Serving in the name of Christ today:challenges and opportunities facing the church

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Individual articles from the Fall 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

From its inception, MCC has partnered with diverse Anabaptist churches
in serving in the name of Christ. For this issue of Intersections in MCC’s
centennial year, we asked church leaders from India, Canada, Switzerland,
Zimbabwe and Syria about what serving in the name of Christ looks like
in their contexts today. As it enters its second century, MCC continues to
accompany churches around the globe as they discern how they can faithfully
participate in God’s reconciling mission.—The editors.


India

The church in India has long been a subject matter of great curiosity and
intrigue, not just from a Christian perspective, but also in the general manner
that India and its many religions coexist. India is a predominantly Hindu
nation. India’s culture is overwhelmingly rooted in Hinduism. Therefore, the
line between religion and culture is often blurred.

Never before have churches in India faced greater scrutiny than today.”


How does the body of Christ function in a complex and ancient cultural,
socio-economic and political ecosystem like India? No doubt several challenges
confront the church. The impact of politics and government policies on the
church in India are greater than ever before. The BJP-led government continues
to assert its self-proclaimed Hindutva politics in a democracy where minorities
feel the heat of an increasingly intolerant majority. More churches have been
vandalized in the past five years than over many previous decades put together.
Never before have churches in India faced greater scrutiny than today. Scenes
of people being lynched on the streets of India, once unprecedented, are today
just another headline. Christian organizations which have contributed to the
national interest for years have had their funding cut-off and their activities
closely monitored on the pretext of possible acts of polarization or “conversion
tactics.” The Indian church today is not free to worship, because its mind and heart are bound in chains of fear and anxiety.

However, politics is not the only challenge the church faces. In fact, the bigger challenge comes from within its own fabric. Broken communities, church politics, faithless ministry and godlessness in Indian churches are more common than one would imagine. Moreover, India is projected to become the youngest country in the world by 2022 with over 60 percent of the population under the age of 35. This widening generation gap brings with it several challenges. Contrasting values and principles collide, causing strain within the community. Churches in India today run the risk of becoming obsolete and irrelevant to the young and restless minds of India`s youth.

“As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must unite and pray for a revival over the land of India.”

But where adversity persists, opportunity abounds. The church must take active measures to connect more with the younger lot. Church leadership and clergy must consciously include young people as a mainstay in decisions and day-to-day activities rather than relegating them to merely a youth section of the church. Furthermore, in a world guided by subjective morality, our churches must stand strong on biblical principles and not be swayed by the lure of a false and ungodly culture the world currently thrives on.

The Mennonite Church today has a divine opportunity to show the world how peace and reconciliation can still be sought and found in a broken world. If ever there was a time for the church to proclaim the need for reconciliation and the means to achieve it through the word of the living God, that time is now! We cannot shy away from persecution. We cannot deny that the hardships we face might get worse. We cannot say that followers of Christ will not undergo pain and suffering from the world, as prophesied in Scripture. Yet it is within such persecution that the church has the greatest opportunity for Christ’s body to bring healing wherever there is ailing.

Amidst the hardships faced by the church in India, MCC India has been a great source of encouragement and financial support to the Indian Mennonite churches through its relief and development programs. MCC supports peacebuilding initiatives carried out by Indian Mennonite churches, organizes peace and conflict mediation seminars in congregations and assists the church in working for the empowerment of women and children. The church in India is strengthened in its faith and witness through MCC’s ministry. We praise God for MCC India and its mission in our country.

As India’s population continues to grow, the church must keep its ears open and eyes closed, pointed upwards in expectant prayer. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must unite and pray for a revival over the land of India. As the world looks at us and waits for a day when India becomes a superpower, let us pray that day will be the day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Premanand Bagh teaches in the Christian Ministry Division at Union Biblical Seminary in Pune, India.

Canada

The tag line for my organization, Multiply, reads, “Together, that the world may know.” Philosophically, “together” connotes ideals that are warmly endorsed by faith communities the world over. It embodies community, dependence, humility and unity. The opposing spirit to “together” represents all that is anathema to the Body of Christ, the Bride: isolation, independence, power and enmity.

I have spent the last two years engaging more intentionally with the Lord’s Prayer as part of my personal spiritual disciplines. I want to align myself with the themes upon which Jesus invited his followers to focus and intercede. It seems that the goal of this prayer template was not so much to create a universally repeated liturgy, but instead to steadily renew the mind and soul of the believer through daily prayer into a longing for and engagement with the themes on the heart of God. “Together” is at the core of this petition. The Lord’s Prayer invites us as a global family to pray to “Our Father,” calling for community and not isolation. “Your kingdom come, your will be done” requires humility and an absence of power. “Give us this day our daily bread” embodies dependence, not independence. And finally, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” calls for unity, not enmity. As Jesus invited his disciples to pray, so we are invited to pray and then live out each value, continually resourced by the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus invited his disciples to pray, so we are invited to pray and then live out each value, continually resourced by the Holy Spirit.

Where are we seeing this “together” today? In our global context, Multiply has been resourcing North American churches engaging in partnerships with the global church, not simply with a budget line to fund ministry, but with a lifeline, a human bridge of members coming and going to each other’s contexts to serve, support and mutually resource. An Ontario church travels to Germany to partner with a local congregation so that they can in turn support the start-up efforts of another region’s German/Canadian planting team. A rural Ontario community connects with a Thai network reaching out to rural communities in the country. Together, that the world may know.

A team of young adults from around the globe gather in Central Asia and the Middle East to collaborate with those of other faiths on the themes of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. They run a camp together. The team goes in the love of the Father sharing the values of the Prince of Peace as they live and serve in community. Together, that the world may know.

If God’s saving love, expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is for every person, every family and every nation, then we as the church are compelled to pray the Lord’s Prayer together—in community, dependence, humility and unity

In the Canadian North, denominations unite together to serve Indigenous communities by collaboratively resourcing workers who have relocated to engage in holistic support and witness. Together, that the world may know.

There are challenges in serving together. The global church has faced cultural distinctions, discriminating biases, theological differences and sometimes long histories of division. In Multiply, we have been reminded of the humbling unifying posture embodied in Jesus’ final prayer for disciples the world over: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22b-24, NIV).

If God’s saving love, expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is for every person, every family and every nation, then we as the church are compelled to pray the Lord’s Prayer together—in community, dependence, humility and unity. Together, that the world may know . . . Jesus.

Robyn Serez is regional mobilizer for Eastern Canada for Multiply.

Switzerland

Five hundred years ago, Europe was seized by the Reformation. At that time, the church was still a major force within society and could play a decisive role in determining which forms of faith and life were accepted. The Anabaptist movement experienced this reality in Zurich. While initially part of renewal movements within the state church and the broader society, Anabaptists were soon persecuted by church and state as heretics and rebels.

This societal powerlessness is a great opportunity for the witness of our churches. For at the margins of society we first learn to know Christ himself anew.” “A post-Christendom society means a pluralistic society. We must therefore learn to participate in a broader conversation about how a flourishing

Five hundred years later, the church has long since lost this position of social power. In Switzerland we increasingly live in a post-Christendom society. For the church, this does not only mean a theological loss of relevance. Many people today associate the church’s former moral authority with sexual abuse, violence and outdated beliefs. The diaconal commitment of the churches to service has long been appreciated by society, but this has changed noticeably in recent years. Churches which explicitly justify their social action by appeals to their Christian faith are under the suspicion that they merely want to proselytize other people on this path. Such suspicions were factors in the Swiss government’s decision to cut national funds for our Mennonite youth work. The church is under the general suspicion of wanting to interfere in social life in an invasive way.

The church must regain its credibility in our society. But it cannot do so as it did five hundred years ago. The church must learn to live as a minority in our society. This is a challenge and, above all, an unusual situation for the large national churches. As Mennonites, we think that this is first and foremost an opportunity.

If the church as a whole comes into a minority position, a new coexistence of the different churches is needed. The church cannot serve our society with denominational disputes, but only as a common and reconciled body of Christ. Service to society must therefore not be misused as a means of gaining new members for one’s own denomination. If the church is marginalized in society, it naturally loses its influence, which is based on a position of social power. But this powerlessness is a great opportunity for the witness of our churches. For at the margins of society we first learn to know Christ himself anew. This can happen if we turn to the weak in our society. Not only do we serve them in the name of Jesus, but first and foremost we encounter Jesus himself in them. As a powerless church, we also no longer have any claims to power to defend, as was so often the case in the Christendom. A powerless church is in a good position to build bridges between different social groups.

As a church we therefore want to learn anew to live the reconciliation given in Christ. We practice how to deal constructively with conflicts and thus make a contribution to peace in society. After all, a post-Christendom society also means a pluralistic society. We must therefore learn to participate in a broader conversation about how a flourishing life is possible for all within a pluralistic society.

Finally, when one considers Switzerland within the global context, we recognize that we belong to one of the richest societies in the world. This obliges us to show solidarity with the world’s poorest and to make a substantial contribution to a fairer world. In doing so, we must live with the challenge that there are still very different forms of need in our society.

Lukas Amstutz is co-president of the Swiss Mennonite Conference and is the programme director of the Theological Seminary Bienenberg.

Zimbabwe

The apostle Paul proclaimed: “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5, NIV).This proclamation sets the tone for all who seek to work in the name of Christ. The church, however, faces challenges and opportunities wherever it serves. Challenges usually herald abundant opportunities for change. For this reflection, I engaged some Anabaptist church leaders in southern Africa about what they see as the challenges and opportunities faced by the church. I heard three main themes from this feedback, namely, challenges and opportunities related to economics, technology and leadership.

Genuine evangelists of integrity have an opportunity to present the pure gospel of Christ.”

Economics: Implementing and operating mission activities with poor human and material resources are immensely challenging. Many churches, including mine, have for many years looked to the mother church in the U.S. and Canada to provide highly trained theologians and to offer resource tools to mobilize evangelism as part of the church’s fulfillment of its mandate. Many rural churches are so poor that only the pastor owns a Bible. Also, sadly, a cancer that has crept into many churches in southern Africa is the onslaught of the exploitative prosperity and healing gospel moguls. In South Africa, one pastor made his naive congregants eat grass and flowers and drink petrol to be “closer to God.” There was even a pseudo-miracle of claiming to raise a person from the dead in South Africa.

Islam has an upper hand in this region because their missionaries proclaim Islam while simultaneously providing the material assistance people need, such as food, clothes, school fees for children and even housing. Many say that is how Christianity is undermined.

These challenges reflect the dire hunger and thirst for something more fulfilling. They present opportunities for genuine evangelists of integrity to present the pure gospel of Christ.

Technology: Access to the internet and social media has many positive results for congregations and congregants. These include easy access to Christian broadcasts, training programmes and Bible studies. On the other hand, social media has created havoc, especially with young people. Parents are competing with media of different types as they seek to raise and discipline children. There is general moral decline due to the encroachment of various media content, which may be both foreign and negative to African cultural and Christian norms.

There is ample opportunity for the church in the global North to partner with the church in the global South

Leadership: Many denominational congregations are led by part-time and untrained leaders. Southern Africa is still deeply entrenched in patriarchy and male-domination in ministry work. Denominations such as Methodists, Lutherans and the Church of Christ have many women in leadership roles. Be in Christ and Brethren in Christ churches in North America have ordained women in ministry as they believe both men and women are equally called and empowered to work in missions. In the Brethren in Christ Church in Zambia and Zimbabwe, rural areas have a majority of women pastors who serve on a voluntary basis, as they are not trained for the task. Lack of training causes the women-led rural congregations to be marginalized.

The church globally is consumed by materialism and secularism which makes it lukewarm. Yusufu Turaki says that materialism makes Christians lukewarm and indifferent to their faith. There is ample opportunity for the church in the global North to partner with the church in the global South, the former providing needed resources to further the gospel while the latter provides the zeal and passion for the gospel.

Barbara Nkala is Mennonite World Conference regional representative for Southern Africa.

Syria

Hama is a Syrian city with a great history and a proud multi-cultural heritage in which Muslims, Christians and others have lived together in peace and harmony for centuries. Unfortunately, the war that has been fought inside Syria for almost a decade has wounded this heritage.

Christianity entered Hama in the earliest decades after Jesus’ resurrection. Within the city today there are eight existing churches, the remains of a great cathedral and a monastery. The countryside surrounding Hama is full of towns populated not only by Sunni Muslims, Alawites and Ismailis, but also by Christians, who for centuries have lived in villages like Kefarh, Ayu, Bayh, Tumin, Maharada, Skelebiyya, Baydah and Bayadiyah. Hama and its surroundings have for centuries reflected a multi-cultural Islamic society, a society which accepts others for who they are and in which Christians have led the Christian life according to Jesus and his word. Christians have had friendly relations with their Muslim neighbors, who have respected them as followers of ‘Issa (the Qur’anic name for Jesus), son of Mary.

With the start of violent conflict inside Syria in 2011, Hama’s multi-cultural fabric has been torn. Syrian Christians have now sometimes come to be associated by some Muslims with the West. Amidst these new challenges, the role of the Church grew in extinguishing fires of hostility, declaring: “We are all partners in pain and sorrow, in joy and loss—this is not a religious war! We are brothers and sisters!”

Through the viciousness of war, marked by anxiety, distress, homelessness, hunger, pain and insecurity, breaks through a ray of light: humanitarian assistance. By extending humanitarian assistance, the church proclaims that “The other is me, I am the other: we do not simply live together, but rather we live and survive together.” Over the course of the violence, our churches have become signs of hope to the people of Hama, offering refuge for all in need. People who came in need to Hama’s churches discovered in these churches the true love that crowns acts of mercy. Amid violent conflict, the church calls out: “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV). In the face of shelling, missiles and violent incursions, the church in Hama has remained steadfast and faithful to its mission, proclaiming God’s glory through its good works (Matthew 5:16). Meanwhile, the faces of perseverance from the displaced, hungry and suffering people who have come to us from Homs, Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa, Deir al-Zour, Hasakah and Qamishli give us hope for a better future.

Through the viciousness of war, marked by anxiety, distress, homelessness, hunger, pain and insecurity, breaks through a ray of light: humanitarian assistance.”

The aid sent by the churches in Canada, the United States and Europe has been a blessing. Support from MCC and Canadian Foodgrains Bank has enabled displaced refugees and host communities to survive and maintain their dignity in a war that not only destroyed buildings and a way of life but also the woven fabric that has held the Syrian way of life together. In faith, like Peter, the church in Hama cast out a net, and thanks to God’s grace and the work of the church around the world, we pulled in a catch of 153 fish, and our net did not break (John 21:11). We are faced with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who works through the loyal, faithful and weak in the East and the West. We can only bow and be thankful.

In the face of shelling, missiles and violent incursions, the church in Hama has remained steadfast and faithful to its mission, proclaiming God’s glory through its good works (Matthew 5:16).

We believe that the Spirit of God works in us all for good. We also believe that he guided us to our partners like MCC, who have supported us in carrying the message of love and the law of mercy and the light of the Gospel at a time when we struggled to find humanitarian assistance to share this message with our fellow Syrians. Despite the hardships we have faced, we still believe that God will carry out his will.

Boutros Melki is a Syrian Orthodox priest in Hama, Syria.

In the name of Christ: keywords and excerpts from MCC’s missiology across the decades

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Given that MCC is a one-hundred-year-old organization representing a wide range of Anabaptist churches in Canada and the United States, churches with diverse theologies and practices, it should come as no surprise that MCC’s missiology has changed and developed over time, even as lines of continuity can be charted. This article does not offer a missiological history of MCC, but instead highlights keywords which future historians of MCC’s missiology would do well to examine, alongside representative excerpts from diverse documents that offer windows into MCC’s evolving missiology over the decades.

A key phrase in MCC’s missiology over time has been “In the Name of Christ.” First proposed in 1941 by John and Eileen Coffman, MCC workers in war-torn England, as a “little slogan” that could be attached to “the clothing that is made and donated by our people,” the phrase “In the Name of Christ” quickly became a widely-used shorthand for naming the motivation undergirding all of MCC’s work. The phrase continues to be used extensively within MCC’s public and internal communication, an ongoing reminder that MCC’s relief, development and peace efforts are a form of Christian witness.

While “In the Name of Christ” would arguably stand out as the most significant keyword or phrase in a history of MCC’s missiology, other keywords would also receive sustained attention. The quartet of relief, service, peace and sharing would all figure prominently in an account of MCC’s first decades, with service through relief efforts understood as a proactive witness for peace (and as an alternative to war) and as a form of sharing within the global church (mutual aid) and beyond. Public and internal documents across MCC’s century also highlight MCC’s identity as an inter-Mennonite or inter-Anabaptist agency, a church-based organization representing diverse Anabaptist churches.

In the second half of MCC’s century, new keywords gained prominence in MCC discourse. From the 1970s into the 1990s, words like partnership, simple living (alongside more-with-less), presence, justice, peacemaking, mutual transformation and connecting people began appearing with increasing frequency within MCC publications and internal communication. These new keywords did not replace earlier keywords like relief and In the Name of Christ, but rather modulated how they were understood.

The excerpts below from a wide variety of documents—from official board statements to internal working papers to news releases to cookbook forewords and more—offer some representative (but by no means exhaustive) examples of how these keywords and phrases have operated within MCC. Future historians of MCC’s understanding of its work and mission will do well to pay attention to the function and development of these keywords within MCC over the decades.


“Relief work is a particular duty and privilege in time of war, when human sin and destructiveness are doing their worst. To build where others destroy, to heal where others kill, to love when all men hate, is ‘to heap coals of fire upon the head’ and to overcome evil with good. There is no greater force in the world than the power of Christian love in action. Relief work is a living and powerful testimony to this love at a time when it is most needed.”—“The Why of Relief Work,” 1941.

