Bundles of Blessings

Perhaps the story of Mennonite Central Committee Christmas bundles is not familiar to you? Here’s some background on bundles of blessings.  In many Mennonite churches, these projects jog memories of the holiday season and an outreach to children in countries around the globe. Since at least the 1940s, families were encouraged to collect simple clothing, a bar of soap, comb, toothbrush, and a small toy or personal item. These were all wrapped in a bath towel, secured by large safety pins, and then delivered to Akron, PA.  Topped with a note indicating clothing sizes for a boy or girl, including the name and address of the sender added a personal touch. Often put together by children, these bundles provided assurance that someone cared enough to remember a struggling family in Europe after WW II, or countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Jordan, South America, and more recently inner cities in the U.S. There are touching stories of friendships established through this sharing of gifts at Christmas.

One particularly serendipitous saga involves two long-time members of First Mennonite.

In 1949, Tina Neufeld, a young widow in Paraguay, received two Christmas bundles, one shared for her two little girls and one for her two boys. Filled with gratitude, she wrote a kind thank you note to the young Priscilla Selzer of Protection, Kansas, who had assembled the bundle, and wished her God’s blessings. Translated from German by Priscilla’s grandfather, the treasured letter was tucked in a scrapbook for safe keeping.

In the late 1950s, Erwin Boschmann traveled from Asunción, Paraguay, to study at Bethel College, where he met and married Priscilla Selzer, then a young schoolteacher. In a visit with her family, years later, Erv noticed a letter, written in German with a familiar signature in an old scrapbook. They were all astonished to realize that the Christmas bundles from long ago had found their way to Erv’s aunt!

Eventually, during a family visit in Paraguay, Mrs. Neufeld had the chance to meet Priscilla and share her appreciation in person. Everyone was able to reflect on the unexpected blessings to their family reaching back many years through unknown connections. To God be the Glory.

Erv Says Thank You

Because of war, lawlessness, and drought my people in southern Russia (now Ukraine) were starving in early 1900s. Their names were Penner, Fast, Rempel, Friesen, Gerbrandt, Klassen, or Unruh. Their normal diets were borscht, zwieback, summer sausage, plummemoos, verenike, paska, peppernuts, and New Year’s cookies; but now these were but a memory.

In desperation they wrote to their unknown brothers and sisters across the pond who had names like Bender, Miller, Schwartzentruber, Bontrager, Amstutz, Hess, Kauffman, Yoder, Stutzman, or Goering, Their normal diet was dumplings, sticky buns, Shoofly pie, apple butter, pickled beets, beef, pork, and chicken. 

The cry for help from Russia was soon answered with the sending of 50 tractors to Russia in the summer of 1922 (exact replica in photo).  This gift “In the Name of Christ” saved their lives, and the Mennonite Central Committee was founded the summer of 1920. 

As a descendant of those Russian Mennonites, I humbly say Thank You for your service!

MennoExpressions Volume 33, No. 1 | Winter 2020

MCC Receiving by Giving by Edgar Stoesz
Editorial by Rachel Friesen

Service Inside FMC

Mel Swartzentruber’s Legacy by Ted Danielson
MCC Kit Bags by Constance Danielson
Service is in Our DNA by Erv Boschmann

Service Beyond FMC

One MCC Experience by Ron Flickinger
Recollections and Reflections: Bill Albrecht’s Service Adventure by Grace Rhine
Life as an MCC Kid by Randy Stoesz
Bundles of Blessings by Carol Mullet

Other

So you want to try something new? by Mary Liechty
Reflecting on Service by Paul Shankland
Top Ten Reasons to Serve by Robin Helmuth
Erv says Thank You by Erv Boschmann

Service is in Our DNA

Robin Helmuth installs the handrailService is in FMC’s DNA. Whether it is serving MCC, participating in the Meal Train for those temporarily incapacitated, housing homeless people, making coffee, bringing cookies every second Sunday, teaching Sunday school, or volunteering as a tutor to those who cannot read, most at FMC serve in some capacity. Here Robin Helmuth installs a handrail and step for those who find the step onto the sanctuary platform too steep

