tasks for our partner that you know they would like you to do. Some examples could be filling up the car with gas, doing the laundry or bringing them a cup of coffee. Perhaps this is a way as well to be more purposeful at incorporating service into our lives through simple acts and not just in our personal lives.

I recognize that service can be complicated by our motivations and judgements and it does at times run the risk of creating dependency. Our human nature requires us to address these questions but in its purist form, service = love. Just as Jesus performed the simple, non-judgmental tasks of foot washing, acts of service are an opportunity for us to reach out in love to a stranger, an immigrant, a neighbor, a child, and a community without judgement, or the expectation of reward or monetary gain.

One MCC Experience

During my ten and a half years with MCC (between 1979 and 1994), I had the privilege to work in three very interesting places and learn from many inspiring people. The cliché about gaining more than one gives was true for me. My first three years out of college were at the MCC headquarters in Akron, PA, working in what was then called the U.S. Peace Section. While our focus was on being a peace education resource for the MCC constituency, I was exposed not only to the broad range of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches, but also to the peacemaking efforts of several other church groups. During that time, President Carter reinstated universal registration for the military draft, and we devoted a lot of time to working with churches and young men on our response as a peace church.

While in Akron, I would see dozens of new volunteers coming through for orientation and then heading off all over the world for their assignments. I decided to explore that option. El Salvador came into the picture for me because of a long-time interest in Latin America and a desire to do something more concrete with my interest in peace issues. In mid-1982, I joined another MCC volunteer who had begun working in El Salvador the previous year. The country had been in the midst of a civil war for several years and MCC was beginning to explore opportunities to respond.

As in many other places, a small wealthy minority had been exploiting the poor majority for decades and a corrupt government with its military forces was enabling that system to continue. A revolutionary guerrilla movement had begun attacking government and army positions in an attempt to force change. The army responded with devastating repression in large areas of the countryside where they determined the guerrillas had their bases. Within a few years, a million Salvadorans were displaced from their homes. About half fled the country as refugees and the other half moved to nearby cities and villages where there was no housing, food, sanitation or other vital services.

A number of Salvadoran churches stepped up to begin filling these needs in spite of the danger of being viewed as guerrilla sympathizers. MCC began supporting some of these programs with money and materials, but also, of equal importance, with our presence. Having a North American visible as part of the program provided a small bit of protection from the military repression because the U.S. was the primary funder of the Salvadoran government and they did not want to risk the bad publicity that would result from harm being done to the people or projects. While we and the churches we worked with tried to be very clear about our focus on providing humanitarian assistance, there was no escaping the highly politicized environment.

If you weren’t a supporter, then you had to be the enemy. Within MCC and among our Salvadoran partners, we had many long discussions about what humanitarian aid in such a situation meant. Who were we helping? Were the displaced persons really benefitting? Were we simply making it easier for the repressive government to pacify and control the population? What did it mean to be a Christian peacemaker? There are no clear right or wrong answers that apply in every situation, but it was important to ask the questions and be aware of our impact in a complex situation.

Following a several year break for further education and getting married, Colleen and I rejoined MCC for four years in Nicaragua, a very different experience but also very interesting. We arrived very shortly after a change of government from the Sandinistas who themselves had overthrown a brutal dictatorship a decade earlier. The U.S. had funded a counterrevolution since then, and also instituted severe economic sanctions. Nicaragua had turned to the Soviet Union and Cuba for support but by 1989, the dissolution of the Soviet Union led to drastic reductions in aid.

The Sandinistas were forced to become more pragmatic about their relations with the U.S. and hold elections where opposing parties could compete. A more conservative candidate with U.S. support won the presidency and, under pressure from the U.S., turned the economic and social policies upside down. Within a few months, unemployment rose to over 50%, government services and subsidies were cut drastically, and the country went into a severe depression. Hyperinflation was so severe that we had to change dollars into local currency weekly or the cash would lose most of its value.

MCC had been in Nicaragua continuously since a major earthquake in 1972, again working with local churches and relief and community development agencies. As MCC country representative, I supported about a dozen volunteers working with our partners in appropriate technology, health, agriculture, women’s programs and community development projects.