“Confessionally we stand on the teachings of Christ as presented in the Gospels and interpreted by the lives and letters of the apostles as recorded in the Scripture. Even though we represent a number of groups of Mennonites who differ more or less in their modes of life and in their practices, we all agree on the essentials of faith in Christ, the Son of God as the Savior and coming Prince of Peace through whom alone is forgiveness of sin, peace in the heart, victory over sin and life everlasting. With Christian charity we respect our differences, finding no occasion to meddle with matters which might disrupt our unity of effort to give expression to the sacred trust we all share. Appearing in a spirit of prayer we leave our differences under the cross and proceed in the name of Christ with a united front.”—P.C. Hiebert, “Foreword,” MCC Handbook (Akron, PA: MCC, 1945).

“Sacrificial contributions, given ‘In the name of Christ,’ will feed both the body and the spirit of many of our brethren in the faith, their neighbors, and friends. From the abundance of our resources, from the warmth of our hearts, we have much to share.”—Ruth Hilty and Lydia Lehman, Mennonite Central Committee Women’s Activities Letter, no. 20 (July 1945).

“North American agencies used to go around running their own programs, using their own personnel and doing pretty well as they pleased. Eventually the error of that approach became obvious and we began to have a great deal of respect for the indigenous process. Now we much prefer to identify an existing agency with which we feel compatible and support it with personnel or money, permitting it to enlarge its effort.”—Edgar Stoesz, “An Improvement, Yet a Dilemma,” Intercom (July 1976).

In 1976, the MCC board approved these organizational objectives:

  1. To share resources in the name of Christ and proclaim Jesus as Lord.
  2. To establish and preserve an identity as free as possible from those nationalistic, cultural and ideological interests which are contrary to our understanding of faithfulness to Christ and to seek to meet human need in any nation regardless of political identity or affiliation.
  3. To participate in a development process based on local capacity and self-reliance by which persons and societies come to realize the full potential of their human, natural and spiritual resources.
  4. To follow the example of Christ, in striving for justice in identifying with the weak and oppressed and in reconciling the oppressor and oppressed.
  5. To provide relief for victims of disasters in ways which encourage their maximum initiative, dignity and participation.
  6. To sensitize our constituency to the injustices and human suffering which exist at home and abroad, so that the church can participate in MCC ministries with a greater understanding and follow a life style commitment consistent with Biblical and Anabaptist principles.
  7. To attempt to influence, out of our experience, public policy decisions which affect victims of war, hunger and injustice with sensitivity to and in consultation with national churches and groups to which we relate.
  8. To support and cooperate with national churches and mission boards, especially in places where Mennonite and Brethren in Christ mission and churches are present. Where no Christian groups are present, MCCers should see themselves as a nucleus for a Christian fellowship.

MCC Statement on Program Assumptions, Objectives and Priorities, 1976.

“Mennonites—a people who care about the hungry—are on a search. We are looking for ways to live more simply and joyfully, ways that grow out of our tradition, but take their shape from living faith and the demands of our hungry world.”—Doris Janzen Longacre, “Foreword,” More-with-Less Cookbook (1976).

“Although the fact is not widely known, the Mennonite Central Committee has preceded Mennonite mission work in some 20 countries. . . . Wherever MCC has initiated, it has strongly encouraged missions to follow. This pattern is central to MCC’s understanding of word and deed. . . . MCC’s work does not always have to lead to missions. But church planting has often followed, and when it does, MCC looks on it with great joy.”—Marion Keeney Preheim, “MCC: Forerunner in Mission,” MCC Information Services (December 6, 1979).

“A ministry of presence suggests that need is best defined from the stance of being present rather than by strategies inspired by well-developed ideology, media headlines or grandiose projects.”—John A. Lapp, “Report of the Executive Secretary,” 1987.

In 1989, Robert Kreider worked with Reg Toews to list a set of “Unwritten Tenets of MCC Operations.” These included:

#3: Committed to programs which are personnel intensive.

#4: Inter-Mennonite in control, staffing and image.

#14: Growing interest in and commitment to reciprocity, exchange and partnership—seeking the grace of being able to receive gifts as well as give gifts.

#15: Preference for the small scale. If you make mistakes, let them be little mistakes.

#21: Committed to the integration of word and deed.

“MCC serves as a channel of interchange by building relationships that are mutually transformative. . . . MCC facilitates interchange and mutual learning between its supporting constituency and those with whom we work around the world, so that all may give and receive.”—Principles that Guide Our Mission (1991).

“We will contribute to the relief of human need and suffering by giving ourselves and our resources. The needs of our world and the cries of people in many places for justice call us to respond as Jesus did, with compassion. At the same time, we recognize our own spiritual and moral poverty and seek to receive the gifts that others, some of whom may be materially poorer than we are, have to share with us.

We will live in relationships of love and mutual respect. We seek to model such relationships in our homes, churches and work places, and to refrain from behavior which violates and abuses others physically or emotionally. In the spirit or Christ, we will oppose and seek to correct abusive relationships within our church family.”—From A Commitment to Christ’s Way of Peace (1994).

“Connecting Peoples is rooted in our understanding of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, coming to live among us in order to break down barriers and walls: ‘For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.’ (Ephesians 2:14) MCC seeks to promote Christian unity by supporting constituents and partners who are interested in direct relationships with each other. Such a goal assumes a deep confidence that building relationships—proper relationships based on generosity and accountability—transforms us even as it assaults cultural assumptions.”—Mennonite Central Committee Connecting Peoples Manual, ed. Robert Eugene Brenneman (Akron, PA: MCC, 2003).

“The implications of receiving from God in order to give to others are profound because receiving from God requires a new way of thinking about myself in relation to God and others. Instead of perceiving myself as one who actively initiates a response to the needs around me, I begin to recognize that my concerns for justice and peace are planted in me by God. God is the Source of my desire to serve and I am the recipient of God’s concerns, dreams, and activity in the world.”—Susan Classen, A Spirituality of Service: Freely Give, Freely Receive, MCC Occasional Paper No. 29 (January 2003).

“Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches, shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation.”—MCC Purpose Statement, in Principles and Practices (2012).

Alain Epp Weaver directs strategic planning for MCC. Frank Peachey and Lori Wise are MCC U.S. records manager and assistant, respectively.

Kreider, Robert S. and Rachel Waltner Goossen. Hungry, Thirsty, a Stranger: The MCC Experience. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988.

Principles and Practices. MCC, 2011. Available at https://mcccanada.ca/sites/mcccanada.ca/files/media/common/documents/mccprinciplesandpracticesweb2.pdf.

Unity amidst Diversity: Mennonite Central Committee at 75. Akron, PA: MCC, 1996.

Unruh, John. In the Name of Christ: A History of the Mennonite Central Committee. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1952.

Weaver, Alain Epp. Ed. A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2011.

Defining identities: MCC and Mennonite World Conference

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Individual articles from the Fall 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

“The church will slow down the work of Mennonite Central Committee,” a person at the 2008 MCC New Wine, New Wineskins consultative process meeting in Winnipeg told me. “If we want to be a more effective NGO, we need to act independently from the church,” he continued. I remember that consultation as an opportunity for me to reaffirm my Anabaptist convictions about the church. Yes, the church may not be very effective in fulfilling NGO standards of professional management and administrative structure, but it nevertheless embodies God’s method of real and long-lasting social transformation.

Social transformation is a goal shared by MCC and Mennonite World Conference (MWC). But what roles do MWC and MCC play in pursuing this goal? Surveying the past decades, we see that MCC’s and MWC’s histories have been intertwined, with the two bodies shaping each other and shaping broader understandings of Anabaptist identity. In the words of former MCC executive director Ron Mathies, “the two organizations are made of the same cloth—the fabric of Anabaptist peoplehood—and have had an increasing impact on each other and the mission of the church over the past decades” (Mathies, 85).

The MWC-MCC relationship throughout the decades has been marked by counsel and cooperation. Both MCC and MWC started in response to the context of violence and persecution that Mennonites were facing in Europe and Russia in the second decade of the last century. MCC began in 1920 as a service arm of churches in the United States and Canada to support Mennonite refugees and families affected by war and famine in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine), with this relief ministry joined from MCC’s inception by development and peace work. In 1925, MWC emerged as a way of bringing Mennonites together, affirming the cross-cultural faith in Jesus as understood in the Anabaptist tradition, a faith that is capable of overcoming nationalisms and racism.

“The church may not be very effective in fulfilling NGO standards of professional management and administrative structure, but it nevertheless embodies God’s method of real and long-lasting social transformation.”

As Mathies explains, over the course of their histories both MCC and MWC have placed a strong emphasis on inter-Mennonite solidarity, have shared leaders (including presidents, executive secretaries and senior staff), supported each other (e.g., planning the logistics of MWC global assemblies and global consultations) and connected churches around common goals (such as through the YAMEN program). These converging purposes and leadership exchanges are understandable due to the ecclesiological understanding that Anabaptists have about mission. Mission, from the Anabaptist point of view, is something done by the church in the world as a witness to Christ. It cannot be completely delegated to specialists or independent institutions. Moreover, the church per se is mission, which makes it difficult to separate or compartmentalize mission and church.

Catholic theologian Gerhard Lohfink has rightly insisted that “the real being of Christ can be bright only if the church makes visible the messianic alternative and the new eschatological creation that happens from Christ” (191-192). This new eschatological creation is global and multicultural in scope. It overcomes nationalisms and other boundaries, facilitating interdependence, care and love for one other. Our world desperately needs to see this eschatological reality manifested today. That is a call to which MWC responds by becoming a global communion.

MWC has understood itself as part of God’s activity of bringing together diverse social fragments—as parts of the same body—to make God’s new creation visible. As a global church in the Anabaptist tradition, MWC is a place where all member churches sit together with the same level of mutual authority regardless of their ethnicity, financial capacity and Anabaptist distinctives. It is a place where theology, service, education, peacemaking, church planting, health care, pastoral care, worship, ministries of women and youth and other ecclesial activities happen globally and cross-culturally. In this manner, MWC serves as a global alternative community to the states of this world.

One of the essential questions of MCC’s New Wine, New Wineskins revisioning and restructuring process was, “To whom is MCC accountable (who is the ‘keeper of the MCC soul’)?” From the MWC perspective, it was clear that, even though MCC has multicultural staff and volunteers all over the world, it is accountable to Anabaptist churches in Canada and the United States, who are the owners of MCC. In a similar way, churches in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America have developed their own service structures as they have matured and developed. However, none of their agencies have the experience, capacity and global reach that MCC has. Therefore, in practice, MCC has been called to provide a leadership role within the network of Anabaptist agencies in MWC.

“In practice, MCC has been called to provide a leadership role within the network of Anabaptist agencies in Mennonite World Conference.”

Through MCC’s active participation in MWC’s Global Anabaptist Service Network (GASN), new possibilities of global, inter-Anabaptist collaboration have emerged over the past decade: coordinating multiagency responses to natural disasters or other crises, joint planning of cross-cultural ministries of service with other Anabaptist agencies, supporting national churches in creating their own service structures and helping Anabaptist service agencies around the globe build their own capacity.

With MCC’s active role in the GASN, which itself is part of MWC’s Mission Commission, there are endless possibilities of coordinated planning and interdependent work among agencies from different cultures and with different ministries such as church planting, peacemaking, healthcare and education. As we look to MCC’s second century—and soon MWC’s second century—can we dream together about multicultural Anabaptist teams serving together in the same geographical area providing relief, education, health, peacemaking, church planting and social development? I think so. I think that is God’s call for our church and mission.

César García is general secretary of Mennonite World Conference.

Lohfink, Gerhard. La Iglesia que Jesús Quería: Dimensión Comunitaria de la Fe Cristiana. 4th ed. Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer, 1986.

Mathies, Ronald J. R. “Synergies in Mission: The MWC/MCC Relationship.” In A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity. Ed. Alain Epp Weaver, 84-103. Telford PA: Cascadia 2011.

Peacebuilding as presence: MCC assignments in “enemy” contexts

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

Beginning with the decision by some MCC workers from the United States to remain in Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country on March 29, 1973, one form MCC’s peace witness has taken has been a witness of presence within so-called “enemy” contexts. Such peace witness included placing graduate students behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War tasked with connecting to and supporting churches in the Eastern bloc, assigning aid workers to live and work in Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion of the country in 2002, placing more graduate students at an Islamic studies center in Qom, Iran, seconding staff to work with health ministries in Afghanistan and sending agronomists to make extended program support visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). Below are reflections from MCC workers who were involved in such peacebuilding-as-presence initiatives on the joys and challenges they faced.—The editors.


Iraq

We often think of two U.S.-led wars in Iraq. One began in January 1991 in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, ending just over a month later. The second Iraq war began in March 2003 and ended in December 2011. But it is more accurate to say that it was just one long war. The no-fly zones established over northern and southern Iraq from 1991 to 2003 included multiple air strikes and dozens of cruise missiles bombing Iraqi targets, coupled with a debilitating sanctions campaign and a long legacy of depleted uranium.

I arrived in the middle of this long war. From January 2004 to June 2006, I was the MCC Iraq program manager. My job had two components. First, I was to teach English at Babel College, a Chaldean Catholic college and seminary in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. Second, I was tasked with cultivating relationships with potential MCC partners, whether churches, Islamic organizations or emerging local NGOs. In doing so, I was merely continuing the work that had begun in 1998 with Wanda Kraybill, the first MCCer in Iraq. From 1998 to 2003, Wanda, and later Carmen Pauls and then Edward Miller, were in Iraq as a gesture of solidarity, especially with the churches there. Placing these MCC workers in Iraq was a way of saying: “Not all Westerners share the U.S. government’s position and not all Christians in the U.S. think their citizenship is more important than their baptism.” MCCers worked alongside the Middle East Council of Churches, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society and the Australian branch of CARE to mitigate the effects of the U.S. sanctions and to call attention to the slow violence of depleted uranium munitions, but they did so with limited resources. Importantly, this was a time when there was virtually no Western presence in Iraq. The MCC difference was, first and foremost, simply being there as friend instead of enemy, despite our U.S. citizenship. We took a stand against the sanctions campaign, both as advocates at home in Washington, D.C., and through aid projects on the ground in Iraq.

Placing MCC workers in Iraq was a way of saying, “not all Westerners share the U.S. government’s position and not all Christians in the U.S. think their citizenship is more important that their baptism.”

But after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, all that changed. Specifically, two things shifted dramatically and both made MCC’s position harder to maintain. First, instead of a few western NGOs with limited resources, Iraq was flooded with western NGOs with billions to spend. Instead of being a lone NGO in defiance of the international community’s aggression, MCC was now just one small cog in a giant aid industry. That industry, as I came to see it after I arrived in January 2004, had three distinct factions. The first were what we might call the “occupying NGOs,” indebted to USAID and the U.S. State Department and (some eagerly, some reluctantly) a key part of the U.S. war effort. The second was what I affectionately called the humanitarian fundamentalists. These were primarily European NGOs committed to the principled tradition of humanitarian neutrality that is best represented by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontière (MSF). The third were the left-wing activist NGOs who were willing to abandon the neutrality of the second group in pursuit of their anti-war agenda. 

MCC was an odd fit with these three groups. While philosophically, practically and socially most distant from the U.S. NGOs, we couldn’t get away from the fact that most of the MCCers involved were U.S. citizens. We became closest to the humanitarians and the activist NGOs, but for that to happen they had to overcome their wariness of both our citizenship and of our faith commitments. 

The second change was that aid workers were now vulnerable in a way they had not been before 2004. In April of that year, the Iraqi insurgency began taking hostages. A Wikipedia page, “Foreign Hostages in Iraq,” lists over 200 hostages, the vast majority between 2004-2006. At least eight of those were close colleagues of MCC and of those eight, three were killed. It would be convenient if the ones kidnapped were the ones with the closest ties to the U.S. and the invading military coalition. But that wasn’t the case. It was the ICRC compound in Baghdad that was attacked in 2003. In the eyes of the insurgency, we were all enemies. In other words, it became harder to imagine that MCC, or any non-coalition aid agency, was either neutral or on the side of Iraqis. The whole notion of ‘sides’ had gotten scrambled. 

Sister Elham Degaly and Sarah (age 12) in the courtyard of St Anne’s Orphanage. St Anne’s Orphanage was an MCCsupported Global Family project from 2009-2016. Sarah’s last name is not used for security reasons. Iraqi families have been torn apart by poverty and war. Some families have been unable to care for their children. Some children have watched their parents die. The Daughters of Mary of the Chaldean Christian Church provide a loving home for children (mostly girls) with traumatic childhoods. In partnership with the Daughters of Mary, MCC buys textbooks, tutoring resources and other supplies. (MCC photo/Kaitlin Heatwole)

Evacuated to Jordan, the humanitarian fundamentalist and activist NGOs had a standard explanation. “Humanitarian space,” the space in which aid agencies could carry out their mission to the most vulnerable, was only possible when aid agencies maintained their distance from the U.S. coalition power and when the U.S. coalition power respected that distance. Since so many NGOs had effectively become extensions of the occupation, whether willingly or because of USAID arm-twisting, that space no longer existed. In other words, the ICRC hadn’t been bombed because it was an enemy, but because the occupying NGOs had so muddied humanitarian space that it was no longer possible to tell the difference between the humanitarian fundamentalists and the occupation. In the space of just a year, MCC went from being the sole inhabitant of humanitarian space, to one of many organizations claiming humanitarian space, to witnessing the end of that space.

Meanwhile, the suffering of our Iraqi friends and colleagues increased exponentially. Caught between the coalition forces and the growing Iraqi insurgency, tens of thousands of Iraqis died and millions were displaced and remain displaced to this day. Those who remained had their lives disrupted and upended in all the countless ways that war wrecks societies—struggles to obtain food, healthcare, education and employment and lives of constant fear. From my apartment in Jordan in 2005, communicating with Iraqi friends and colleagues by phone and email and learning daily about the deteriorating conditions, we weighed commitments to solidarity with Iraqis alongside the risks. The former won out and MCC agreed to let me return to Baghdad, to an apartment above the flat where members of Christian Peacemaker Teams lived. CPT had never left. But just a week before my return flight, four of those CPTers were kidnapped. One, the only U.S. citizen, Tom Fox, was killed. Fifteen years later, MCC Iraq still does not maintain a presence in Baghdad.