 

Life as an MCC Kid

At the top of the Akron hill, and two blocks from the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) headquarters, sits a white clapboard house I was brought home to as a baby and where my dad still lives. Dad worked at MCC during my entire childhood.  Akron is small, with a population of only about 4,000 people and has little industry or business, so MCC was very important not just to me and our family, but to the town and the people.  Dad would walk to work and back, coming home for lunch often.  We borrowed the MCC truck for weekend projects, filled up at the MCC fuel tank, and made copies on the MCC Xerox machine.  We played on the MCC swings, basketball court, and hit golf balls behind the office.  My best friend and neighbor Rich was an MCC kid, and Akron elementary school was peppered with kids whose parents had traveled or served overseas. Akron Mennonite Church had a deep connection with MCC and its mission of service. 

My first paying jobs were at MCC – Dad would pay me a quarter to fill all the staplers in the office.  I’m sure it was just to occupy me while he tried to do some dictation or other work.  Later my brother Dean and I would empty all the wastebaskets and do some light custodial work.  At 15 I was mowing the lawns and painting MCC houses during the summer, working with Alfred, Sara Penner’s grandfather.   MCC was the backdrop for my childhood, and was the calling of my parents.  Called away from a Minnesota farm life after two years of alternative service.  Called away from both of their families, called to a life of service.  But definitely called. 

I believe that sense of calling extended to the whole family.  We understood that Mom and Dad were dedicated to MCC and its mission of development and relief.  There were perks like growing up knowing Orie O. Miller, William T. Snyder, and Peter J. Dyck.  I visited the amazing basement of Edna Byler, full of exotic items from many countries, which grew into Ten Thousand Villages.  We shared many dinners with staff and “orientees” (Mom would occasionally complain we never got invited back because all our guests were heading out overseas!).  We grew up with a sense of the wider world, meeting volunteers heading off to do service in Latin America, Asia and Africa, talking about the poor and hungry of Haiti, Chad, and Appalachia, and helping with the MCC meat canner.  But I’m sure there were also sacrifices of which we weren’t even aware. 

One family story of sacrifice features my brother Dean.  It was just days after my second Christmas, and Dad was heading off on another weeks-long trip.  To “draw us deeper into his work” and to “plant the seed of service in our hearts,” he told us about the children he would be visiting, and the poverty they faced.  We were asked to select one of the gifts we had just been given for Dad to give to a child.  Dean brought out a new yellow car that was later given to a nearly blind 8-year old boy who “clutched it to himself after playing with it on the hot dry ground of Haiti.”   

Haiti still holds a special place for our family.  Dad has been to Haiti close to 50 times, and he has managed to get every one of his children and grandchildren to Haiti at least once.  I have visited Haiti multiple times, Dean and his wife served two years, my sister Kris for 8 years.  And we continue to be involved in Haiti through Kris’s strong ties to individuals and organizations there.            

It’s hard to quantify the impact MCC had on my youth because I have no other childhood experience with which to compare, but it is clear that MCC and my dad’s role in it was and is part of the fabric of my life.  The example of calling played a role in my own choice of profession.  The themes of faith, service and volunteerism are woven deep and strong.  As I reflect on these themes, I pray I have done these values justice in my life as I strive to live the life of a (now grown up) MCC kid. 

Remembering Melvin R. Glick, a tribute

On August 26, I lost a friend. We all lost a friend.

Our friendship was cemented more than four decades ago with very frequent interaction; not with emails or phone calls since they moved to Wakarusa. Still, I usually sent him an email on his birthday and he always responded by saying something like:

“It is appreciated, especially coming from an old man like you.”

You see, I am 10 months older than he was.  