In the midst of dire poverty and economic policies making things worse, I was able to work with many dedicated Nicaraguans and MCC volunteers trying to demonstrate ways to improve the situation. As in El Salvador, we relatively wealthy North Americans in a poor country had questions about how to be of assistance. How should we build a balanced partnership with Nicaraguan churches and organizations when we had access to much greater resources? How do we encourage making use of local resources as much as possible? What is an appropriate lifestyle when even on a minimal MCC stipend we could be so much more comfortable than those we worked with?

These were certainly not new questions and I’m not sure we arrived at satisfactory answers, but my life was certainly enriched by the experience of living and working with many Central Americans and North Americans committed to service.

So You Want to Try Something New?

Mennonites have traditionally spent a great deal of time discussing the concept of “service.” We vary in how we live that concept out in our lives, but as a community – whether from the old guard or the new – the Mennonite organizations certainly provide us with opportunities to experience different types of service. This piece is an attempt to acquaint readers with some of those groups. It is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it is enlightening. A link is provided for each group. Other groups can be accessed through the main links. It is implied that each effort is attempting to show the love of Christ as we learn and share within the programs.

Let’s explore the main organizations out of which a variety of service groups are generated: MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) and MMN (Mennonite Mission Network. EMM (Eastern Mennonite Missions) also has similar programs.

  1. MCC – Mennonite Central Committee 
    • IVEP – International Volunteer Exchange Program – This program encourages a one-year voluntary service assignment for non-U.S. and Canadians to gain work experience in the U.S. Global Gifts has utilized this program which allows for participants to improve job skills and English so that they can be more marketable in their home countries. In exchange they get room and board, new friends, an intercultural experience and time with others who are doing the same program. My first babysitter was from this program so clearly – it’s been around a long time!
    • SEED – It’s not an acronym. It’s a concept. This is for 20-30-year-olds from many countries who are interested in spending 2 years in community while working within a larger community on issues such as violence, oppression, climate change, food insecurity etc. The idea is to bring people from different cultural, theological and political spectrums together to work on issues weighing on all of us.
    • SALT – Serving and Learning Together. A one-year experience for 18-30-year-olds from the U.S. and Canada who want to have an international cross-cultural experience steeped in putting faith into action. 
    • SWAP – Sharing With Appalachian People. Volunteers pay for the week-long opportunity to help Appalachian communities with housing repairs and learning about life in Appalachia.
    • Summer Service – This is a 10-week program for young adults of color. Its goal is to build leadership skills and capacity focusing on peace and justice and community engagement. It is done by collaborating with the local churches of these individuals. 
    • Washington Office Internships – There are three terms in a year enabling an interested college graduate to participate in the work done at the MCC Office in DC. Individuals must pay to live in the DC area, but they gain a close-up view of the efforts to serve through legislative means. 

MCC also offers many other short-term opportunities for older and younger folk, as well as service-learning tours to various places. 

  1. Mennonite Mission Network (MMN)
    • MVS – Mennonite Voluntary Service – For persons ages 20 and up. A myriad of opportunities to offer your skills and to learn – generally for one year – in needed spaces. Highly variable in experiences and in communities – generally associated with a local church.
    • Youth Venture – Ages 15-22. This is generally a 2-3-week experience for young persons in which they learn and serve in communities to which they have been invited. The experience is intercultural. We had several groups from FMC go to Colombia, South America a while back – 20 years ago!
    • Service Adventure – Ages 17-20, HS graduates. Here is a one-year opportunity to live in community and grow in leadership and faith with others your age. Participants have a variety of jobs, learn about the work world, and enjoy new friendships while learning. It’s a productive “gap” year post high school.
    • SOOP – a term for this mishmash of widely ranging flexible service opportunities lasting one week or more. Experiences are mostly for ages 25 and up. Retired persons as well as those looking for a new learning experience of any adult age are considered. You can look for an experience that uses your particular talents or simply expands your life.
    • DOOR – Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection, is a faith- based program headquartered in Chicago which offers experiences for groups or individuals ages 13-30. Participants focus on service, learning and leadership development within an urban setting. Our FMC youth have done a number of DOOR experiences. (MMN partners with DOOR)
    • Journey International – Ages 18-26 – An opportunity to support programs and learn from individuals in other cultures. This appears to be a one-year commitment. 