Peter Dula is professor of religion and culture at Eastern Mennonite University. He worked with MCC in Iraq from 2004-2006.


Paticipants at an interfaith workshop in Abeche, Chad, hosted by Ethics, Peace and Justice (EPJ) in 2016, discuss challenges to interfaith collaboration in their communities. MCC partnered with EPJ for over 20 years in peacebuilding initiatives, bringing Muslim, Protestant and Catholic leaders together to foster cooperation and community resilience. (MCC photo/Mark Tymm)

In the Name of Christ (Fall 2020)

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Individual articles from the Fall 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog once per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus says that when we work together and act as one, we are a sign of God sending Jesus into the world and a sign that God loves the world. From the first impulse one hundred years ago by churches in the United States and Canada to help people in desperate need in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) to MCC’s ministries today in over 50 countries around the world, including Canada and the U.S., MCC has brought Anabaptist churches together to be a part of God’s mission in the world.

“In the name of Christ,” one MCC worker told a group recently, is more than a slogan—it is why we do what we do. We could not agree more. While MCC works to assist all people in need around the world, regardless of faith tradition, our work in relief, development and peace proclaims our gratitude for our Savior. Jesus has shared the fullness of life with us and we want to share it with others.

As Beachy Amish, Brethren in Christ, Mennonites, Mennonite Brethren, Conservative Mennonites, Old Order Amish and Mennonites and more, when we work together through MCC to share a cup of water with our neighbors at home and throughout the world, we signal to these communities that God loves them. “In the Name of Christ” names what is foundational to MCC service: the why of MCC service is integral to and inseparable from the what of relief, development and peace.

In the Name of Christ” names what is foundational to MCC service: the why of MCC service is integral to and inseparable from the what of relief, development and peace.

This issue of Intersections focuses on our work “In the Name of Christ,” and completes the four centennial issues that have examined MCC’s century of working at relief, development and peace in Christ’s name. César García, president of Mennonite World Conference (MWC), reflects on the past, present and future of the partnership between MWC and MCC. Church leaders from the United States, Canada and churches around the world reflect on what service in the name of Christ looks like in their contexts and on their hopes for MCC’s partnership with the church as MCC enters its second century.

May God continue to use this ministry of the churches we call MCC in its next one hundred years as a testimony to God sending Jesus into the world and a sign of God’s love for all.

Ron Byler and Ann Graber Hershberger are MCC U.S. executive director and associate executive director, respectively.

Peacebuilding as presence: MCC assignments in “enemy” contexts

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

Beginning with the decision by some MCC workers from the United States to remain in Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country on March 29, 1973, one form MCC’s peace witness has taken has been a witness of presence within so-called “enemy” contexts. Such peace witness included placing graduate students behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War tasked with connecting to and supporting churches in the Eastern bloc, assigning aid workers to live and work in Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion of the country in 2002, placing more graduate students at an Islamic studies center in Qom, Iran, seconding staff to work with health ministries in Afghanistan and sending agronomists to make extended program support visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). Below are reflections from MCC workers who were involved in such peacebuilding-as-presence initiatives on the joys and challenges they faced.—The editors.

Afghanistan

Oh, healing river, the anonymous song writer pens, send down your waters and wash the blood from off the sand. The cleansing power of a mighty river would be needed to wash the blood spilled in Afghanistan in the last two decades. The U.S. military counts nearly 2,400 service members lost. Afghanistan has paid a far higher price, with estimated Afghan civilian and military deaths totaling 100,000.

The opening volley in the war in Afghanistan came less than a month after the twin towers in New York City crumbled into a smoldering heap on September 11, 2001. The initial, publicly stated U.S. goal of the conflict in Afghanistan aimed to force the Taliban to hand over the September 11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden. The conflict continues almost two decades later, even though U.S. forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

God loves even those some may define as ‘enemies.

For nearly one hundred years, MCC has sought to infuse its commitment to peacemaking into its global relief work. Underlying this ideal is the implicit understanding that all people are created and loved by God. God loves even those some may define as “enemies.” 

Modern warfare creates new challenges for peacemakers. The twenty-first century wars waged by the U.S. present indistinct battlefield positions. Armed “enemy” combatants mingle and move along the same streets and highways with unarmed advocates of peace. While no stranger to complex and dangerous situations, MCC considered whether it should place workers in Afghanistan as the conflict escalated. Questions abounded. What are the limits of solidarity with those who have no choice but to live in conflict zones? What is a responsible stance for an international peace organization sending workers to places of dubious security? Does MCC’s long practice of seeking counsel about security from local partners apply in the highly volatile and dangerous context of Afghanistan? Despite these reservations, two MCC workers served with an MCC partner organization in Afghanistan in 2010 after the war began intensifying a few years earlier. Hannah Kirkbride worked with adult education and Glen Lapp worked in health care.

On August 5, 2010, MCC volunteer, Glen Lapp, and others working with MCC’s partner organization in Afghanistan began the journey back home from an eye care expedition to a rural area of Nuristan, in far northeastern Afghanistan. Nonlocal militants met the team when they returned to their parked vehicles. Ten team members lost their lives at the hands of these gunmen. Like MCC workers, MCC’s partner organization’s staff chose not to carry weapons to defend themselves. Investigators never determined a motive for the murders.

End-of-term preparations were already underway for Glen when he was killed. In a report prepared in July 2010, he articulated a rationale for his presence in Afghanistan: “Where I was [meaning Afghanistan] the main thing that expats can do is to be a presence in the country. Treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world.”

MCC is very much involved in peacebuilding in Afghanistan, and my hope is that MCC can continue along that vein and continue to help this country work towards peace on many different social, ethnic and economic levels.”

—Glen lapp

Even amid human-induced calamity, Glen sought to find hope. “MCC is very much involved in peacebuilding in Afghanistan,” Glen emphasized, “and my hope is that MCC can continue along that vein and continue to help this country work towards peace on many different social, ethnic and economic levels.”

The tragic loss of Glen did not deter further placement of MCC workers in Afghanistan. After a short hiatus, new MCC workers arrived. The loss did heighten MCC’s awareness of new threats. Despite the 40 years of experience in Afghanistan, MCC’s partner organization had an invitation to the eye care team from locals in Nuristan, the team did not return safely. Strong local relationships and security protocols can enhance security, but they provide no ultimate guarantees.

Elaha, pictured left, and her husband Mahedi (names changed for security) were participants in an MCC-supported project in 2018. Elaha stands with her daughter (name withheld for security) near the clean water source that the couple helped install near their home in Central Highlands, Afghanistan. Prior to this there was no access to clean water, and even accessing contaminated water from the river required an hour walk. Elaha notes that prior to this project she and her daughters made an average of five trips per day to get water for the household, even in the winter. The Central Highlands suffers from the country’s highest rates of stunting and chronic malnutrition. (MCC photo/Paul Shetler Fast)

By the time of Glen Lapp’s memorial service ten days after his death, the hymn, “O Healing River,” had become “Glen’s song” among friends and family. A hearty rendition of the song echoed through the sanctuary at his memorial service in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For many, the song reflected Glen’s dream. The text envisions a sprig of hope struggling to emerge from the desolation of suffering. No seed is growing in the barren land gives way to hope that deep roots nourish, and tall stalks rise. For MCC, the words of this hymn do not represent wishful thinking, but rather name a vision of what is possible, even in Afghanistan.

Ken Sensenig is associate executive director for MCC East Coast.


Peacebuilding as presence: MCC assignments in “enemy” contexts

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

Beginning with the decision by some MCC workers from the United States to remain in Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country on March 29, 1973, one form MCC’s peace witness has taken has been a witness of presence within so-called “enemy” contexts. Such peace witness included placing graduate students behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War tasked with connecting to and supporting churches in the Eastern bloc, assigning aid workers to live and work in Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion of the country in 2002, placing more graduate students at an Islamic studies center in Qom, Iran, seconding staff to work with health ministries in Afghanistan and sending agronomists to make extended program support visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). Below are reflections from MCC workers who were involved in such peacebuilding-as-presence initiatives on the joys and challenges they faced.—The editors.

DPRK (North Korea)

MCC’s provision of humanitarian assistance during the 1994 famine in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) initiated a quarter century relationship and over US$22 million in aid, assistance that has supported disaster responses, agricultural education and pediatric hospitals. While MCC has received wide recognition for this humanitarian work, we might also ask: Have these efforts furthered the “peace” element in MCC’s commitment to “relief, development, and peace in the name of Christ?” This question is critical in the context of MCC’s wider mission, as a lack of peace in the region has shaped life on the Korean peninsula for 70 years.

My work with MCC has introduced me to many North Koreans who are caring rather than threatening.

Prior to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the Korean peninsula thrived for 1,300 years, united under a distinctive culture and language. In the 70 years since, however, ten million Koreans have lived permanently separated from their families. A formal peace agreement to end the war was never signed, leaving the peninsula split by a heavily militarized border and a bilaterally-enforced ban on cross-border travel and communication. Despite near complete isolation from one another, the longing for eventual reunification runs deep on both sides of the divide.

With this broader geopolitical context in mind, I propose to consider how MCC’s 25 years of humanitarian work in North Korea has provided a platform for a reconciliatory “peace witness” in three critical ways: people-to-people contact between North Korea, the U.S. and Canada, advocacy with the U.S. government and education work in South Korea.

First, as in any deep national division, political peace is critical. The absence of a peace treaty is an enormous barrier to a new future in Korea. Yet lasting peace also requires the overlooked work that scholar Cecelia Clegg calls “societal reconciliation” (Clegg 84). Speaking from her research into healing in Northern Ireland, Clegg argues that “there is no substitute for . . . a sustained level of new contact, the act of deliberately seeking out a meeting or encounter with the [threatening] ‘other’” (90). Sustained contact is precisely where MCC’s North Korea work has mattered in relation to what Clegg calls “the will to find out the truth about the ‘other’ [as] an essential dynamic in any reconciling process” (89).

Amid a hostile climate that has often condemned positive engagement toward North Korea, MCC’s presence has been catalytic as one of only a handful of agencies with work on both sides of the border.

Mutual isolation has created profound misunderstanding between people in North Korea and the U.S. In North Korea, dominant “enemy narratives” of the U.S. include the U.S. military’s indiscriminate bombing during the war and the complicity of U.S. missionaries in violence. But MCC’s relief work has provided a different face of both U.S. citizens and Christians. Over many years of face-to-face monitoring visits, MCC delegations have shared the story of where MCC’s canned meat comes from—not a factory, but from the hands of tens of thousands of volunteers and churches across Canada and the United States.

These encounters also defy the narratives held by many Canadian and U.S. Anabaptist constituencies accustomed only to threatening images of North Koreans. My work with MCC has introduced me to many North Koreans who are caring rather than threatening. I think, for example, of a dedicated tuberculosis sanitorium director who, while compassionately caring for his patients, eventually contracted and succumbed to the disease himself, as well as government officials who witnessed the impact of a U.S. couple’s work with cerebral palsy and approved the construction of provincial pediatric rehabilitation centers.

A second critical dimension of MCC’s peace witness in North Korea is political advocacy. Even today, 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea. Economic and social collaboration on the peninsula is subject to the mercy of the United States. In 2017, the U.S. State Department banned travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea and the United Nations (under U.S. leadership) instituted sanctions severely limiting imports to North Korea. This threatened the sole avenues for aid to vulnerable North Korean people and endangered future diplomacy. Alongside other faith-based agencies, MCC engaged in direct advocacy to the U.S. government, pushing for humanitarian exemptions and to make signing a peace treaty a top priority in the ongoing U.S.-DPRK negotiations.

During a 1998 visit to Pyongyang, DPRK, MCC staff member Kevin King learns about medicinal plants from Mrs. Kim at the city’s Botanical Gardens. (Photo courtesy of Kevin King)

The third dimension of MCC’s peace witness on the Korean peninsula is its peace education in South Korea. Amid a hostile climate that has often condemned positive engagement toward North Korea, MCC’s presence has been catalytic as one of only a handful of agencies with work on both sides of the border. One South Korean pastor said his encounters with a Canadian agriculturalist who worked with MCC in DPRK “changed my concept about North Korea from missiles and ever-marching people of nationalistic madness to the same common people like us in South Korea.” Another young South Korean I know had grown up distant from the trauma of the Korean divide. Her indifference was challenged in college when she joined an InterVarsity Korea visit to the China-North Korea border. A boat ride to view the North offered her a sight many South Koreans never see: two North Koreans up close, two soldiers sitting on a beach. “One of them looked exactly like my brother,” she said. “Only then did I understand that we are one people.” This transformative experience led her to MCC’s IVEP program, an experience which shifted her career toward peacemaking. If, as described here, MCC humanitarian work in North Korea has become a platform for peace witness, we might ask: witness to what? Perhaps to what scholar Marc Gopin describes as a distinctly Anabaptist approach to peacebuilding where true transformation requires building new relationships over many years across divides. Such peace work bears witness to “the inherent moral value of building relationships” across divides and with adversaries where the “moment of relation becomes a moment of religious fulfillment, of imitatio dei, in [the case of Anabaptists] emulating Jesus. The person in relation becomes an end in herself” (Gopin, 242, 246). With U.S.-DPRK relations tense and fraught, such long-term relationship-building is more critical than ever.

Chris Rice is director of the MCC United Nations Office. Editorial assistance was provided by Abby Hershberger, communications and advocacy assistant at MCC’s UN Office in New York City.


Gopin, Marc. “The Religious Component of Mennonite Peacebuilding.” In From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding. Ed. John Paul Lederach and Cynthia Sampson, 233-255. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Rice, Chris. “Contested South Korean Identities of Reunification and Christian Paradigms of Reconciliation.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 42/2 (2018): 133-142.

Reconcilers. Blog for Chris Rice. https://reconcilers.wordpress.com/.

Peacebuilding as presence: MCC assignments in “enemy” contexts

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

Beginning with the decision by some MCC workers from the United States to remain in Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country on March 29, 1973, one form MCC’s peace witness has taken has been a witness of presence within so-called “enemy” contexts. Such peace witness included placing graduate students behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War tasked with connecting to and supporting churches in the Eastern bloc, assigning aid workers to live and work in Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion of the country in 2002, placing more graduate students at an Islamic studies center in Qom, Iran, seconding staff to work with health ministries in Afghanistan and sending agronomists to make extended program support visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). Below are reflections from MCC workers who were involved in such peacebuilding-as-presence initiatives on the joys and challenges they faced.—The editors.

Iran

As our plane landed in Iran about 20 years ago, my thoughts swirled with hope and fear. What will “blessed are the peacemakers” look like as our family’s daily work in a religiously and politically foreign land? My spouse, Maren, and I had just finished studying Persian, Shi’ite Islam and Women in Islam the previous months at the University of Virginia. We both had seminary degrees. Fear of the unknown swirled around our hope for maintaining and strengthening an MCC peacebuilding bridge of trust in Iran. Many MCCers had visited Iran before to lay a deep foundation of relationships with Iranian partners through earthquake relief efforts and short-term medical work. We were called to be the first MCC staff to take up residence in the country.

Our presence in Iran as the only Christians living in the religious capital of Qom was marked by hospitality: giving and receiving tea, fruit and words of honor and welcome

Entering Iran meant not only arrival into a religiously and politically different world. It also unfolded within a legacy of no diplomatic relations between Iran and the U.S. and strained Canadian-Iranian relationships. Both Maren and I were bicultural, something that helped us see two worlds. When we landed in Tehran, Maren had to put on a chador (“tent” in Persian) and I had to replace my gold wedding ring with a silver one.

Our presence in Iran as the only Christians living in the religious capital of Qom was marked by hospitality: giving and receiving tea, fruit and words of honor and welcome. How do we find and create shared meaning in the presence of our supposed enemies? Respect became a learned behavior in relationships.

Near the end of one meeting, a student said that he needed to leave early for the “Down with America” rally.” The word for “Down With” or “Death To” sounds a lot like the word for “chickens” in Persian, so I responded, “Do you mean ‘Chickens for America?’ Thank you very much.” He replied with a smile, “It is our seminary’s day of the month and the rally bus is coming soon—don’t take it personally!’

As we sought to build relationships, we focused on listening and answering questions as asked. We met many who wondered, “Why did you come here?” Over time, as trust was built in some relationships, legacy traumas and deep political and religious differences came on the table beside the tea. More time to listen, more words flowed. Some conversations went on for hours. After nine previous years in Egypt and Syria, I had come to enjoy this kind of conversation.

How do we find and create shared meaning in the presence of our supposed enemies? Respect became a learned behavior in relationships.

We usually had Friday lunch with other families. Each Tuesday I joined a group studying religions at the graduate level. I taught them some dimensions of Christian history and theology. At the end of each session, I noted one act of faith that changed the world. In one session I shared about Habitat for Humanity. The course coordinator researched Habitat online and came back the next session saying: “We need a Muslim Habitat for Humanity.” Maren spent time with various women at the Women’s University. We both studied Persian in the morning.

What do Mennonites, who seek in their daily lives to live out the politics of Jesus, do when encountering Iranian Shi’ites for whom the Rule of the Jurists (religious leaders) means the merging of national politics and religious practice? Many persons practiced their English with us and my knowing some Arabic helped a lot in conducting in-depth discussions about these differences.

Other MCC couples followed us to take up residence in Iran, while scores of Mennonites from Canada and the U.S. visited Iran as part of MCC-organized delegations. MCC also worked with Mennonite colleges, universities and seminaries in the U.S. in hosting Iranian delegations and in organizing academic conferences in Iran and Canada. Many other forms of encounter emerged, with Iranian delegations going to Canada and Iranian scholars-in-residence appointed for short terms at Mennonite universities in the U.S. and Canada. These delegations and exchanges continued—until the political winds changed here and there.