The Glicks came to Indy in 1972, and we formed a special bond since Mel and I were both chemists at IU, and we were both elected elders at FMC at about the same time. Not only that, but we both had three children of about the same age, and we soon formed a small church group with Amelia Miller and Clarence and Beulah Cobb. We spent so much fun time together, especially going to the Cobb farm in Kokomo where we went to eat, to butcher a pig, to harvest grapes, make wine (not Mel’s favorite), or just to hang out, and on and on.

While butchering Mel had so much fun offering the pig snout to Amelia who detested it and ran away; and we all marveled at the sudden transformation of two girls of our families who the day of butchering became staunch vegetarians. 

We took numerous excursions; for example, to PA to see Mel and Sherrill’s home environment (as we drove around Amish country and came into Intercourse, PA, Mel pointed to the post office and said that tourists like to stop there, and send a card to their friends saying: “We stopped in the middle of Intercourse to send you this card.) We went to Kalona, Iowa, to get to know Amelia’s Amish family, to Paraguay to see my former stomping ground, and Mel organized a group bike trip from Indy to the Cobb’s in Kokomo. 

We also went to Colorado with some of our children to climb a few of the fourteener peaks. We were inexperienced and Mel and I encouraged everyone to hike over to the next mountain, not knowing the deceivingly vast distance between peaks. We soon gave up, and Milton suggested we both take a geography class. We had invited Dick Yoder to come along for our Colorado hike, but suddenly, he slipped and skidded down a long, steep embankment, narrowly missing a huge boulder before coming to a stop. We were all crying out of fear of what could have happened, and out of joy that nothing serious happened. Wiping away tears, Mel gathered us in a group circle and said a most fervent prayer of thanksgiving.   

We had plans, well, pie in the sky ideas (Mark called them crazy ideas). We were planning to get a round barn and build an Essenhaus/church/storefront in Indy. At other times we talked about how we could help Mennonite colleges, without resigning our current positions but still help. We came up with the idea of encouraging Mennonites in higher education to use their Sabbaticals to volunteer at Mennonite colleges. Well, we never did that either. 

Right after the creation of MennoExpressions in the late ‘80s, Mel and I went to his office to transform the rough draft into a publishable document. 

I admired Mel’s wonderful ability to talk in public – he didn’t just talk, he always said something memorable. I admired his gentle, soothing voice, and his smiling face; he always had great ideas for social events. I never heard him use harsh word, but instead he saw the positive in all situations, and noted the good in all humans. The harshest thing I ever heard was when he spoke of one of his children’s actions as being “a pain in the asphalt.” I admired that and laughed at the same time.

Mel sometimes had surprising comments, like when he expressed his wish to give all his money to charity so he could die broke. I was surprised by his offer to our small group to do devotions every time since no one else was eager to do so. Mel knew the Bible better than anyone else. And I do remember one of his devotions when he asked us all to write down the names of five persons who have influenced our life in a special way. Then he asked us to mark those persons on our list still living, finally he asked us to contact those still living persons and thank them for what they have done in our life. I did that and found it very memorable indeed! 

Once FMC had invited a guest speaker whom we knew only from his excellent writings. While he was a good writer, turns out he was an awful speaker. Mel sat next to me during that agonizing speech performance, and after a while he turned to me and said, “If I ever do that, would you just shoot me.”    

In his later years Mel discovered woodworking as his hobby. He was passionate about it–reading books, getting tools and equipment, going to club meetings, becoming a member of a woodworker’s association, even making plans to tour the country and stop at woodworking centers. Many people benefitted from Mel’s hobby by getting bowls he had turned, wooden pencils he made, or a tricky and seemingly impossible nickel in a cube of wood with six holes too small for the nickel – yet the nickel was inside. To him it was a friendly competition to see who could turn a bowl with the thinnest wall. He even made a bowl so thin it can be used as a translucent lamp shade. 

Mel wanted me to get into woodturning, and even took me to a meeting, and into his shop to turn a simple bowl. As the block of wood turned, and I slowly moved the chisel closer to the turning wood, he placed his hand on top of mine and I (read we) turned the bowl. It is rough, thick and ugly, but “I” made it. 

