I grew up spending many days at Aunt Lucy’s house. In Lucy’s room there was a bulletin board with a large heading: “THINE FOR SERVICE,” and as a nurse, a children’s Sunday School teacher, a neighbor, a friend, and certainly as an aunt, Lucy lived out that motto more than anyone I knew.
As a child I remember Edna Ruth Byler, the founder of MCC’s self help ministry, bringing her trunk-load of mother of pearl jewelry (actually only pins) and Palestinian needlecraft into our living room and setting up shop for a few days. And there was Grandma, in her 90’s, hunched over her sewing machine, still piecing comforters for Mennonite Central Committee. That field trip I took to the city to shop for items for MCC Christmas Bundles was an annual highlight.
And my college education had a motto: “Culture for Service.”
Being a Mennonite-Anabaptist has meant looking for ways to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and shelter the destitute. Following Jesus has meant looking out for the needs of others, as much as we look out for ourselves, and “THINE FOR SERVICE” has meant, in addition to our own daily arenas of service, supporting our sisters and brothers who are doing the hands-on, front -line action in all areas of the world.
As I write this, service in the Kingdom of God now includes social isolation, considering the needs of others and doing our small part in flattening the curve of spreading a virus. “Looking to the needs of others“ means walling up, staying home and standing still. This is NOT the kind of service we have known before.
So I am reminded of Darryl Byler’s father. Darryl, the long-time director of MCC Washington Office, shared in a sermon some years ago about his dad’s lifetime of active ministry. But near the end of his life, Darryl’s dad became a shut-in, and was stymied, not knowing NOW how to be useful in serving others. But then he began sending a note of encouragement to a different person each day. At his death, it was not his many years of active ministry that people were remembering, but it was those notes that became his lasting legacy.
There is a quote from MJ Sharp written on of a large vat in the Goshen Brew Company: “We can always listen.” MJ began his work in the CONGO with Mennonite Central Committee and then continued to work there under the auspices of the United Nations. As many of you know, MJ and his colleague were abducted and murdered as they worked for peace among warring factions. Reporters from the New York Times and NPR describe MJ sitting under a banana tree with a warlord, listening to his story, offering alternative ways of meeting his goals. Over the course of several years, MJ and his team persuaded some 1,600 rebels to lay down their weapons, which impacted some 23,000 family members. Profound change and greater peace came from sitting still under a banana tree, listening.
In these days of being walled up and shut in “We can always listen.” We can listen to each other’s heart-cries. And we can listen to a SPIRIT OF PEACE that enables us to be bearers of peace to others. We can listen to a SPIRIT whose LOVE is larger than all our fears, We can attend to a SPIRIT who is creative and imaginative and offers us new ministry opportunities, when we stand still enough to listen.
“THINE FOR SERVICE” does not stop when we stop our regular routines. Always, always there are ways to reach out to those in need, to be of encouragement to one another and to keep those on the front lines (especially our health care workers and the MCC workers who are serving the most vulnerable) bathed and undergirded with our resources, prayers, and creativity.