Evelyn Shellenberger (right) converses with a faculty member (name not provided) after a general meeting of MCC visitors with the faculty of the University of Shiraz in Shiraz, Iran. Photo was taken during an MCC peace delegation to Iran, December 28, 2007, to January 13, 2008. Shellenberger and husband Wallace Shellenberger lived in Qom, Iran, 2001 to 2004 as part of an MCC-sponsored student exchange program. (MCC photo/Doug Hostetter)

As I look back 20 years later, I hold more fear than hope. There are many ways to destroy the potential for peace and I am watching it happen stage by stage with increasing fervor on both sides. The Shi’ite legacy trauma of persecution has led to increased militancy in various countries. The U.S. assertiveness in the Middle East has shifted to Iran more intensely through sanctions and threats. There were and are forces very willing to sabotage peace on both sides, those very willing to push open the gates of hell and those working to close and seal them in acts of peacebuilding. We have yet to see the outcome.

Roy Hange worked with MCC for over a decade in Egypt, Syria and Iran. Together with his spouse, Maren, he pastors Charlottesville Mennonite Church in Virginia.


Kauffman, Richard A. An American in Persia: A Pilgrimage to Iran. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2010.

Pierce, Laurie Blanton. What is Iran? A Primer on Culture, Politics, and Religion. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2009.

Peacebuilding as presence: MCC assignments in “enemy” contexts

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

Beginning with the decision by some MCC workers from the United States to remain in Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country on March 29, 1973, one form MCC’s peace witness has taken has been a witness of presence within so-called “enemy” contexts. Such peace witness included placing graduate students behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War tasked with connecting to and supporting churches in the Eastern bloc, assigning aid workers to live and work in Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion of the country in 2002, placing more graduate students at an Islamic studies center in Qom, Iran, seconding staff to work with health ministries in Afghanistan and sending agronomists to make extended program support visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). Below are reflections from MCC workers who were involved in such peacebuilding-as-presence initiatives on the joys and challenges they faced.—The editors.

Behind the Iron Curtain

In 1977, during our second year of marriage and study at Fuller Theological Seminary, we were invited to serve in what was portrayed as an innovative, daring, bridge-building peace witness in what was then Yugoslavia. To go behind the so-called “Iron Curtain” was the stuff of myth and spy fiction. We were among the first of what later became a sizeable group called the East Europe fraternity—a group of students who offered a Mennonite presence in at least eight Eastern European countries from 1977 to 1990. Ours was a peacebuilding venture largely comprised of on-the-ground presence and relationship building.

For Mennonite church leaders in the United States and Canada to assess that our people were vulnerable to fear and manipulation was both far-sighted and sober.

For people in Canada, the U.S. and western Europe, the specter of communism around the globe created widespread and often irrational fear. For Christians, including Mennonites, the fear was complicated by how political and economic threats of communism versus capitalism matched so closely with understandings of religious freedom and the persecution of the church under atheist regimes. For Mennonite church leaders in the United States and Canada to assess that our people were vulnerable to fear and manipulation was both far-sighted and sober. The way they chose to meet that danger was to send volunteers across the borders of the Iron Curtain to study at universities and spend time with real people on the ground—listening, offering friendship, assisting as invited and sharing the gospel of peace by being present and available for collaborative work when possible. We agreed to be among those volunteers, arriving in Yugoslavia in the fall of 1977.

This was truly an educational venture and we had student visas to prove it, but the education was meant to flow both ways. In the East, our message was meant to be that not all Christians see your land and your people as hated enemies. In the West, the educational thrust was to help our people see that real folks live with real challenges in socialist societies, but it is not the end of the world as we know it. A remarkable religious vitality is sustained in faith communities even though constrained by systemic and ideological challenges.

A couple and their daughter from the Orenburg Evangelical Christian Baptist congregation, Orenburg, Soviet Union (Russia) are looking at a scrapbook sent as a gift from Groffdale (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church in this 1988 photo. An MCC delegation visited the Soviet Union from February 21 to March 4, 1988 at the invitation of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians/Baptists (AUCECB). (MCC photo/John A Lapp)

Our assignment, though sponsored by MCC and Mennonite mission agencies, was not formally missionary or relief and development work in the classic sense. An embodied presence on the ground was deemed the most strategic way to work at relational peacebuilding. Sharing the everyday life of ordinary Christian believers in a communist setting seemed to be our best hope of subverting the fears and overcoming the ignorance of our own people back home. And indeed, as we would return home for brief visits, circulating in our sponsoring communities, people had real questions and showed genuine interest. We were not planting Mennonite churches or starting programs or institutions. We were instructed to come alongside existing communities of Jesus-followers, who became our best instructors. Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics and Orthodox, as well as Muslims and Marxists, were all helpful in showing us their complex realities.

Our assignment included freedom to pursue any contacts which could help us toward our goal. We traveled extensively in several regions, engaged with churches and helped with educational efforts in several schools. In addition to relating to primarily Catholic Croatian and Orthodox Serbian contexts, we spent two years in Muslim neighborhoods of Sarajevo. We were welcomed by active Protestant leaders who quickly embraced and included us in their educational efforts. And since we were not setting up our own programs, we could selectively bolster anything that was constructive, collaborative and designed to serve purposes larger than self-interest.

There were plenty of challenges as well. While we had directors from MCC and Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (EMBMC, now EMM) to provide guidance from the distance, and the “fraternity” of our Mennonite peers in other East European settings, we didn’t have formal local partners. We observed freelance operatives from other Western parachurch and mission agencies whose work was not subject to review by any local group and became problematic. We worked hard to maintain relationships that could incorporate local accountability. There was also our own isolation as the only Mennonites in-country, including the need to negotiate what was best for our children in education, community and church life. Meanwhile, although the political ideology was explicitly egalitarian, the general culture was very patriarchal.

That MCC had a presence on the ground was crucial to mobilizing tons of material aid, peacemaking responses and refugee care in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia in the wake of Yugoslavia’s dissolution.

It seems clear, looking back more than 40 years later, that the parallel assignments across Eastern Europe accomplished significant components of the goals we set out to achieve. The practical ecumenism of cooperating with people of other faiths was strategically fruitful during the subsequent war years in the Balkans. That MCC had a presence on the ground was crucial to mobilizing tons of material aid, peacemaking responses and refugee care in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia in the wake of Yugoslavia’s dissolution. Evangelical faith communities came to see Mennonites as allies. They showed openness to Anabaptist theology and many made tangible commitments to peacebuilding in their local communities. And the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolized the triumph of the hopes we came to share with many people in the region.

Gerald and Sara Wenger Shenk worked with MCC Yugoslavia (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia) from 1977-83 and 1986-89 (jointly with Eastern Mennonite Board of Mission and Charities, now EMM). Sara went on to serve as president of Anabaptist Biblical Seminary and Gerald as professor of church and society at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.


Jantzen, Mark. The Wrong Side of the Wall: An American in East Berlin during the Peaceful Revolution. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1993.

Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

School of Peace

Interfaith participants at the three-month School of Peace for young adults from across Asia typically hold a debate as an exercise in fostering critical thinking. Each year the debate resolution is different. One year the resolution was: “It is not necessary to do peacemaking.” Divided into two groups, the fifteen young participants were given a day to prepare to defend or oppose the statement.

Let’s not do peacemaking. Let’s transform the injustices that block peace from flowing.

As the debate began, those defending the resolution (that is arguing against the necessity of doing peacemaking) were having a difficult time finding good arguments that could hold up against the opposition. They were losing badly. Then one young woman stood up to make her argument in support of the resolution, offering this argument:

I live next to a small stream. When I was a child, we used to play in its crystal-clear water. We could even drink it. Later, the stream became polluted with plastic and other garbage. Our parents no longer let us play in it. We thought about finding some way to filter the water to make it clean, but we realized that the water originally was very clean. If we wanted to enjoy the stream again, we would have to investigate where the pollution came from and find a way to solve that.

As a Christian I believe that peace is a gift from God. It is here all around us. But so many people can’t experience it because injustices pollute it. We don’t need to do peacemaking.  Rather we need to find out the source of injustice and transform that. Then beautiful peace, like a clear, sparkling stream, can flow to everyone. Let’s not do peacemaking. Let’s transform the injustices that block peace from flowing.

Her argument reflected one of the principal tenets of the School of Peace. During our intense three months together, we urge participants to seek the root causes of conflict and non-peace and be willing to work for structural change at the local and national levels. Only when our systems and structures emphasize justice and righteousness for all can God’s peace flow freely to all.

In the opening ceremony of the School of Peace in Vishtar, Indiai, Poli Drong of Bangladesh lights a candle from the center flame to place in the open spiral of flowers, symbolizing how the world expands as people learn to be open to those who are different from themselves. (MCC photo/Max Ediger)

Working for structural transformation is very difficult and requires much analysis and planning. While it may often be easy to respond to conflicts with simple models and projects, the result may not be long-lasting. Our goal must be to be effective rather than busy—and being effective requires creative strategies to address the roots of injustice.

As we explore more deeply the roots of conflict, we find that we must first look at the issue of identity. All of us have multiple identities and no two of us have the exact same identity. This diversity is beautiful and is generally celebrated. However, when any one of us begins to feel that one of our identities, such as a religious, ethnic, gender or ideological identity, is superior to others, the roots of conflict have been laid. Conflicts at the local, national or even global level can grow out of this sense of superiority because it gives us the supposed “right” to exploit or oppress the “other.”

If we recognize that identity can be the cause of serious conflicts, we also begin to realize that violence against others will not bring any lasting solution to conflicts. Identity is a social construct and thus can be changed through creative dialogue. It is of course not easy to transform social constructs, but if we wish to allow peace to flow freely to all, we must start here. This is one way to stop being busy and begin being effective.

Max Ediger directs the School of Peace. He worked with MCC in southeast Asia for about 40 years and now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University. https://csop.cmu.ca/.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. https://emu.edu/cjp/.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University. https://www.fresno.edu/visitors/center-peacemaking.

Great Lakes Initiative. https://www.gliinstitute.org/.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.mpiasia.net/.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.facebook.com/narpipeace/.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. https://uwaterloo.ca/master-peace-conflict-studies/.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. https://www.ambs.edu/academics/ma-peace-studies.

Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI)

Mindanao, the second largest island in the southern Philippines, has historically, geographically and socio-culturally been distinct from the rest of the country. It has witnessed colonial control and occupation over the past two centuries, leading to struggles over identity and governance. Conflicts between Indigenous political interests and external stakeholders have caused the area to become a crucible for violence and fear.

Several community leaders from Mindanao participated in Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute in the 1990s. Together, these trainees formed a critical mass of peacebuilders passionate about promoting peace in strife-ravaged Mindanao. Encouraged by a wide variety of peacebuilding practitioners and scholars, along with collaborative support from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and MCC, this group of committed peacemakers founded the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) with the mission of bringing together peace practitioners to learn from one another and of equipping people interested in becoming peacebuilders with knowledge and practical skills.

“I would like to change history for my children, the bloody history of conflict in Mindanao,” said Musa Sanguila of Kauswagen, Mindanao island in the Philippines. “We change something for good starting from inside ourselves.” Musa was among 165 participants from the Philippines and 16 other Asian countries attending the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) in Davao City, Mindanao, Phillipines from May 1 to 19, 2002. (MCC photo/Jon Rudy)

Creating a space for mutual sharing and support among peacebuilding practitioners has been central to the mission of MPI. Participants in MPI workshops learn not only from one another but also from the context of Mindanao, with participants visiting organizations working towards peace on the island and having practitioners from Mindanao teach and share at MPI courses.

MPI holds an Annual Training Institute for three weeks each spring during which an average of 100 individuals from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond attend courses in a residential setting. There are courses designed for newcomers to the field as well as advanced and innovative courses relevant to new conflict realities and peacebuilding challenges. Each year, around 20 nations are represented at MPI and this rich diversity is fully celebrated during evening activities. The openings and closings of each week of the Institute are festive, with cultural presentations from Mindanao serving as a highlight. The ambience and structure of the Institute are highly conducive to relationship building for solidarity among peacebuilders.

MPI is implementing a grassroots Peacebuilding Mentors Program to enhance the mentoring ability of on-the-ground peacebuilders as they nurture others in their own contexts.

Besides the annual training institute, MPI strives to provide relevant programs to strengthen peacebuilding. It has conducted a resource-based conflict and peacebuilding training program that focuses on the Indigenous peoples of Mindanao and the hazards they face from the mining industry. MPI continues to tailor training for specific sectors and regional issues. Currently, MPI is implementing a grassroots peacebuilding mentors program to enhance the mentoring ability of on-the-ground peacebuilders as they nurture others in their own contexts. These ongoing training activities are organized and coordinated by a small but highly motivated staff working in the MPI secretariat based in Davao, Mindanao.

MCC has been privileged over the past two decades to be a partner and friend of MPI and its vibrant network of peacebuilders committed to the nonviolent transformation of conflict in Mindanao and beyond.

Sriprakash Mayasandra is MCC representative for Chad. He has worked for MCC in Palestine and Israel, Syria and, most recently, across Asia as MCC’s regional peacebuilding coordinator for Asia and as interim representative for northeast Asia.


Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University. https://csop.cmu.ca/.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. https://emu.edu/cjp/.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University. https://www.fresno.edu/visitors/center-peacemaking.

Great Lakes Initiative. https://www.gliinstitute.org/.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.mpiasia.net/.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.facebook.com/narpipeace/.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. https://uwaterloo.ca/master-peace-conflict-studies/.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. https://www.ambs.edu/academics/ma-peace-studies.

Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI)

The Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute has its ironic beginnings in the service of its director, Jae Young Lee, with the military of the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) in the early 1990s, when he first become interested in peace. Jae Young had been a marine for 26 months of mandatory military service at the age of 22, service required of all young Korean men. He was stationed along the border between ROK and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea), tasked with watching the North Korean side of the border through a telescope at the western edge of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). When the first leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994, the fate of the entire Korean Peninsula was suddenly thrust into uncertainty, including the prospect of potential war. Jae Young had to spend an entire week in a trench with heavy weapons along with thousands of soldiers at the border to carry out the mission of shooting anybody attempting to cross it. During that week, he began to realize that true peace could only be possible through non-military approaches. No one can achieve peace by pointing a gun at another’s head.

After completing his military service, Jae Young went on to study at Canadian Mennonite Bible College and the conflict transformation program at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Virginia, completing a master’s degree at the latter. After struggling to understand the concept of Christian pacifism, Jae Young eventually came to agree with the Mennonite belief in the gospel of peace. As a result of his military experiences and peacebuilding training, Jae Young developed a firm conviction that peacebuilding training is a more practical way to make peace than investments in the military. In 2001, Jae Young became one of three founding members of the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC), serving as its peace program coordinator. After witnessing the fragile peace maintained by North and South Korea at reciprocal gunpoint, and realizing that many of the peacebuilding organizations in northeast Asia were ill-equipped in conflict resolution and peacemaking skills, Jae Young wrote a working paper in 2006 outlining his vision for a peacebuilding training program for community leaders from across northeast Asia.

The bottom-up approach of peacebuilding education is slow, but it is also the path for sustainable change.

After a couple of years of discussion with MCC, KAC received a grant in 2009 to pilot this vision. Jae Young traveled to Japan, mainland China and Taiwan to meet people who shared a similar vision: to start a regional peacebuilding institute in northeast Asia. Representatives of several civil society peace groups from all over the region met together for the first time in 2009 to brainstorm what this regional peacebuilding project would look like. These efforts eventually coalesced in the formation of the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI), with NARPI holding its first Summer Peacebuilding Training in Seoul and Inje in August 2011. NARPI has organized annual summer peacebuilding trainings in each of the subsequent years, moving the location of the training around northeast Asia. NARPI participants have come primarily from South Korea, Japan, Mainland China, Taiwan and Mongolia.

The NARPI Summer Peacebuilding Training is a 14-day program. Participants divide into three or four courses for five days, from morning to early evening. For the next three days, all participants spend time together on field trips. We have traveled together to a DMZ observatory, to peace memorials and museums, a ger (a traditional Mongolia dwelling in the form of a tent covered in skin and felt), sites of historical massacres and sites of hope. Following the field trips, there is a second week of training, also five days, during which participants continue to learn, divided into three or four courses, before departing for their homes.

Many peacebuilding institutes in the world are located in areas with current or recent direct conflict. While northeast Asia has not experienced intense direct conflict since the Korean War, the unresolved historical conflict (both the Asia-Pacific War and the Cold War) and the structural violence in the region affect people’s daily lives. Through NARPI, we have learned that people want safe spaces to talk about sensitive issues and to share their own perspectives and experiences.

From left, Yur-Shyuan Chang (Angela), Shiori Honzaki and Hirona Yaguchi stand in a circle
talking during an activity in the Conflict and Peace Framework course for participants in the
August 2018 Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI), held in Republic of Korea (South Korea). MCC funds scholarships for under-resourced participants. MCC and NARPI have partnered together since 2011 to provide training in peacebuilding, conflict transformation, restorative justice and mediation through the summer peacebuilding institutes. (Photo courtesy of NAPRI)

NARPI’s approach to peacebuilding assumes that durable peacebuilding starts at the community level. The bottom-up peacebuilding education approach is slow, but it is also the path for sustainable change. NARPI courses equip participants with both theory and practical skills to implement in their home communities. The field trips are also a powerful part of the training experience. People who have been taught different histories, written to increase nationalism and distrust of neighboring countries, come together to learn history first-hand, often from the voices of the victims of war. We have also witnessed that a new understanding of regional identity can grow from relationship building. Strengthening international relations is not just a matter for governments: it also needs to happen at the people-to-people level.

A simple goal that we have for NARPI is that this regional project will survive for ten years. This year, 2020, marks ten years, so we are nearly there! Survival may seem like quite a low bar to set, but it is also significant, since NARPI is the first regional peacebuilding institute in Northeast Asia, a region where the field of peacebuilding is still quite new.

We have witnessed how NARPI Summer Peacebuilding Trainings have had an individual impact on the participants. Many people apply their learning from NARPI to their work, family and community lives. Some decide to join local peacebuilding efforts or peace studies programs after their NARPI experience. The relationship-building aspect of NARPI has been powerful for participants, serving as the basis from which they start to form a new sense of regional identity. As NARPI grows, the number of returning participants also increases, a sign that this is a valuable time of learning, sharing and networking for people who are seeking to build an alternative future in their communities and in this region.