The wooden box made by Mel on display at FMC

Mel also made the wooden box now displayed in the fellowship hall at FMC, Indy. It is made from many pieces of wood contributed by members of FMC; it is to be opened on the building’s 75th anniversary, June 1, 2028, to reveal its contents.

While we are all sad to lose Mel here, God is ecstatic his servant has joined him in heaven, where, I am sure, he will organize amazing adventures.

Sherrill, Mark, Starla, and Milton, blessings to you and your families in this time of sorrow.

Voice of Youth

Gleaning from Our Youth – What is Church About?

The pure perspective of kids can be ripe for gleaning insight.  We asked our first and second graders as well as a member of JYF about why they go to church and what is FMC about, and here’s what they had to say.  How do these answers compare to yours?  

JYF: 

Why go to church? To connect with God.

What’s this church about?  Being in community and connecting to God.

Plus….

“I like that we have a children’s time for little kids who probably won’t be able to pay attention to the sermon. “

 

First and Second Grade

Why go to church? 

  • To learn about God
  • To be with people
  • To learn about God and what Jesus tells everybody to do
  • Sing “Over My Head” 

See their drawings below. 



 


   

The Sunset in Wakarusa

It’s been a quiet week in Wakarusa, Indiana, my parent’s hometown out there on the edge of Elkhart County. School’s been in session for a couple of weeks already because in Indiana they don’t wait for Labor Day to start educating their children. Although it was still August, there was a hint of late September in the air, and anyone who went outside around dawn knew instantly that in a few more days summer would be over, and the cold wind would blow across Lake Michigan and the newly harvested fields. 

Over at the Glick house, Mel would have loved the weather this week, each morning, with the chimney swifts and barn swallows darting all over his backyard and over the pond, gorging on their insect banquet and dive twisting over his rock formations.

Mel would have loved the weather this week, with the house situated just so to see the sunsets over the pond and over the Wakarusa Wastewater Treatment Facility, which looks fine from a distance and much better than it sounds.

Oh, the sunsets this week, that were blue, then yellow, then orange and red, then magenta, purple and black.  

Mel would have loved the weather because he liked transition days, near and far from the actual change of the season, and he might have exclaimed to a neighbor, or to his children, or to his wife, or to his grandchildren in a text, or to a friend at church or a stranger at the store, “Have you seen the sky today? What a beautiful sky!” Because it didn’t matter if it was summer or winter, whether the fields were planted or plowed or covered with snow, to Mel the signs of a new season, even months away, or a sunset, were harbingers of something else, signs that God loves us, and something to remark upon, even if it had happened every season for his almost 80 years and even if the sun rose and set every day for his 29,000 days.

Mel would have loved seeing the people who were thinking of him this week as well. They gathered at his home there on the changing sunset pond, at the funeral home in downtown Wakarusa, at the Holdeman Mennonite Church, at the hotels in Elkhart across from Hubbard Hill where he lived for a sliver of his life, in their homes with their families when they learned that he had passed away. Some people came from Michigan, from Alabama, from California, from Pennsylvania, from Virginia, from Ohio, from Delaware, from Maryland, from Arizona, from Indianapolis, because they liked Mel, they appreciated something that Mel had done or said or given to them, they were family, they were friends with his wife, with his children, with his grandchildren. 

Mel would have loved seeing all the people because they were reconnecting with each other, sometimes after many years, using his funeral as the reason to drive all day, to fly across the country, to wait hours in line, to change their schedule, to be with each other and tell stories. If Mel was there he would have walked around the groups of people who gathered and found someone who needed to talk about something important in their life, would have asked each of his grandchildren how they were doing, would have found a small child to give an interesting rock or a piece of candy.  

And the days were beautiful this week, with skies that turned orange and red. 

Over at the Rieth-Rohrer-Ehret-Lienhart Funeral Home, Brant Ehret started a slideshow. There were photos of Mel with his six grandchildren, photos with his three children, many photos with his wife, photos with his brother and sister-in-law and with his sister and brother-in-law, photos with his son-in-law and granddaughter-in-law, photos with the beloved Swartz family. And there were photos of Mel with trees and rocks and funny statues and sunsets.