Above are just a few of the possible Mennonite Church sponsored programs one could consider as a volunteer opportunity. The major links can lead you to more possibilities. There is one separate set of initials, however, that still deserves a mention:

  1. MDS – Mennonite Disaster Service – This is a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that respond to disaster needs. It is open to all who can do the work. Some work is simply down and dirty clean up and some is highly skilled. Some people do administrative help, cook meals for workers, or assess damages. FMC has had numerous people participate in short-and longer-term efforts. 

Try a short-term effort through the wider church sometime. It’s a way to meet new people within the denomination who share your passion for learning and for justice. Explore these sites for other opportunities not mentioned here. As I read each description it seemed the overall hope was to help people grow through serving each other. 

MCC Kit Bags

FMC Kit Crew

Every year, thousands of MCC Kits are created and sent to people in need all over the world.  School Kits are the type of Kit most frequently requested.  They contain notebooks, pencils and sharpener, pens, ruler, eraser, and colored pencils packaged in a handsome cloth bag – The MCC Kit Bag.  All Kit Bags are essentially the same size and shape, measuring 11 3/4” x 16 3/4” and are closed by 2 drawstrings at the top.  Kit Bags are sewn and the drawstrings threaded at the top by volunteers who then donate them to MCC. The Kit Bags may be made from a variety of cotton and synthetic fabrics.  They have to be sturdy to carry many things and withstand some rough use.  But in order to reduce mailing costs they cannot be too heavy so denim and corduroy are not acceptable. 

There is a long history of Mennonite women caring for their neighbors. Sewing Circles that made garments for the poor are documented as early as 1897 in eastern Pennsylvania.  In the decades that followed there was an expansion of sewing circles with many name and organizational changes.  This was occurring even before MCC was founded on September 27, 1920 with the initial goal of providing food for Mennonites starving in the Ukraine.  The mission of MCC quickly expanded to helping anyone in need.

The first “Kit type” items distributed by MCC were Christmas Bundles sent to children in Europe in 1946 following the devastation of World War II.  Many older members of FMC remember helping their mothers prepare these gifts.  Quickly following the Christmas Bundles, in 1947, School Bags began to be distributed which in the mid-1960s became known as “School Kits”.  The types and numbers of kits MCC currently generates and distributes is shown below.

MCC Kits Distributed in 2019

Relief Kits 22,029
Hygiene Kits 63,360
School Kits 129,100
Infant Care Kits 10,934
Sewing Kits 2,220
Total 227,643

The kits shown above have a total value of $1,960,500 and account for approximately 40% of the total material resources MCC shipped last year.  The Hygiene Kits, School Kits and Sewing Kits all include a MCC Kit Bag so 194,880 Kit Bags were needed in 2019.

The FMC Kit Crew was started in 2017 led by Priscilla Boschmann and Margaret Miller.  It meets monthly to sew Kit Bags and, in addition to the leaders, consists of LuEtta Culp, Marilyn Stutzman, Falguni Sarkar and Connie Danielson.  Several others from both FMC and Shalom have contributed time and materials.  New members and visitors are always welcome.  In 2017, FMC donated 379 Kit Bags and 7 comforters to MCC.  In 2018, five comforters and 557 Kit Bags, of which 150 were filled with items donated by the congregation to make complete Hygiene Kits, were sent to MCC.  The FMC donation in 2019 was four comforters and 429 Kit Bags of which 175 were filled with the items needed to make them School Kits.  The FMC Kit Crew plans to continue sewing and donating Kit Bags to MCC contributing, in a small way, to MCC’s Mission of sharing “…….. God’s love and compassion for all…..”                             


Reference:  The MCC Archives in Akron, PA.