We have witnessed that a new understanding of regional identity can grow from relationship building. Strengthening international relations is not just a matter for governments: it also needs to happen at the people-to-people level.

Several of NARPI’s challenges resemble challenges faced by other peacebuilding organizations. Most years we face a funding challenge. Although a program fee is required from NARPI participants, these funds do not cover all training expenses. We have chosen to keep the program fee relatively low so that NARPI trainings can be accessible to people from all parts of the region. MCC offers scholarship funds each year to provide partial support for individuals who would otherwise not be able to join NARPI.

One unique challenge to NARPI, as a mobile peacebuilding institute, is that the planning each year is shared between the local host and the NARPI administrative team. Distance and language barriers make the planning work more complicated, but we are grateful for lessons learned as we work together to overcome these challenges.

The greatest challenges for NARPI, though, do not come from funding or from technical planning aspects, but from ongoing political tensions in Northeast Asia. We aim to provide safe space for all people who gather at NARPI, but in reality it is impossible to create a completely safe space for everyone. We therefore work to provide the most positive space possible within the realities of our region.

We continue to work toward a dream that one day there will be more peacebuilding institutes than military academies in Northeast Asia. In 2019, Nobuya Fukuda, who hosted the 2017 NARPI Summer Peacebuilding Training in Okinawa, Japan, and has also joined NARPI several years as a participant, opened the Okinawa Bridge Builders Institute (OBI) to offer educational opportunities to explore how to build peace in the colonized and militarized context of Okinawa. We see OBI as one of the fruits of NARPI, and we hope that peacebuilding efforts in northeast Asia will multiply.

Jae Young Lee directs the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute. Karen Spicher is NARPI’s communications coordinator.


Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University. https://csop.cmu.ca/.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. https://emu.edu/cjp/.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University. https://www.fresno.edu/visitors/center-peacemaking.

Great Lakes Initiative. https://www.gliinstitute.org/.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.mpiasia.net/.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.facebook.com/narpipeace/.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. https://uwaterloo.ca/master-peace-conflict-studies/.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. https://www.ambs.edu/academics/ma-peace-studies.

Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

Africa Peacebuilding Institute (API)

The Africa Peacebuilding Institute (API) started in 2001, extending the peacebuilding work of Canadian peacebuilder Janet Schmidt. Since then, API has organized yearly training workshops for African peace practitioners seeking to study and reflect on what makes for peace in African contexts. First held in Zambia at Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation, API moved to South Africa in 2013. API envisioned itself as a geographic as well as spiritual “basin” holding and channeling the water of life, the cleansing and powerful energy of peace and reconciliation in the name of Christ. Arising out of this basin, API hoped, would be an alliance of people gathering under the mantle of peace education, study and application, who would work together in a variety of concrete ways for peace in their communities.

Some participants who came to API believing in the power of violence became convinced nonviolent approaches are more effective in resolving conflict, with more sustainable outcomes.

Over 500 participants have taken part in API over the past 19 years. Participants include Christian pastors, church officials, teachers and grassroots peace practitioners. Both Christians and Muslims take part in API. Participants primarily come from sub-Saharan Africa countries, representing MCC’s church and community-based partner organizations. API participants are nominated to attend because of their peace-related work or interests in incorporating peacebuilding approaches into their relief and development work. API also welcomes Anabaptist church leaders from across the region in order to equip them in thinking about how peacebuilding is part of the church’s witness.

API has provided short-term intensive training programs on a range of peacebuilding topics, including conflict analysis, conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, Anabaptist peacemaking and leadership. API has played a critical role in individual transformation. Across the continent, many participants have reported changes of mindset, leading them to become change agents in their communities. For example, some participants who came to API believing in the power of violence became convinced nonviolent approaches are more effective in resolving conflict, with more sustainable outcomes. API has also offered an opportunity for African participants from different backgrounds to network and learn from one another.

API has certainly encountered some challenges in its trainings. So, for example, participants sometimes at first resist API’s message that working for gender equality is an essential dimension of peacebuilding, rejecting the idea initially on the grounds that the press for gender equality is a colonial import and represents the destruction of African values. Or, to take another example, API participants sometimes also express suspicion of peace committees or peace clubs, viewing them as taking away power from traditional leaders or school leaders in conflict management. For example, some communities in Burundi that adopted peace committees faced resistance from traditional leaders who saw in peace committees the loss of their arbitration powers.

Paul Oyelaran, left, Ahmed Saliju (holding ballon) and Sadiya Ibrahim participate in an eggdropping exercise with Nigerian alumni of API and the West Africa Peacebuilding Institute. (MCC photo/Dave Klassen)

Skills acquired at API have been put to good use. In 2006, for example, in protest of poor democratic practices and human rights violations in many African countries, API participants signed a petition to advocate to the African Union to strengthen democracy on the continent. Skills acquired at API also led to the birth of numerous peace infrastructures, such as the establishment of peace clubs in schools in Zambia in 2006. Peace clubs have now spread to over 13 African countries and have been introduced beyond Africa.

The African continent has a rich tradition of dealing with conflict in peaceful ways. But due to armed conflicts and other forms of violence, those values were eroded in many communities. API has sought to restore traditional peacebuilding values and approaches. For instance, API trainers have explained that working for gender equality is not a foreign import to Africa. Traditionally, women’s wisdom protects and sustains communities because women participate in decision-making. Over time, this traditional valuing of women’s wisdom was lost in many African contexts. Through peace education and initiatives, such as the introduction of women’s situation rooms, women are more and more actively involved in leadership and other decision-making processes. API has also worked to restore the value of circle approaches to resolving conflict and to underscore the importance of the traditional value of ubuntu (I am because you are). In South Africa, the traditional home of ubuntu, xenophobic attacks against African foreign nationals have been on the increase. In response to these attacks, pastor Samson Mataboro, an API alumnus, uses restorative justice approaches. The efforts by Pastor Mataboro and others to promote ubuntu and circle processes for addressing conflict have helped foster spaces in South Africa where South Africans and foreign nationals live together peacefully. There are similar experiences in Kenya, where Kikuyu and Luo children lived peacefully together in the 2007 post-election ethnic violence in Mt. Elgon, thanks to the work peace clubs had done to promote inter-ethnic solidarity.

API has worked to restore the value of circle approaches to resolving conflict and to underscore the importance of the traditional value of ubuntu (I am because you are).

API alumni are creating safe spaces for dealing with issues of trauma across the African continent. Peacebuilding efforts linked to API have seen former prisoners in Burundi, Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Uganda reconciling with their communities and vowing not to seek revenge against their former enemies anymore. One can say without any doubt that the API is laying a strong foundation for peace in the African continent by raising up people equipped in conflict prevention and resolution, community building and reconciliation based on Christian principles of nonviolence, justice, dignity of the human person and right relationships.

Mulanda Jimmy Juma is MCC representative for its program in DR Congo and Angola. He previously worked as MCC peacebuilding coordinator for southern Africa.


Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University. https://csop.cmu.ca/.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. https://emu.edu/cjp/.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University. https://www.fresno.edu/visitors/center-peacemaking.

Great Lakes Initiative. https://www.gliinstitute.org/.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.mpiasia.net/.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.facebook.com/narpipeace/.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. https://uwaterloo.ca/master-peace-conflict-studies/.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. https://www.ambs.edu/academics/ma-peace-studies.

Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

Great Lakes Peacebuilding Institute (GLPI)

The Great Lakes Peacebuilding Institute (GLPI) is a regional, bilingual peacebuilding institute which has provided training opportunities for peace and development workers from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) since its founding in 2004. In recent years, GLPI has also received participants from other countries in East, Central and West Africa. Founded by three local organizations—the Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation under the Cross (MIPAREC) in Burundi, Friends Peace House (FPH) in Rwanda and Conseil pour la Paix et Reconciliation (COPARE) in DR Congo—GLPI, with support from MCC, has trained more than 400 participants over the past sixteen years.

GLPI’s mission is to develop transformative leadership and peacebuilding skills among civil society leaders serving in countries marred by violent conflict and insecurity. While many countries in Africa have achieved relative stability, for others their potential for growth and development has been disturbed by recurring cycles of violence and repression. GLPI was established to try to break these cycles through the formation of leaders equipped with peacebuilding skills. GLPI brings together individuals committed to acquiring knowledge, attitudes and skills for preventing and transforming conflicts, while gaining new insights into the importance of locally-led processes and the creation of just social structures that bring about more peaceful societies. GLPI’s theory of change is that the more individuals trained in the theories and practices of peace, the more processes and structures can be created and sustained which counter the protracted nature of violence in the region.

GLPI’s mission is to develop transformative leadership and peacebuilding skills among civil society leaders serving in countries marred by violent conflict and insecurity.

For sixteen years now, GLPI had achieved significant growth. It started out as a francophone seminar (formerly called the Great Lakes Peacebuilding Seminar) for MCC staff and partners in Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo, modeling itself on the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) at Eastern Mennonite University in the United States  Its main training venue has been a month-long October Institute held in Burundi, which offers four one-week courses on conflict analysis, peacebuilding frameworks, trauma healing and peacebuilding and development. Over time, GLPS transformed into a bilingual institute, now called GLPI, offering courses both to Francophones and Anglophones in the wider Great Lakes region.

In 2013, GLPI started offering special modules, apart from the October Institute, which have been hosted in Rwanda as well as Burundi. These special modules offered participants the chance to reflect on the biblical foundations for peacebuilding, learn how to organize and lead youth peace clubs, build skills in leadership and good governance and become proficient in reflective peace practices. Around this time, GLPI began welcoming staff from other peacebuilding and development organizations beyond the circle of MCC and its partners. A regional GLPI alumni network started to develop, aimed at fostering learning exchanges among alumni and improving regional peacebuilding connections.

In 2019, another breakthrough was achieved when GLPI offered a two-track October Institute for the first time in its history: a peacebuilding track and a new organizational and community development track. The peacebuilding track remained the same except for shifting the focus of the fourth course to examine conflict sensitivity and principles of “do no harm.” The development track offers four new courses on organizational and community leadership; fundraising and resource mobilization; project design and management; and monitoring and evaluation. The introduction of a development track allowed GLPI to attract peacebuilding and development practitioners from across Africa—not only from Burundi, Rwanda and DR Congo, but also Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast and Angola. The successful 2019 October Institute opened up new partnerships with local and international organizations and increased the number of participants three-fold. This strong desire for development courses at GLPI highlighted an intense desire among African civil society organizations to integrate development and peacebuilding more effectively.

This strong desire for development courses at GLPI highlighted an intense desire among African civil society organizations to integrate development and peacebuilding more effectively.

GLPI sees its impact through participants who return to their respective organizations and communities with more positive energy and useful learnings they can incorporate into their daily work. Some participants have created their own organizations that promote peacebuilding and development programs. Some have organized local peace committees, youth peace clubs and savings groups. Others are engaged in leading trauma healing workshops and supporting women in acquiring livelihood opportunities. Still others have become part of local, regional and national structures that promote mediation and reconciliation processes such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) or the mediation commission of the East African Community (EAC).

The stories and testimonies shared by GLPI alumni are telling. A women’s rights advocate from Burundi who attended GLPI in 2016 shared: “After GLPI training, I have been organizing trauma healing workshops with women who have been made victims of sexual harassment and have involved them in different livelihood and savings opportunities. GLPI inspired me to understand that we need to find another approach to empower women economically as this is the root cause of their suffering.” A peace journalist from DR Congo who participated in 2017 reflected: “Peace must be an everyday commitment by accepting other people regardless of backgrounds, and this is my daily commitment as a peacebuilder, and I owe much of my inspiration to GLPI.” A development worker from Kenya who attended GLPI in 2019 observed: “I am better in providing advice or support to my organization to produce better actions and exercise more positive attitudes in implementing our food security projects and in achieving more useful impacts.”

MCC service worker Melody Musser talks with Aloys Ningabira, a monitoring and evaluation officer with MiPAREC in Gitaga, Burundi. He oversees the local peace committees for MiPAREC and is a graduate of the Great Lakes Peacebuilding Institute. (MCC Photo/Matthew Lester)

The ongoing work of its alumni inspires GLPI to advance its programs in order to reach more peacebuilding and development practitioners. The growth of GLPI has been sustained by the growing dedication of its founding partners, the active leadership of its board and general assembly and the continued support of MCC, both financially and through its placement of MCC staff who assist in GLPI’s organizational development. GLPI is now registering as an independent entity after being hosted by MIPAREC since its founding, bolstering its online and social media presence and actively seeking expanded collaboration with regional and national partners. For example, GLPI is now engaging other MCC-supported peace institutes like the Africa Peacebuilding Institute (API) in South Africa and the Peace and Training Center (PTC) in Jos, Nigeria, to identify synergies in the common task of advancing peace education in Africa.

What started as an month-long institute built along the SPI model, GLPI—thanks to local vision and leadership and MCC support—is now expanding into a year-round training institute serving a wider region with participants coming from organizations beyond MCC and its partners, fostering a network of change agents committed to sustainable peace and development in Africa.

Christine Sumog-oy is MCC Burundi peacebuilding coordinator. She has coordinated GLPI since 2017.


Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University. https://csop.cmu.ca/.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. https://emu.edu/cjp/.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University. https://www.fresno.edu/visitors/center-peacemaking.

Great Lakes Initiative. https://www.gliinstitute.org/.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.mpiasia.net/.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.facebook.com/narpipeace/.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. https://uwaterloo.ca/master-peace-conflict-studies/.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. https://www.ambs.edu/academics/ma-peace-studies.

Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

Featured

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

Great Lakes Initiative (GLI)

The Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) is a Christian organization seeking the well-being of all citizens of the Great Lakes region of Africa in their pursuit of peace, reconciliation, justice and mercy. Its mission is to mobilize restless Christian leaders, create space for their transformation and empower them to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation in their own communities, organizations and countries. GLI works hand-in-hand with Christian leaders to foster a biblical understanding of reconciliation as God’s mission and the heart of every believer’s calling to be part of God’s work in the world.

Reflecting together with such a diverse group of Christians provides the opportunity to participate in the kind of reconciliation Paul talks about where those who were once divided are brought together as one in Christ Jesus, providing an actual experience of the New Creation.

The key event organized by GLI is an annual week-long institute. The backbone of the institute involves reflection on a series of five questions over five days:

Day 1) New Creation:  Reconciliation towards what? 
Day 2) Lament: What is going on? What is happening in our region?
Day 3) Pilgrimage & Hope: Where do we see signs of hope?
Day 4) What kind of leadership?
Day 5) Why me, why bother? Spirituality for the long haul.

Each morning begins with a session that focuses on the scriptural and theological basis for answering these questions. The next session features testimony from a “witness,” someone who lives out these questions on the ground and shares their personal story. These two sessions together (theological and contextual) capture GLI’s incarnational (word made flesh) methodology. Each of these sessions is followed by time for participants to ask questions and share comments, giving space for dialogue and reflection. In the afternoon, everyone participates in a seminar, in which a smaller group focuses on a specific peacebuilding topic. During the week, participants from the same country meet twice to discuss their country context and what they will focus on in their GLI country chapters after the institute is over.

This space for reflection is made more powerful by the fact that GLI brings together a diverse group of Christian leaders. GLI participants come from more than eight different countries, both francophone and anglophone, speaking numerous African languages. They represent dozens of Protestant denominations and the Catholic church. Some participants are ordained, while others serve as lay leaders in the church. Women and men engaged in a wide variety of Christian ministries take part. Reflecting together with such a diverse group of Christians provides the opportunity to participate in the kind of reconciliation Paul talks about where those who were once divided are brought together as one in Christ Jesus, providing an actual experience of the New Creation.

Instead of delivering participants fixed formulas and established projects, GLI provides comprehensive reflection on what it means to be a believer in a conflict-torn world.

The week also makes it possible for these diverse Christian leaders to network, learn from one another and pray and worship together. Participants work in demanding ministries in challenging contexts where it is easy to experience discouragement and burnout. Creating a space to reflect together on God’s mission of reconciliation empowers these Christian leaders to return to their ministries encouraged, refreshed and inspired.

The first seeds of GLI were planted when forty Christian leaders from the region met in Kampala, Uganda, in 2006. From that humble beginning, more gatherings were organized in Uganda (2007 and 2008) and Burundi (2009 and 2010) and the first annual institute was held in Kampala in 2011, where it has been located ever since. In 2013, a transition team formed to firmly root GLI in the region, leading to GLI’s registration in Uganda in 2015. During these years of growth, GLI benefited from the support of its founding partners, including MCC, ALARM, World Vision and the Center for Reconciliation of Duke Divinity School.

As a founding partner, with two seats on the GLI board, MCC remains instrumental in helping GLI carry out its mission. In addition to providing financial support for the organization, MCC has also sponsored many participants to attend GLI’s gatherings. MCC has helped identify thoughtful, committed and engaged Christian leaders who contribute to GLI’s mission to be a venue for mutual learning about what reconciliation looks like in the Africa’s Great Lakes region. From its beginning, GLI committed to build a movement of restless peacebuilders and thus avoid the demands of a founding a new organization. By strategically focusing on leaders who were already operating within organizations, GLI was able to make an impact without having its own organizational structure. Since GLI registered as an organization in 2015 and now has three staff members, it has increased its capacity to deepen its work in the region. However, this does not mean that GLI has given up on the movement aspect of its origins. Instead of delivering participants fixed formulas and established projects, GLI provides comprehensive reflection on what it means to be a believer in a conflict-torn world. We are grateful for the role GLI has played in building an ever-growing network of empowered reconcilers.

Peace club members clean the Ntinda police barracks to raise awareness about the club and promote peace. The peace club is a project of Africa Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), which hosts peace trainings for police officers and boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers to promote peace in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of ALARM)

Acher Niyonizigiye is the Executive Director of GLI.


Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University. https://csop.cmu.ca/.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. https://emu.edu/cjp/.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University. https://www.fresno.edu/visitors/center-peacemaking.

Great Lakes Initiative. https://www.gliinstitute.org/.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.mpiasia.net/.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.facebook.com/narpipeace/.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. https://uwaterloo.ca/master-peace-conflict-studies/.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. https://www.ambs.edu/academics/ma-peace-studies.