The thing was, almost all the photos were taken in the last 15 years since the existence of the camera phone; those are the photos that modern folks can access. You might have gotten the impression then that Mel was always a grandfather and a woodworker and a rock hound and a sunset watcher, and you might have been right, in a way, because he always loved playing with children and collecting wood and rocks and remarking about sunsets.  

But the photos that weren’t shown, the photos from years before camera phones that are buried in 35-mm slides and photo albums, would have shown  

a little boy, the first child of Mahlon and Ruth Glick, on a farm in Pennsylvania, playing with his little brother and little sister

an older boy doing too much reading and not enough working on his farm chores

a teenager leaving his parents in Alabama to go to Lancaster Mennonite high school back in Pennsylvania

a college student at Eastern Mennonite in Virginia, courting a younger student from Kentucky named Sherrill Swartz

a conscientious objector, newlywed, sent to the frozen thumb of Pigeon, Michigan for alternative service

a young father, a med tech, a masters and PhD student struggling to pay bills and buy food and raise a family in Birmingham, Alabama

a 33-year-old in Indianapolis starting his first professional job

a church leader, a youth group sponsor, a clinical laboratory supervisor, a professor at the IU School of Medicine, a world traveler, a frequent hospital patient, a bicyclist, a runner, a skier, a landscaper, a woodworker, a counselor, a grandfather, a Sunday School teacher, a rock hound.

And what you wouldn’t have seen even in the earlier photos is Mel exclaiming, “Look at that sky!” and “I see a rock we should take home!” and “Look at the grain in this piece of wood” and saying multiple times to his son, “I want you to know that I admire the way you and Marci are raising your children.”  

Over at Grandma’s Pantry, business isn’t going to be as good now that Mel Glick won’t be stopping in multiple times a day just because Sherrill mentioned that they might need something. She learned that she needed to bundle her comments like that because Mel would be out the door so quickly for the first item before she got to the end of her list and then he would have to go again. He didn’t mind.

And over at the International Wood Collectors Society and the Michiana Gem & Mineral Society and the Depot MCC Thrift Shop and the Holdeman Mennonite Church, there won’t be this old guy Mel who talks to everybody and volunteers for just about everything and knows how to do just about everything.  

And Mel won’t make any more cinnamon-sugar dried apples or soft pretzels, and he won’t teach any more Sunday School, but his children and his grandchildren will remember him and tell their spouses stories and tell their children stories, and even when the stories are forgotten, their children’s children will still be affected in small but enduring ways because he was part of God’s plan and that’s how people show each other what they know about that plan and how to live.

Over at the Olive East Cemetery, a plot was ready for Mel. It was situated so that if he would have been sitting there looking at the sky, he could have seen the sun go down that night, magenta, purple, then black.

And that’s the news from Wakarusa, where all the sunsets are spectacular, the field rocks can be split into colorful gemstones, and the grandchildren are above average.

From Farm to Poems

What do field ditches full of overgrown milkweed, backyard clotheslines, room temperature milk, wild Dutch blitz games, a love of root cellars, unavoidably dusty barn lofts, or a supper table surrounded by cousins and neighbors’ kids as well as one’s own have in common?   Perhaps a frequent rural northern Indiana farm setting!

In her latest major publication, Shari Wagner (Poet Laureate of Indiana 2016-2017) has compiled an intentional book of poems entitled, The Farm Wife’s Almanac.  Yes, an almanac!  A handbook of sorts, published to contain information of general interest or on a pastime.  Through the perspective of a fictional farm woman, Shari shares and preserves many of her family stories, pays tribute to a beloved aunt and other persons who have been formative in her life, honors the role of strong farm women, and brings attention to the plight of the family farm.  In many ways, this book of poems allows Shari to pay homage to places and traditions dear to her in rural LaGrange County, an area where many of her relatives live and that she has visited since childhood. Through these poems, you can discover why the farm wife never locks her door, why she carries a buckeye in her purse, and why she directs visitors to the Skunk Woman of Howe. Hear tell of how the farm wife and her husband met through Walk-a-Mile, a Mennonite dating game. Or visit the Menno-Hof Museum and anxiously await the outcome of the historic Palm Sunday tornados!

