Another Viewpoint

The April morning started with my usual brisk walk, a first cup of coffee, reading from Rejoice! and then, “Why isn’t Del up yet, it’s nearly ten o’clock?” So, a bit alarmed, I headed upstairs to find him still in bed saying, “Probably don’t come in here; I’m feeling weird!”

My heart sank. We hadn’t gone out much at all and always with masks and wipes. But here we were! As the days wore on, I became grateful his symptoms weren’t worse. I would gladly mask up and take Del meal trays, then fetch them again. And scrub the bathroom…a lot! I was so thankful that he didn’t chafe at staying upstairs in the bedroom.

In retrospect, I was most concerned about Del getting worse, and didn’t have the time or energy to worry about getting sick myself. I would like to know, though, if I too garnered some antibodies through his ordeal! I remain thankful for restored health.


Previous article | Contents | Next article

Remembering Steven McLay

Who was Steven McLay? He was a member of the HSLC (Holy Spirit Led Church) which meets in our building several times a week. Steven cleaned our FMC building for several years. While he worked part-time as custodian, he took two buses to come clean and two buses to return home. He took great pride in his work. We grieve the loss of Steven, who passed away on June 11, 2020, after suffering a stroke. Below are reflections from some FMC members.

By Allen Mast
Whenever I was at FMC and Steven came in, he would always say hi and ask if there was anything he could do for me. One time I had a trash bag going to the dumpster, and he almost demanded that I leave it, insisting he would take it with the other bags later.

By Emilie Walson
I found it very interesting to get to know Steven McLay during his tenure as custodian at FMC. Steven was excited to get the job and did a good job for the church. I enjoyed getting to hear stories about his special feline pets–they were his pride and joy. We nicknamed him Flash because he moved and talked so fast. There were several occasions when Steven joined our staff lunches. This was a time for getting to know Steven better, and I am glad we had those opportunities. We were sorry to see Steven step down and leave FMC.

By Robin Helmuth 
Steven had a broad smile, the widest kind, even though he had few teeth. I never saw Steven when he wasn’t smiling. He always, always, always asked how I was doing and how my family was doing. He was afflicted physically by gastritis and later lymphoma. Steven always put his arm over my shoulder or on my upper back, his way of letting me know he cared about me. I made it a point to thank him for his custodial services at FMC, and he was quick to respond he really liked being part of the staff. There were occasions I regretted not taking more time to learn about Steven and understand his life story more. Steven would nearly always look for me when he saw my Mazda in the parking lot. Yes, Steven’s witness as a loving, smiling, caring child of God will be missed.

By Gaynel Bryan
Steven seemed to be a self-sufficient man. Often very happy, he was totally focused on doing a good job. On the personal side, the loves of his life were his cats. To the end, he would cheerfully share photos of them. I would often share my lunch with him because he would always come through the offices around lunch time and say, “Are you eating again?” It was a joke between us. One of the things I kept trying to impress on him was to slow down when he talked. He would speak a mile-a-minute, and I just couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I’d have to ask him to repeat what he just said, but slower, please. He would laugh and try his best to speak slower. It was a sad day for me when he stopped working here. I will miss his blaring speaker playing hymns while he cleaned, and his coming through the office to pick up trash right at lunch time, and his visits to show and tell me about his little fur babies. I will miss him.

Artwork by Maggie Girard

Previous article | Contents

Blended Pieces—Patchwork for Today

Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Thess. 5:11

Beauty can be enhanced by variety and diversity.

Some of our mothers and grandmothers collected remnants of fabric and combined them to create a useful blanket, a work of art, a gift for a new baby, or a donation for someone in need of warmth. Wade’s mother designed a beautiful quilt for us, sewn from colorful leftover scraps that she and my mother had saved. Even now the cherished piece sparks memories of a favorite dress or one of Wade’s childhood shirts. (Yes, we grew up in an era when our mothers sewed most of our clothes.)

And then there are pies… so many pies! More blended bits. We combine tart rhubarb and sweet strawberries, or milk and eggs for smooth custard. Lemon or lime fillings are topped with bland yet beautiful meringue. A fall vegetable becomes a fragrant, spicy, pumpkin dessert. 

In another context, consider the way a stained-glass window is comprised of many fragile shapes, held together to complete a design we can’t imagine until it is framed and illuminated.

All of these varied and unexpected pairings create something unique and valued.

But how does this relate to MennoExpressions?

Back in June, the caring members of our First Mennonite and Shalom team chatted online, trying to forge consensus as we explored topics for this issue. No coffee, tea or Long’s donuts were available to sweeten the process, unless we each indulged alone. We vacillated…

The pandemic, so overarching in our lives, seemed impossible to ignore, but we would prefer something lighter to bring balm to our weariness. 

Perhaps a general discussion of illness and its impact would be less focused, but surely still difficult for writers asked to share.

We also felt a need to show our concern for justice, recognition, and support for people of color around us.

And we wanted art which could inspire or illustrate.

How would we decide?

A reminder that MennoExpressions historically explored and reflected current issues, even when they were fraught with emotion, brought the suggestion that we could encourage contributions relating to any of these topics, or a different focus, and then combine them into a blended issue, a patchwork of reactions and ideas for our days of disarray!

As the mélange of completed pieces and artwork appeared in our email folders, we have been inspired, and gratefully share the hope and encouragement with you, our readers.

O God…Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 63:7


Contents | Next article

Yes, We’re the Church Together!

“I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together!”

I remember singing these words in my childhood Sunday school class. This little song also included lyrics about how the church is not a building. The church is made up of people. At the time, I don’t think that made much sense to me. What did the song mean that “The church is not a building”? Didn’t we get up every Sunday and go to church? And what did it mean that the church is made of people? Even a little kid knows that you can’t build things out of people!

I’ve been thinking about that song a lot lately as we’ve been unable to meet in our church buildings. Can we still have church if we can’t go to church? I believe that the answer is yes. Yes, we’re the church together!

One of my favorite parts of church is the sense of belonging to a community. As members of the community we grieve together, we celebrate together, we help each other. When my faith is weak and I feel far from God, it can be so healing and refreshing to gather with other believers who can help strengthen my faith and remind me of God’s love. 

Over the past several months, many of us have had to change the ways that we gather and connect with our communities. Right now, for me, going to church means sitting down in my living room and opening my laptop. It’s better than nothing, but it sure isn’t the same as going to a building, greeting others with hugs or handshakes, singing together, and being physically near each other as we worship and pray and learn from God’s Word. 

But just because going to church looks different right now, that doesn’t mean that being the church has to look different. We can still grieve together, celebrate together, and help each other. Surely the Creator who knitted our very bodies together can knit together the Body of Christ even while we are physically apart! Although we cannot gather in the same room, we have not abandoned each other, and God has not abandoned us. Perhaps now, more than ever, we can practice being the church for each other. We may have to be creative, but there are still so many ways for us to show God’s love to each other and the whole world. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together!

Fear Not by Maggie Machledt Girard
Artwork by Maggie Girard

Previous article | Contents | Next article

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.


Previous article | Contents | Next article

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.


Previous article | Contents | Next article

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.


Previous article | Contents | Next article

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.


Previous article | Contents | Next article

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.


Previous article | Contents | Next article

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.


Previous article | Contents | Next article