Building peace in West Africa

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

For at least two decades, MCC programs have worked with churches and other actors to promote peace in West Africa, a region that has been marked during this period by sustained interethnic and interreligious conflict, conflict that often turns violent. Motivated by Anabaptist commitment to the gospel of peace and reconciliation, MCC Nigeria officially inaugurated a peace program in 2001. Over the ensuing years, this multi-pronged peacebuilding program in Nigeria and other West African countries has held peace theology courses in seminaries, organized workshops with church leaders on the theological foundations of working for peace and reconciliation in their societies and partnered with a consortium of peacebuilding organizations actively seeking to prevent violent conflict and transform ongoing conflict. This broad-minded approach has earned MCC acceptance among different religious groupings and ethnic nationalities as a committed peacebuilding leader.

MCC peacebuilding work in West Africa pays particular attention to the important role that victim-survivors of violent conflict have to play in sustainable peacebuilding.

The core of MCC’s peacebuilding program in West Africa is a commitment to equip local leaders with knowledge and skills to restore and sustain peace in their communities. Through MCC-supported and -facilitated training, many community leaders have become effective peace activists, educators, mediators and trainers within their religious institutions, organizations and communities. In addition to organizing its own peacebuilding trainings, MCC in West Africa has provided foundational support and accompaniment for the West Africa Peacebuilding Institute (WAPI), the Peace Training Centre in Jos, Nigeria, and Emergency Preparedness and Response Teams (EPRT) in Plateau State, Nigeria, which work at rapid conflict prevention as well as conflict transformation. The EPRT model has had great success: efforts are underway to replicate its work in other parts of Nigeria.

MCC peacebuilding work in West Africa pays attention to the important role that victim survivors of violent conflict can play in sustainable peacebuilding. Many survivors of violence are wounded, bereaved, traumatized, homeless and seemingly helpless: as such, they are often treated as people in need who must be helped, as burdens because they have lost everything or as potential sources of violence, because they may seek revenge for their losses. MCC, in contrast, has adopted a bottom-up approach in its peacebuilding work in West Africa. Building on the fact that peacebuilding requires high levels of commitment and diligence, MCC has also recognized that survivors of violent conflict are also often highly committed and diligent, simply as a matter of survival. Survivors of violence are already energized: the challenge for peacebuilders is harnessing this energy not for fury and revenge but for passionate commitment to conflict transformation. When survivors of violence help to design and implement peacebuilding strategies, their visible anger and energy for vengeance are transformed into constructive energy for peacebuilding. Over time, MCC’s commitment to working with survivors of violence has created a pool of conflict transformation practitioners who are making a difference in their respective communities.

Local EPRT member Musbahu Usman talks with community youth leader Mai Kudi Usaini (left) as they walk through their neighborhood in north Jos. They worked together to prevent a stabbing in their neighborhood from becoming a communal revenge killing and to keep rumors about the incident from spreading to a neighboring Christian community, which could have lead to more violence. (MCC photo/Matthew Lester)

Certainly, working to activate survivors of violence as peacebuilders is challenging. They are often depressed, aggrieved and antagonistic. To establish trust and confidence goes beyond holding a series of workshops and trainings. It is a herculean task that requires uncommon patience and determination. We often take three steps forward only then to fall back two steps. Yet the benefit of working with survivors of violence is enhanced sustainability of peacebuilding efforts.

As a Christian faith-based organization, MCC in its peacebuilding work has been committed to peacebuilding that strengthens collaboration across faiths and ethnicities in the faces of forces that seek to divide communities along faith and ethnic lines. This approach has boosted acceptance of MCC by diverse actors in West Africa contexts, as MCC support has been welcomed to enhance local capacities for peacebuilding action. MCC’s peacebuilding approach seeks to build a sense of ownership by stakeholders in peacebuilding work: peacebuilding should not be seen as an MCC initiative that Nigerians and other West Africans join, but as a West African priority that MCC supports. MCC provides social spaces in which stakeholders from different religious and ethnic communities collaborate to build sustainable peace.

Gopar Tapkida is MCC representative for Zimbabwe. He previously served as MCC peace coordinator for its Central and West Africa programs.


Tapkida, Gopar. “Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria: Mennonite Central Committee and Interfaith Peacebuilding.” In Borders and Bridges: Mennonite Witness in a Religious Diverse World. Ed. Alain Epp Weaver and Peter Dula, 43-56. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2007.

——. “The Momentum of Peace.” Sojourners (August 2014). Available at https://sojo.net/magazine/august-2014/momentum-peace.

——, with Mary Lou Klassen and Yakubu Joseph. “Emergency Preparedness Response Teams.” Conrad Grebel Review. 35/3 (Fall 2017). Available at https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/publications/conrad-grebel-review/issues/fall-2017/peacebuilding-initiative-profile-emergency-preparedness.

———–. “Stories of Crisis Intervention in Central Nigeria.” Peace Office Newsletter. 37/1 (January-March 2007):2-4

A biblical approach to the work of anti-racism

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed: “There can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love.” As Christian churches look to understand and confront racism, we can build the body of Christ by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, NIV) The history of the United States must be examined and owned by the church so that we can address the past and current practices of racism that go against the very scriptures we are called to follow by Jesus himself, when he told the teachers of the law that the greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV).

As Christian churches look to understand and confront racism, we can build the body of Christ by ‘speaking the truth in love.

Anti-racism training work is a critical part of our work at MCC. Beginning in the early 1990s, MCC U.S. began its anti-racism efforts through a training program that came to be called Damascus Road (a program that spun off from MCC in 2012, taking on the name Roots of Justice). MCC U.S. remains committed to the hard work of dismantling racism. Over the past three years, I have worked with colleagues to develop a three-tier, biblically-focused approach to the work of anti-racism, a training program that invites both MCC staff and Anabaptist leaders from outside MCC to grapple with biblical texts and to root ourselves in the biblical foundation for anti-racism work. We began rolling out this training in November 2017 with a gathering of eight persons at Nyack College that offered a basic introduction to people who are just now entering the conversation around race or have had a difficult time understanding how racism works. Every one of the tiers follows a three-day model, in which the first day is set up as interactive and experiential and in which participants gather and visit a museum or a national monument that exposes people to the history of race, migration, slavery, immigration and more in the United States. For example, the first training participants visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (other times we have visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.) and then gathered for a time of debriefing and identifying historical truths that are often not told in our educational narratives about our past. The three tiers of three-day anti-racism trainings unfold as follows:

In this 1963 photo, David Augsburger (right) interviews Dr. Vincent Harding on the Mennonite Hour, September Vincent Harding was Program Director in the Atlanta (Georgia) Mennonite Service Unit. Vincent and wife Rosemarie Harding were stationed in Atlanta in October 1961 as peace and service workers with a mandate to search for ways in which the peace witness might come alive in the midst of racist oppression in the United States. (MCC photos)

Tier 1: Uncovering the Roots of Race, Racism and Immigration: This workshop invites participants to understand the role that racism plays in U.S. history. The training introduces participants to the roots of racism in the formation of this nation, including how the Doctrine of Discovery shaped attitudes and practices towards Indigenous people and how the transcontinental trade in enslaved persons was bound up with the nation’s origins. The training culminates with an opportunity to think about our current national systems and about our own organizations as places to dismantle racism. We also address the role of the church and racism in this training, something that is critically needed as we commit to truth-telling and lament.

Our nation’s history must be examined and owned by the church so that we can address the past and current practices of racism that go against the very scriptures we are called to follow by Jesus himself.

Tier 2: Living in the House We Did Not Build (Focus on Racism and Economics): This tier examines the intersectionality of racism and economics, especially with regards to the development of wealth. It looks at how laws, policies and classifications have historically created or denied opportunities based on race. Day one of the training is participatory, interactive and experiential. In past trainings, we have visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, where we considered how exploitative economic systems undergirded slavery and the theft of land from Indigenous peoples. Looking at more recent history, we explore practices such as “redlining” in which banks denied mortgages to people based on race and geography, practices that prevent groups from building up wealth. We review case studies on the systemic challenges for people of color in institutions. We identify ways in which wealth (in the form of land, education, cultural capital and more) is created as well as examine Scripture to better understand how our Christian faith addresses these issues.

Tier 3: The Gift of Agitation for Change (Focus on Policy and Collaboration): This tier is still in the development process but will focus on understanding current movements that are challenging inequality in our country’s laws, policies and practices. It will invite participants to identify how they can collaborate with churches, faith-based organizations and other groups in their contexts to challenge racism and create positive change. This training will push participants to respond to the biblical call to act justly and care for the vulnerable. This culminating tier of MCC U.S.’s anti-racism training will equip participants to work towards dismantling racism by addressing the oppressive systems of injustice such as mass incarceration, unjust immigration policies, disparities in access to and the provision of health care and education and more.

The prophet Amos cries out: “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24) MCC U.S.’s three-tiered anti-racism program invites participates to join Amos in calling upon God to let God’s justice that dismantles racism flow upon our nation and our institutions.

Dina Gonzalez-Pina is MCC U.S. ethnicity and gender equity specialist.

The hard work of anti-racism: the good, the bad and the ugly

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

It seems ironic that I would be writing about MCC’s work on racism from the mid-1990s to the first part of the decade of this century. Our nation finds itself in such troubling times of overt racism and hatred and our churches are struggling how to respond. Why is it so hard for us, as Mennonites, to find ways to address racism? I hope that sharing the story of MCC’s work on racism from within the organization and external work with other agencies can help us understand ourselves. I hope that learning our history will give us the foundation we need to respond and the good sense not to repeat our mistakes.

MCC has worked to address racism from long before the 1990s. MCC, along with other Anabaptist groups, sought to counter racism during the civil rights movement. In the 1960s, for example, Vincent Harding and Rosemarie Freeney Harding led MCC’s Voluntary Service house in Atlanta and became friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. Other Mennonites joined, but in the end, for many Mennonites, the cost of challenging racism was too great. For Mennonites in leadership, engaging in overt activism went too far: although Mennonites at the time did not fully articulate their concern in this way, one can see white Mennonite fear of giving up white privilege. Unfortunately, Mennonite reluctance to undertake the costly work of challenging racist structures led to the loss of the Hardings, two giants in the faith, who had left the Mennonite tradition by 1967, frustrated by Mennonite and MCC hesitancy to combat racism with greater vigor.

I came to work for MCC U.S. in the fall of 1996 as Director of Peace and Justice Ministries. By then, MCC U.S.’s Damascus Road Training was underway under the direction of Regina Shands Stoltzfus and Jody (now Tobin) Miller Shearer. What came to be called Damascus Road developed over the course of a long labor process starting in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, MCC hired John Chapman part-time to work on MCC becoming more ethnically and racially inclusive, both in its staffing and in its engagement of the full racial and ethnic range of Anabaptist groups in the U.S. Staff worked to make human resources policies more inclusive. Lynette Meck, then MCC U.S. director, wrote the first draft of a paper entitled Broadening the Vision in August 1994, in which she outlined a future of MCC becoming more inclusive of people of color. These efforts sought to build on relationships with people of color while resisting systemic racism within MCC. 

As we worship, consider the realities of racism in the Anabaptist community, and share ideas and experiences out of our attempts to resist that racism, may our sight be restored… As we discuss the difficulties of power and privilege, may we be clear and compassionate.

— Invitation letter to Restoring
Our Sight conference, 1995

The Damascus Road program started to take more concrete shape in 1994. That year, Tobin Miller Shearer published Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege toward Racial Reconciliation. In 1995, the MCC U.S. Racism Project hosted a conference in Chicago entitled Restoring Our Sight. Invitations went out to leaders in U.S. Anabaptist institutions and in MCC U.S. and MCC Binational. A total of 250 people attended. The invitation letter sent out on March 1, 1995, stated the conference’s purpose: “As we worship, consider the realities of racism in the Anabaptist community, and share ideas and experiences out of our attempts to resist that racism, may our sight be restored. . . . As we discuss the difficulties of power and privilege, may we be clear and compassionate.” This event birthed what we came to be called the Damascus Road process.

That same year, MCC U.S. produced a video, Free Indeed, as a resource for congregations and other groups seeking to learn about white privilege and the importance of addressing privilege in order to dismantle racism. The video became one of the most widely requested videos in the MCC resource library for many years.

When MCC U.S. established the Damascus Road training program, it set as the program’s goals the preparation of teams within all Anabaptist agencies, including MCC,to dismantle racism within our Anabaptist institutions. The focus was looking at the systemic reality of racism. This work, though promising, also became controversial and threatening. In response to our work at becoming anti-racist and in confronting “whiteness” [racialized ideology that produces white privilege], we began to receive threatening letters. Tobin Miller Shearer, director of the Anti-Racism Desk in 1996, got a death threat from a white supremacist group. He also fielded many angry and negative comments from within the church. As a person of color, I found that very frightening. We consistently received pressure from some within MCC to focus on work on interpersonal relationships rather than on systemic issues, because white people were more comfortable discussing interpersonal relationships rather than confronting their own white privilege and the systemic barriers that kept white people in control, not just in society but within church institutions as well, including Anabaptist institutions.

John Powell, of Buffalo, New York, pins a square of cloth onto a piece of fabric as part of the first night of the Damascus Road conference, “Damascus and Beyond: seeking clearer sight, bolder spirit,” held in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2005. Damascus Road used trainings about systemic racism to organize teams to work on dismantling racism in their own institutions or congregations. In 2005, Damascus Road was developing a system of chaplains and organizers in order to better nurture teams and link them together. (MCC photo/Matthew Lester)

Despite this pushback from various segments within MCC, Damascus Road did make an impact both on MCC and within the broader Anabaptist world in the U.S. This past year, my congregation welcomed Julie Hart as a guest speaker. Julie had been a sociology professor at Bethel College in Kansas when we organized a Damascus Road training there many years ago. When we talked briefly this past summer, Julie shared how her academic training had not previously introduced her to concepts of whiteness and white privilege: the Damascus Road training equipped her with analysis that has now become standard within sociology. Damascus Road anti-racism training has had an impact not only on individuals but also institutions. For example, today we have many more people of color in leadership positions within and on the board of Mennonite Church USA than when this anti-racism work first began. People of color groups, meanwhile, have been able to find places to be heard and contribute within Mennonite Church USA in ways that did not happen twenty years ago.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Tobin Miller Shearer and I co-authored a book together, Set Free, in 2001 while working for MCC U.S. In that book, we named the reality of racism and highlighted how power is used to maintain the status quo. We repeatedly found that many white people named racism as an issue of relationships, while people of color identified the issue of racism as systemic. The truth, of course, is that racism has both relational and systemic dimensions, but it is the systemic piece that affects people of color the most, from access to resources to the toll on our physical and mental health.

Anti-racism work often faces backlash, with the impact falling most frequently on the people whose voices are marginalized, who are silenced when what they have to say becomes uncomfortable and who are terminated when they become a threat to white institutions.

The Damascus Road program found that it was imperative for white people to address their racism if the task of dismantling racism could gain traction. The MCC U.S. anti-racism program thus developed a training module entitled Fire and Clay, a workshop for white people to confront the white privilege they carry. The first Fire and Clay gathering was held in April 2003. People attended, but MCC leadership, for the most part, did not participate. Earlier in June 2002, the Damascus Road program had developed a training called Set Free for people of color to work on internalized racism. Set Free trainings helped to inspire events like the Hope for the Future gatherings sponsored by Mennonite Church USA, in which people of color began to amplify their voices and make connections to one another to work together on issues that were important to them.

By the first decade of this century, the difficulty of working both within and beyond MCC U.S. to confront racism was taking a toll on people of color, who frequently felt they had to be the bridge builders and teachers for white people. In June 2006, MCC Binational and MCC U.S. jointly hired Rick Derksen, a white man, as coordinator of MCC’s Anti-Racism Accountability Council. Rick did a lot of good work, but by then many people of color tasked with anti-racism work were exhausted. Eventually, after much internal consultation, Damascus Road trainers determined that they wanted to undertake a broader, more intersectional, approach to anti-racism work, while also reaching out beyond Anabaptist communities. These discussions led in September 2012 to Damascus Road spinning off from MCC, becoming part of the independent organization, Roots of Justice.

Anabaptist institutions continue to work with Roots of Justice to hold Damascus Road anti-racism trainings because it has proven so effective in transforming their boards and leadership structures. To be sure, the gains made by this anti-racism work has come at a cost, taking a toll on people of color and white allies. Anti-racism work often faces backlash, with the impact falling most frequently on the people whose voices are marginalized, who are silenced when what they have to say becomes uncomfortable and who are terminated when they become a threat to white institutions. The work within our institutions needs white people to take ownership. Funding must be available for the work if the church is serious about dismantling racism. I pray and hope that MCC U.S. will come forward again in a bold way in its anti-racism work to name and speak against the renewed racist nationalism and xenophobia we are experiencing in our society and in our churches and that MCC will stand with congregations and institutions that are speaking up in defense of those at the receiving end of racism and hate.

Iris deLeón-Hartshorn is associate executive director for operations of Mennonite Church USA.


DeLeón-Hartshorn, Iris, Tobin Miller Shearer and Regina Shands Stoltzfus. Set Free: A Journey toward Solidarity against Racism. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001.

Shearer, Tobin Miller. Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

——. Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege toward Racial Reconciliation. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1994.

Mennonite Conciliation Service: challenges, successes and learnings

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

In 1975, the seed for Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS) was planted. MCC had a well- respected reputation for responding to basic human needs, such as the provision of food and shelter. Yet those carrying out these responses realized more could be done—something was missing. There were needs not being met, and this missing piece impacted the success of the material responses. This need for a Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS) parallel to Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) was a need for an organization that would address conflicts and crises before they become violent. Such an MCS would also advocate for justice. This ministry would be collaborative with other Anabaptist organizations and with other Christians active in the work of conciliation, mediation and conflict transformation. In this article, I offer my reflections as a former MCS staff person on the challenges MCS faced, the successes it experienced and learnings from the MCS story.