The almanac has a circular theme, with numerous sections, including such entries as oddities and pastimes.  For those with a curiosity about life on a farm, those who have lived in rural parts, those with a yen for short stories, poetry or who simply want to learn about rural people and Mennonites, this book will certainly captivate you.  With approximately 116 pages and under $14, this book is perfect for short sessions, pondering, or longer reads. It can be read by section without a loss of context, as each poem is also a work of its own.  You will not want to miss this imaginative, yet, vividly realistic collection of poems!  What a great birthday gift or stocking stuffer for a friend or for you. 

Poems in this book have been published in the Christian Century or read by Garrison Keillor during the September 7, 2019 and July 2, 2010 installments of The Writer’s AlmanacThe Farm Wife’s Almanac is available through Cascadia Publishing or multiple online media outlets, and Shari has a handful in her car for sale.  For a great sampler, click one or both of the links below.

http://www.garrisonkeillor.com/radio/twa-the-writers-almanac-for-september-7-2019/

https://www.christiancentury.org/contributor/shari-wagner

Special thanks to Shari Wagner for graciously allowing me to interview her for this article.

FMC in Transition

TRANSITIONthe process or period of changing from one condition to another.  Examples of transitions include:

Accidents Having a baby Retirement
Buying a house Relocation Serious Illness
Changing jobs Getting Married Significant loss (of a person, pet or pastor)
Divorce Selling a house

Someone said, “This seems to be the season for church transitions.”  Within the Mennonite community, there are numerous churches and organizations going through leadership changes. From the executive director of the Mennonite Education Agency to the director of Mennonite Mission Network, people are stepping down.

Although such transitions can prove difficult, they may also have a positive side. Changes provide us with an opportunity to assess the direction our lives are taking and encourage us to grow and learn. To follow are some ideas that could make a transition process rewarding.

Accept that change is a normal part of life. People who have this attitude seem to have the easiest time moving through life transitions. 

Identify your values and life goals.  When people know who they are and what they want from life, they may see the change as just another life challenge. These people are willing to take responsibility for their actions and do not blame others for the changes that come along without warning.

Learn to identify and express your feelings. While it’s normal to attempt to push away feelings of fear and anxiety, you will move through them more quickly if you acknowledge them. These feelings will have less power over you if you face them and express them.

Focus on the payoffs. Think about what you have learned from other life transitions. Recall the stages you went through, and identify what you gained and learned from each experience. 

Don’t be in a rush. When your life is disrupted, it takes time to adjust to a new reality. 

Expect to feel uncomfortable. Transition is confusing and disorienting for most people. It is normal to feel insecure and anxious. These feelings are part of the process, but they can lessen with time.

Take good care of yourself. Transitions are stressful. Find something fun to do for yourself each day. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat well.

Build your support system. Seek the help of friends and family members, especially those who accept you without judgement and allow you to express your feelings. Consider the benefit of a mental health professional who can guide you through the transition process in a safe and supportive environment.

Acknowledge what you are leaving behind. This is the first step to acceptance. Before you can welcome the new, you must acknowledge and let go of the old.

Keep some things consistent. When you are experiencing a significant life change, it may help to keep your daily routines unchanged.

Take one step at a time. To regain a sense of control, find a simple task to manage now and break it down into small, specific steps. Write these down, keep them handy, and cross off each step as you accomplish it.

“There are no perfect people; only perfect moments.” Be sure to look for them!

Ref Paraphrased from: Richard B. Joelson, DSW, Psychotherapist, Author
https://richardbjoelsondsw.com/articles/managing-difficult-life-transitions/