Ron Kraybill, director of Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS), addresses a conciliation meeting in Salunga, Pennsylvania, in October 1983. MCS developed educational and training materials around conflict resolution skills, including the Conciliation Quarterly. (MCC photo/Nancy Witmer)

I joined MCS in July 1999. Having never lived east of the Mississippi, I experienced culture shock upon moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to work for MCC. I had lived in Dallas, Texas, for close to 20 years, working as an insurance claims examiner. In many ways, being an insurance claims examiner stimulated my interest in resolving conflict. During my off-work time, I trained with and volunteered for many years at the Dallas Mediation Center. When I received the call to join MCS, I was on a personal journey to determine how I could make my avocation my vocation. I therefore accepted the offer, moved to Lancaster and took on the position of associate on urban peacemaking. I eventually became MCS’s director and then later co-directed the Office on Justice and Peacebuilding with Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz when MCS merged with the MCC U.S.’s Office on Crime and Justice. I continued in that position until 2011, when I left MCC to pastor (and then later rejoin MCC as executive director for MCC Central States, the position I hold today).

MCS certainly faced challenges throughout its history. The earliest documents outlining the origins of MCS make for fascinating reading. From the beginning, MCS’s creators were mindful of two challenges that would be ongoing concerns for MCS: first, the theological, historical and cultural approaches to conflict among traditional Anabaptist groups and, secondly, racism. In a 1976 study on the possibility and parameters of MCS, William Keeney placed MCS within a history of MCC peace witness: “Mennonites have often expressed their opposition to violence and war by the refusal to participate. We have offered alternative service as a demonstration of our positive contributions to society. Mennonite Conciliation Services would seem to be another positive contribution we could make by minimizing the consequences of evil conflict and violence.” In the beginning of his study, Keeney acknowledged that the realities of violence to and in African-American, Latinx and Indigenous communities related to “discrimination” and being “excluded from the benefits of American Society.” Keeney did not use the same language for people of color I use here (that is my translation to the contemporary vernacular), but Keeney clearly understood that ongoing racism was a primary source of violence. If MCS was to take seriously the mandate to address and respond to conflict and harm before it turns to violence, Keeney recognized, then it must contend with the “social disasters” leading to it.

Mennonite Conciliation Service named, from the beginning, that addressing conflict or harm without acknowledging systemic oppression is hypocritical.

Ron Kraybill’s report to the MCC Peace Section regarding the proposal to establish a Mennonite Conciliation Service was more forthright and explicit about the challenges. Informed by discussions with non-white Mennonites, Kraybill found affirmation for the MCS proposal, yet also heard strong caveats, including from Mennonites of color. These caveats included the following points:

  • People of color must be included in the effort to establish MCS;
  • Emphasis should be placed on mobilizing local resources, rather than on maintaining a “flying squad of intervenors”;
  • MCC needed to ask if Mennonites were ready to take on questions of justice as it sought to establish MCS;
  • Involvement in conflicts should be contemplated only in those situations where Mennonites have “earned the right” to speak;
  • Mennonites have a lot of “in-house” conflicts that need to be addressed;
  • To be credible, MCS would need to develop slowly: MCC would need to be committed to the MCS venture for at least five years before judging it as a success or failure.

I arrived at MCS twenty-three years after these preliminary discussions. During my tenure with MCS, the issues identified at MCS’s inception continued to come up in our internal discussions. We knew that naming, addressing and acknowledging concerns around justice and racism were always at the core of the work as we continued to resource, train, mediate, facilitate and participate in conciliation efforts. As a woman of African descent whose chosen faith expression has been in the Anabaptist tradition, it was important for my credibility and sanity to keep these challenges in the forefront of our work.

Although MCS faced persistent challenges, we also had many poignant successes. For me, to work with people who were called to be peacemakers was a gift. The people who worked for and collaborated with MCS were committed to mediating, educating, practicing and growing. Together, we were committed to work at our internal conflicts just as we worked with others beyond our doors. We acknowledged injustice and advocated for justice. And we knew our limits: we did not think every case or referral could be addressed by MCS. However, we maintained relationships with others to whom we could refer cases. We were constantly challenging our work and the conciliation field to be anti-racist and anti-sexist in our approaches to conflict and harm.

To be credible, Mennonite Conciliation Service would need to develop slowly: MCC would need to be committed to the MCS venture for at least five years before judging it as a success or failure.

The most laudable success MCS experienced was the production of conflict resolution resources—books, training manuals, videos and periodicals—that became widely-used within the conflict resolution, mediation and restorative justice fields. Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, while MCS director, joined Lawrence Ressler in editing Making Peace with Conflict, a seminal book for churches to understand conflict as neither good nor bad, a resource that encouraged Mennonites (and other Christians) to face and learn from conflict. Schrock-Shenk was also responsible for a video, also directed at churches, called Conflict and the Church. MCS published four editions of its Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual, a resource used as a core text in many colleges and universities. The fifth version of the manual (Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice Manual), produced jointly with the Office of Crime and Justice, was similarly widely used. And, for 23 years, MCS published a periodical called Conciliation Quarterly that highlighted learnings and grappled with challenges from the conflict mediation and restorative justice fields. Although MCS, the Office of Crime and Justice and the Office of Justice and Peacebuilding no longer exist at MCC, their contributions continue to be respected across the conflict transformation and restorative justice fields.

MCS spurred Anabaptist communities in the United States to expand their understandings and theologies of nonviolence and nonresistance. MCS encouraged churches and communities to develop new understandings of and healthier approaches to conflict. MCS named, from the beginning, that addressing conflict or harm without acknowledging systemic oppression is hypocritical. MCS provided a space and opportunity for the non-dominant voices to be heard in venues such as the MCS-produced manual and in Conciliation Quarterly. It has been an honor and blessing to be part of MCS’s legacy: my hope for MCC is that it will find creative ways to extend MCS’s legacy of creatively addressing conflicts in ways that take questions of justice and racism seriously.

Michelle Armster is executive director of MCC Central States.


Amstuz, Lorraine Stutzman and Michelle Armster. Eds. Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice Manual: Foundations and Skills for Mediation and Facilitation. Fifth edition. Akron, PA: MCC Office on Justice and Peacebuilding, 2008.

Schrock-Shenk, Carolyn. Ed. Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual: Foundations and Skills for Constructive Conflict Transformation. Fourth edition. Akron, PA: Mennonite Conciliation Service, 2000.

MCC advocacy for Indigenous rights in Canada: reflections from history and the present

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

MCC Canada has a long history of speaking to the Canadian government about militarization and participation in armed activities. Over the years, this advocacy has evolved as relationships with Indigenous nations in Canada have opened the door to new understandings of peace and nonviolence. Yet these new understandings have come with challenges that continue today. MCC advocacy in support of various Indigenous communities of Labrador in protesting against NATO military activities at the end of the Cold War and later against a hydro-electric dam initiative illustrates both challenges and opportunities for MCC’s advocacy in Canada more broadly.

University students from across Canada attending MCC Ottawa Office student seminar February 12-14, 2015, on advocacy and faith gather around Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill as part of a witness walk in Ottawa. (MCC photo/Monica Figueroa)

Since the early 1950s, MCC Canada sought meetings with prime ministers to advocate for the rights of conscientious objection and alternative service. Over time, those petitions began to shift focus, moving from requests for the respect of Mennonite religious beliefs to including asks for government actions to reduce international conflict. Speaking to government about matters of conflict and war gradually became a part of MCC’s relief, development and peacebuilding work. This change, along with a recognition that a listening post in Ottawa would further the work of MCC, led to MCC opening its Ottawa Office in 1975.

Over the ensuing years, MCC advocacy became increasingly linked to MCC’s model of accompaniment and community service. As Esther Epp-Tiessen writes in her history of MCC in Canada, MCC service workers living in communities around the world and witnessing firsthand the harm of military action began to increasingly share about the impacts of Canadian policies and military action. These concerns began to form the basis of MCC’s advocacy communications and shape the way MCC understood its dual responsibilities—to its Anabaptist constituent in Canada and to the communities and partners MCC accompanied.

During the final years of the Cold War, MCC Canada undertook advocacy related to the impact of global militarization in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. MCC have had an ongoing, long-term presence in Labrador, with work in the province stemming back to the 1970s (and with partnership with Innu communities beginning in 1983). In the 1980s, NATO began testing low-level military flights over Innu traditional territory in Labrador, taking off from and landing at the Canadian military base in Goose Bay. More than 8,000 flights took place each year, harming wildlife and disrupting the Innu community’s traditional way of life. As the Cold War progressed, NATO proposed building a larger, more permanent training base in the area. Despite some hesitation from its governing board, MCC Canada began to highlight the concerns of these Innu communities through advocacy, as part of a larger advocacy campaign against Canada’s participation in NATO in general.

If the Innu are not requesting military defence, and if Mennonites from a Christian peace position are saying the same things, how would it be if we would find a way of making a joint statement between the Innu and Mennonites to that effect?

— Menno Wiebe

For several years, the Ottawa Office had consistently voiced concerns around NATO and Canada’s participation in the Cold War arms race in their correspondence to government. Now, the office began to include Innu voices and experiences in their communications to government officials, connecting advocacy against Canadian militarization with Innu concerns about how NATO flight were upending their traditional way of life. Advocacy against NATO began to include requests to also resolve land claims and to look for shared points of connections between Mennonites and Innu communities, including shared understandings of relationships to the state.

In a 1989 letter to MCC Canada program leaders, Menno Wiebe, director of MCC’s Native Concerns program, asked: “If the Innu are not requesting military defence, and if Mennonites from a Christian peace position are saying the same things, how would it be if we would find a way of making a joint statement between the Innu and Mennonites to that effect?” Wiebe highlighted a meeting between Peter Penashue, an Innu community leader, and five liberal members of parliament, in which the Innu stated that they were not asking Canada to defend them. For Wiebe, the Innu assertion of their sovereign right to refuse being defended by NATO and the Canadian military opened potential fruitful connections to Mennonite concerns about militarization.

MCC’s Ottawa Office raised further concerns about the NATO flights over Innu territory through its partnership with Project Ploughshares. These advocacy initiatives encouraged Canadians to send letters and request meetings with government officials to voice concerns about the NATO flights, arguing that “in the name of ‘security,’ such fighter-bomber flight training is imposing insecurity on the Innu peoples.” Other letters seeking to mobilize advocacy efforts referred to the lack of a just relationship between the Government of Canada and the Innu, calling on the Canadian government to re-examine its commitment to the proposed NATO base.

During this time, the Innu invited Rick and Louise Cober Bauman and their children to live in the more rural community of Sheshatshit, in part based on their increased trust of MCC through MCC’s willingness to advocate. Rick recalls sending faxes encouraging advocacy and providing updates from the local Innu resource centre, connecting Mennonites and many other interested supporters not only in Canada but also in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. The family living room was the site of planning sessions to block fighter jets from taking off by occupying the runway at the military base. MCC was intimately involved in witnessing the devastations of colonization, the struggle for self-determination and the impacts of Cold War politics on those far removed from the causes of conflict.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending of the Cold War, flights from and construction on the NATO base stopped. Without the push around direct militarization, Ottawa Office advocacy on the Innu issues declined. The Indigenous communities in Labrador, however, continued to face challenges to their right to live on their land. Structural violence, rather than overt military presence, continued. A hydro-electric dam built at Muskrat Falls and completed in 2019 has posed concerns around land and water contamination.

MCC workers sought to discern how to respond to such ongoing colonization, especially as shifts in approaches among Indigenous communities varied. Overall, the Innu did not oppose the dam, as the project approval was a part of their land claims agreement. The Southern Inuit and Northern Inuit communities downstream from the dam, however, engaged in advocacy over their concerns of methylmercury poisoning, with the support from only a very few members of the Innu community.

MCC workers, up until 2019, engaged actively in responding to these shifting concerns and nuances within the region. They built relationships with land defenders in the Inuit communities opposing the hydro project and actively facilitated community organizing processes. Instead of working with Chief and Council, as they had with the Innu, MCC workers connected with strategic individuals. They worked to bring members of the different communities together, along with working behind the scenes to support public statements and actions. MCC workers intentionally tried to keep a lower profile and focused on raising the voices of individual land defenders, rather than the voice of MCC.

The advocacy component of MCC’s local presence was strong, but public Anabaptist support of advocacy against the hydro project was not the same as with advocacy against the NATO flights, despite heavy RCMP presence at the site to arrest and remove protesters. Other grassroots organizations across Canada and the U.S. advocated against the hydro project, but there was very little Anabaptist outcry. The Ottawa Office was unable to offer much support, due to changing MCC priorities in Canada. Without the direct connections to militarization, there was no longer the same tangible draw for Mennonites or peace activists.

Rick Cober Bauman reflects that “mines and dams didn’t have the same impact as women running in front of jets. We may believe we can live without defense, but can we live without nickel or hydro? Things got more complex.” This complexity was seen not only in lack of Canadian Anabaptist support for advocacy against the hydro project, but also in the important nuances MCC workers navigated each day, as they responded to the different concerns and relationships they had built, relationships that included the different perspectives of multiple Indigenous groups, nuances that were easy to overlook when only focusing on a response to overt militarization or communicating a more simple story about MCC’s presence.

Elizabeth (Tshaukuish) Penashue, photographed in 2011, an Innu elder from Sheshatshit, north of Happy Valley Goose Bay, N.L., is deeply concerned about the future of her community and culture which she believes is closely linked to the wellbeing of the environment. Penashue organizes an annual canoe trip to increase awareness of the importance of protecting land and water from pollution and to pass on knowledge of Innu culture, traditional survival skills and food. MCC has a longstanding relationship with Penashue and has provided assistance for this and other initiatives that are in line with MCC’s values of caring for creation and improving relationships between broader Canadian society and Indigenous peoples. (MCC Photo/Nina Linton)

This history is relevant today as the Ottawa Office has been mandated to look for opportunities to engage in MCC advocacy around Indigenous justice, as MCC seeks to come to terms with its historical identity as an organization founded and supported by Canadian Mennonite settlers on Indigenous land. How do we understand and respond to state violence, such as colonization manifested as control over territory, when it isn’t obviously militarized? Can we use the language of state violence and our complicity to engage with constituents, in a way that engages on a national level, including in regions where extractive and mega-projects are major employers of MCC supporters? Additionally, MCC no longer has workers living with and directly supporting Indigenous communities in Canada, making it more difficult for us to “hear” Indigenous voices, including their diversity and nuances, in the ways that have traditionally shaped our advocacy work. How do we understand and portray nuance, without holding those active relationships? Addressing structural and colonial violence in Canada, reflecting on our own participation in that violence and then engaging in advocacy for Indigenous rights in Canada should be vital elements of MCC’s evolving peace advocacy, even as MCC faces multiple challenges in doing so.

Anna Vogt is director of MCC’s Ottawa Office.


Brody, Hugh. The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World. New York: North Point Press, 2002.

Heinrichs, Steve. Ed. From Wrongs to Rights: How Churches Can Engage the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Winnipeg: Mennonite Church Canada, 2016.

A steady witness for peace: MCC in Washington, D.C.

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

In Washington, D.C., in November 1969, a small group of Mennonites stood in the early morning chill to participate in the March on Washington, one of many peace marches held during the Vietnam War. (MCC photo/Burton Buller)

As the year 2002 wore on, U.S. military action against Iraq seemed imminent. J. Daryl Byler, then-director of MCC’s Washington Office, worked with staff of Mennonite Church USA to mobilize church members against the impending war. They set a goal of gathering 5,000 signatures on a letter to President George W. Bush. In two weeks, more than 13,000 Mennonites representing nearly 250 congregations throughout the country, had signed the letter. [Eventually over 17,000 people signed.] Printed out, the signatures were 300 pages long—a six-inch stack of paper that Jim Schrag, Mennonite Church USA’s executive director, held up at a press conference in September 2002 to demonstrate the church’s opposition to the war. Ultimately, these advocacy efforts opposing U.S. military action were unsuccessful and the U.S. military invaded Iraq in March 2003. But it was a key moment in a steady witness for peace over the past five decades by the MCC U.S. Washington Office (originally named the Peace Section-Washington Office).

The time has come when we can no longer maintain faith with the homeless, the hungry, the orphaned and the wounded to whom we minister unless we speak out as clearly as we can against the savage war in which our country is engaged.

— MCC letter to President
Lyndon Johnson, 1966

Even before the office opened in 1968, U.S. Mennonites had been communicating with government officials about conscientious objection concerns, including a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. Between 1940 and 1967, Mennonite leaders testified 13 times before congressional committees about conscientious objection. Concerns about the rights of conscientious objectors continue today, with the Washington Office helping to convene a gathering of Anabaptist church representatives in June 2019 to respond to recommendations from the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.

MCC’s work around the globe has also helped Mennonites understand that their advocacy to the government needs to extend beyond the protection of their own rights as conscientious objectors to calling for an end to war and militarism. During the U.S. war in Vietnam, MCC staff heard a clear plea to advocate for an end to U.S. military involvement in the war. MCC leadership conveyed this message in a 1966 letter to President Lyndon Johnson. “The time has come,” they wrote, “when we can no longer maintain faith with the homeless, the hungry, the orphaned and the wounded to whom we minister unless we speak out as clearly as we can against the savage war in which our country is engaged.” MCC opened its Washington, D.C., office for public policy advocacy in 1968. In its early years, MCC vigorously advocated for an end to the Vietnam War. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, this advocacy shifted to urging the U.S. to normalize economic and diplomatic relations with Vietnam and Laos.

Delton Franz, right, and Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Ore) discuss issues they worked on together during their time in Washington at the 25th-anniversary celebration of the MCC Washington Office in 1993. (MCC photo/David Schrock-Shenk)

The Washington Office has also spoken out against U.S. militarism more broadly throughout its history, including the increasingly steep levels of funding for the Pentagon. In 1975, the office’s director, Delton Franz, lamented the Secretary of Defense’s use of Scripture to introduce a military budget that topped $100 billion for the first time. “If the Defense Secretary’s understanding of Scripture is found wanting,” Franz wrote, “perhaps equally serious is the ignorance of all too many of us in the Christian community on the realities of the militarization of our economic and political system. Do we understand the immensity of the military juggernaut that we are being asked to buy into?”

Drawing on the experience of MCC’s partner organizations in situations of conflict around the world, the Washington Office has consistently opposed U.S. arms sales and foreign military assistance. So, for example, in the 1980s, the office arranged meetings between MCC workers in El Salvador and congressional delegations who visited the country, helping members of Congress understand the impact of U.S. involvement in the civil war.

In 2000, Colombian Mennonites issued a plea to U.S. church members, urging them to oppose “Plan Colombia,” the U.S. anti-drug initiative that sent billions of dollars to the Colombian military. “Just as lighter fluid among flames produces more fire,” they wrote, “more arms produce more war.” The Washington Office worked persistently—and successfully, in some cases—to change the voting record of members of Congress on the issue. The voices of MCC’s constituents were critical in bringing about this change.

Karen Ventura was a consultant in the new office for Mennonite Hispanic Immigration Service in Washington, D.C., in 1978. The MCC Washington Office began doing advocacy on immigration in the late 1970s. (MCC photo/Lynn Roth)

An August 2013 action alert from the Washington Office generated more than 5,000 emails to policymakers, urging them to oppose U.S. airstrikes against Syria. Washington Office staff heard from congressional aides that congressional office phones were ringing off their hooks, with the vast majority of callers opposing military action. In the end, this grassroots pressure helped move the U.S. to support a diplomatic resolution to the immediate crisis. More recent work by the office to address U.S. militarism includes calling for a formal end to the Korean War and opposing arms sales to the Nigerian government in its fight against Boko Haram. The office also opposes efforts to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border, calling instead for more humane responses to migrants arriving at that border.

The MCC U.S. Washington Office is certainly not the only organization in Washington, D.C., that advocates for peace and against militarism. But since its founding over fifty years ago, a vision of peace rooted in God’s justice and care for the marginalized has guided the Washington Office’s work. This work has mobilized Anabaptists to engage in public policy advocacy as part of their Christian witness, and has been undergirded by testimonies and calls from churches and peace leaders around the world about the destructive impact of war and militarism and the need for transformative, peaceful approaches to conflict. Over the past five decades, public policy advocacy through MCC’s Washington Office has been an essential element of what it means to work for peace in the name of Christ. May this witness continue as MCC begins its second century.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach is director of MCC’s Washington Office.


Miller, Keith Graber. Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves: American Mennonites Engage Washington. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee, 1996.

Washington Memo. Available at https://washingtonmemo.org/newsletter/. Published three times a year by the MCC Washington Office.

MCC Canada peace programming: a ministry for or to the churches?

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

Peace programming has been an essential element of MCC’s ministry in Canada since the organization was formed in 1963. But an ongoing tension present from the very beginning was whether this ministry was intended as an outward witness or an inward strengthening—whether it was a ministry for and on behalf of the Anabaptist churches in Canada or a ministry to those same churches.

When MCC Canada (MCCC) was formed in the closing days of 1963, one of its mandates was to further the peace mission of the Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ churches who founded the organization. MCC was to act as a united voice for Canadian Anabaptists in matters of national concern, such as “peace witness, alternative service, immigration and other matters” (Epp-Tiessen, 78). The 1965 MCC Canada constitution confirmed “peace witness” as a core area of its responsibility.

This emphasis on peace witness indicates that MCC Canada’s founders envisioned a vibrant outreach program, inviting people beyond the Mennonite community to embrace a vision for nonviolent peacemaking, even while they saw a need for peace education in the MCC member churches. One of the first peace witness projects the new organization undertook was to host a peace booth at Toronto’s annual Canadian National Exhibition. The volunteers who staffed the booth shared literature and engaged passersby in conversations about peacemaking alternatives to war.

As the office addressed government on issues of defence policy, the arms trade and Canadian military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, MCCC heard charges from some constituents that it should not engage in such ‘political’ activity.

Within a short time, it became clear that some of MCC Canada’s constituent churches were not supportive of the organization’s peace witness efforts. A key issue which surfaced this tension was MCC Canada’s support for young men from the United States fleeing to Canada—either to evade the draft or to desert the military—because they refused to be part of the U.S. war effort in Vietnam. MCC Canada allocated a small amount of money to meet the immediate needs of some of these thousands of draft “dodgers” and resisters and encouraged Canadian Mennonite churches to offer to support to these young men. Constituency reaction was swift and strong. Letters to MCC, additional letters sent to the editors of Anabaptist periodicals and conference resolutions condemned MCC Canada’s stance. People opposed support for the war resisters because they suspected the young men of being drug-using hippies and not “true” conscientious objectors since many lacked a well-articulated faith-based conviction. MCC Canada made the case that Mennonites’ own historic stance of conscientious objection and resistance to war should lead them to support the resisters, but many constituents did not see it that way. Dan Zehr, director of the MCC Canada Peace and Social Concerns Program, asked why constituents were generous and open in helping people overseas, but were only prepared to help the “right kind of people” at home (Epp-Tiessen, 115).

Therefore, almost from the beginning, MCC Canada staff and volunteers realized they could not assume an Anabaptist constituency that would whole-heartedly embrace peace witness work. In order to do the “external” work of peace witness, they would need to do the “internal” work of strengthening constituents’ commitment to peace. Over the years, MCC Canada invested significant resources in doing just that. MCC Canada’s peace program staff devoted significant time speaking in churches, organizing special events and producing Christian education curricula and other resources with the goal of fortifying member churches in their commitment to biblical peace theology. One of the longest standing projects was a Peace Sunday Packet, developed initially by MCC Ontario in 1987 that then quickly became a national project. The packet was a special worship, reflection and action resource produced for church use in conjunction with Remembrance Day in November.

To remember is to work for peace.

—MCC Remembrance
Day button.

The notion of an MCC Canada ministry to Anabaptist churches was not unique to MCC Canada’s peace program. Programs that worked with Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, victims of domestic violence and other marginalized individuals—many of these programs birthed by the MCC Canada peace program—also found it important to minister to the churches. MCC Canada staff preached and made presentations in churches, created resources for churches and engaged churches in efforts to help Anabaptists in Canada understand and embrace work that was often quite removed from their own lived reality (Epp-Tiessen, 135-36).

Despite these efforts at ministering to the churches, MCC Canada peace witness initiatives continued to rouse the concerns of individuals, congregations and conferences that purportedly held to a peace church tradition. In the early 1980s, for example, the Mennonite Brethren Conference raised concerns about MCC Canada’s work in Indigenous communities and its advocacy on military spending and nuclear disarmament. A task force was established to explore these concerns and respond to them. About the same time, a well-positioned observer noted an “anti-MCC feeling” among conservative Mennonites in southern Manitoba because of its work in “the peace section and native concerns.”

Through the 1980s and 1990s, much of constituency critique was aimed at the peace witness work of the MCC Canada Ottawa Office. As the office addressed government on issues of defence policy, the arms trade and Canadian military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, MCC Canada heard charges from some constituents that it should not engage in such “political” activity. According to J.M. Klassen, long-time executive director of MCCC, the charge of being “political” frequently surfaced when critics disagreed with MCC’s point of view (J.M. Klassen, Jacob’s Journey).

By no means all parts of MCC Canada’s Canadian Anabaptist constituency opposed public peace witness. In 2001, for example, in response to the September 11 attacks in the United States, MCC Canada organized a special cross-country hymn sing for peace as a way of calling Canada to resist joining the U.S. in military engagement against Afghanistan. In Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Abbotsford, MCC constituents gathered to pray and to sing publicly for an international order of peace. In 2003, over a thousand people in many countries joined a weekly “women’s fast for peace” as a way of registering their opposition to war on Iraq. Additionally, over 2,000 constituents across Canada signed a joint letter from MCC Canada and denominational leaders to the prime minister with the same intent.

Laura Dyck, from Sterling Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ontario, wears the MCC peace button at a 2015 walk for reconciliation between settler and Indigenous Canadians based on justice and honoring of treaties. (MCC photo/Alison Ralph)

Nevertheless, by the first part of this century it was becoming more and more difficult to engage Canadian Anabaptists on the issues that formed MCC Canada’s traditional peace mandate: war and armed conflict, conscientious objection to military service, military spending and the arms trade, a peace tax fund and so on. Constituents more happily embraced such growing emphases in MCC on peace as mediation, dialogue, conflict resolution, cross-cultural relationship-building and non-partisan humanitarian assistance. They were less eager to embrace peace witness initiatives that somehow put them at odds with the broader society or government.

In 1989 MCC Ontario produced a simple red button with the message “To remember is to work for peace.” It encouraged people to wear the button around Remembrance Day as an alternative to the poppy worn to commemorate war veterans and as a gentle call to seek non-violent alternatives to war. The button was well received, and over the years thousands were sold and distributed across the country. But as the years passed, the message of the button lost its power. Indeed, a growing group of constituents identified it as “preachy,” “naive” and “offensive to veterans.” A lengthy conversation on Facebook in 2015 surfaced many of these opinions, prompting an in-depth survey within MCC Canada and the provincial MCCs as to whether it was time to lay the button and its slogan to rest.

Around the same time, MCC Canada also quietly ended staffing for a national peace program. The rationale was that the organization hoped to channel further staff time into the work of the Ottawa Office. This was supposedly a temporary measure, but the move became permanent with no discussion. Many of the provincial offices of MCC discontinued their peace programs soon after. To be sure, MCC Canada continued to support peacebuilding initiatives, primarily in its international program, but it had more or less abandoned the task of ministering to the churches, of resourcing Anabaptist congregations in their basic commitments to Anabaptist-Mennonite peace theology.

Why this major shift? Many possible reasons surface. For one thing, MCC Canada peace staff had not been very successful in reaching out to some of the more evangelical or conservative congregations and denominational conferences. With some exceptions, MCC Canada peace staff mostly found themselves preaching to the choir and were ineffective in stemming the gradual erosion of peace theology and practice among Canadian Anabaptists. Some may have asked: why continue an outreach that did not produce the intended results?

Secondly, it had been decades since military conscription had tested the convictions of Mennonites, Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ in Canada about non-participation in war. Consequently, it was increasingly difficult to engage church audiences in exploring the beliefs and practices that might one day be required to authenticate a stance of conscientious objection. Instead—or as a result—MCC Canada peace staff increasingly found themselves focusing on pressing justice issues where there was interest, issues such as care for creation, economic justice and justice in contexts such as South Africa, Colombia and Palestine and Israel. Finally, MCC Canada’s relationship with constituent churches was changing. As time passed, MCC Canada could no longer count on the automatic support of Anabaptist denominations and congregations in Canada. By 2020, some Anabaptist conferences had withdrawn their official membership in MCC Canada. Within this rapidly changing and challenging environment, MCC Canada positioned itself increasingly as a ministry of and for the church rather than as a ministry to the church. MCC Canada thus continued to work for peace by supporting churches and community-based organizations around the world in their efforts for peace, but its peace ministry no longer included sustained work to foster and shore up Anabaptist peace convictions about war, armed conflict and conscientious objection among churches in Canada.

Esther Epp-Tiessen is an historian and author and served as peace program coordinator for MCC Canada from 2000 to 2010.


Epp, Frank H. and Marlene G. Epp. The Progressions of Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee, 1984.

Epp-Tiessen, Esther. Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History. Winnipeg: CMU Press, 2013.

Klassen, Jacob M. Jacob’s Journey: From Zagradowka to Zion. Self-published. 2001.

MCC peace work in the United States: building an archive

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

MCC’s peace work has always been multidirectional, including both an inward direction that aims to nurture the peace witness of Anabaptist churches in the United States and Canada and an outward direction that undertakes peace and justice work in the world around us, reaching beyond the boundaries of the church. Tracing the histories of this multidirectional peace witness is not a simple task. Where does one begin? Whose individual and communal stories are part of that broader story? Whose voices are we (de)centering in telling the story of Anabaptist peace witness in the United States?

Perhaps one begins with the formation of the MCC Peace Section in 1942 during World War II. For decades, the Peace Section served as an agency for counseling about conscription and the draft and as a center for study, research, writing and education regarding the Mennonite peace position. The Peace Section “was often on the cutting edge, dealing with controversial issues—draft resistance, nonregistration, war tax resistance, and women’s concerns to name a few.” It served as a “prophetic vehicle” that “could monitor, facilitate, and encourage more activist forms of peacemaking which otherwise would have been stifled by more conservative denominational forces” (Driedger and Kraybill, 142).

In this 1959 photo, J. Harold Sherk (left) and John Martin of The National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors (NISBCO) descend the steps at the Selective Service System headquarters in Washington DC. Sherk, of Kitchener, Ontario, was a Mennonite Brethren in Christ pastor and educator. During and after World War II, he also served in inter-Mennonite peace work, and served with MCC in India doing relief work. October 1949 brought him and his wife Mila to Akron, Pennsylvania, where he served until 1958 as Executive Secretary of MCC Peace Section. In 1958, responsibility as director of the National Service Bureau for Religious Objectors (NSBRO) took the couple to Hyattsville, Maryland, until retirement in 1969. (MCC photo)

Over the ensuing decades, the MCC Peace Section served as the umbrella for a wide variety of MCC initiatives and departments that sought to address questions of justice and peacebuilding. For example, MCC’s Washington Office was established in 1968 under the aegis of the Peace Section. This new office in the U.S. capital provided an important means of public engagement, political advocacy and communication between Anabaptist leaders and government representatives.

From the 1960s into the 1980s, the Peace Section initiated several distinct ministries, such as Mennonite Conciliation Services, Women’s Concerns (later Women’s Advocacy), Peace Education/Draft Counseling and Global Education. With the establishment of MCC Canada in 1963 and the creation of a binational MCC, MCC U.S. and MCC Canada divided responsibilities for addressing different types of country-specific peace and justice issues. In 1990, the MCC U.S. Peace Section was renamed Peace and Justice Ministries and began overseeing the Office on Crime and Justice. In 1993, MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries added a Racism Awareness Program (later the Anti-Racism Program), while its Mennonite Conciliation Services program focused one of its staff positions on urban peacemaking. In 1999, the Immigration Education program was added, and in 2005 Mennonite Conciliation Services and the Office on Crime and Justice merged to form the Office on Justice and Peacebuilding. In 2012, MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries was rebranded MCC U.S. National Program, with focus areas in Immigration Education, Anti-Oppression, Peace Education and Restorative Justice. Today, MCC U.S. National Program addresses Immigration Education, Peace Education, Criminal Justice Education and Anti-Racism and Anti-Sexism Education.

MCC’s nascent recognition that peace witness required addressing racism took a new dimension when in 1960 Vincent and Rosemarie Harding started a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Atlanta, a couple of blocks away from the home of Martin and Coretta Scott King, under the umbrella of the MCC Peace Section.

In addition to these programs and activities of the MCC Peace Section and its successors, a significant impact has been the social networks that have emerged around the work. MCC’s peace work not only “symbolized the activist edge of Mennonite peacemaking but also provided a network for hundreds of Mennonites who found support and solidarity” (Driedger and Kraybill, 144). In the remainder of this article, I will look at two examples of MCC’s peace witness that represent important shifts not only in the justice and peacebuilding work of MCC, but also in some fundamental assumptions about what that work is to begin with, a peace witness that embraces public engagement and political advocacy aimed at challenging systemic racism and imperialism.

Attention to systemic oppression and injustice, such as racism, has been a significant part of MCC’s peace work in the U.S. MCC U.S.’s Damascus Road Anti-Racism Process from the nineties and the aughts (that works independently today under the name Roots of Justice) stands as a more recent example of such peace work. But MCC anti-racism efforts can be traced back earlier, as white Mennonite participants in Civilian Public Service camps in the 1940s in places like Gulfport, Mississippi, were confronted by the stark realities of racism in the Jim Crow South. MCC’s nascent recognition that peace witness required addressing racism took on a new dimension when in 1960 Vincent and Rosemarie Harding started a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Atlanta a couple of blocks away from the home of Martin and Coretta Scott King under the umbrella of the MCC Peace Section. Vincent Harding was an African-American pastor, scholar and activist who played a significant role in the civil rights movement and in the Mennonite Church in the 1950s and 1960s, calling on Mennonites to bring their values “to bear on the urgent reality of racial oppression” and “align themselves with African-American struggles as an expression of ‘the way of the disciple’” (Shearer, 222-3). As the civil rights movement grew in visibility, and thanks to the prophetic calls of leaders like the Hardings, Mennonites in the United States increasingly paid more attention to racial oppression in their own communities, with the Mennonite press even beginning to include appeals for legislative action to address the blight of racism.

Who is being (de)centered in the peacebuilding stories we tell? Whose labor made any of these peacebuilding efforts possible?

Vincent Harding’s work and early partnership with Delton Franz—a white Mennonite pastor and the first director of the MCC Washington Office—arguably shaped the path that led to the first office MCC opened for the purpose of political advocacy. Harding called Mennonites “to transform the principles of nonconformity and nonresistance into active service to the world, especially in the cause of racial justice” (Shearer, 247). Even as the Hardings became understandably frustrated by the slow response of MCC and of white Mennonites to confront the evil of racism more vigorously, their witness helped to catalyze a significant shift in MCC’s peace witness and provided a challenge that reverberates today.

Other voices have also helped to catalyze the transformation of MCC and broader Mennonite peace witness—including the voice of an unnamed Palestinian woman. This Palestinian woman confronted Hedy Sawadsky, a white Canadian relief worker with MCC in the Middle East in the late 1960s, with the biting observation that “what you’re doing here is fine, but it is only Band-Aid work. Why don’t you go home and work for peace and get at the root causes of evil and war?” (Driedger and Kraybill, 137). We do not know the name of this Palestinian woman in Sawadsky’s story, but her impact was meaningful and significant. When Sawadsky moved to the U.S. in 1970, she became involved in war tax resistance and other forms of nonviolent direct action, joining Mennonite activists in protests at the Pentagon and the nuclear weapons plant at Rocky Flats, Colorado.

In the voices of the Hardings and this unnamed Palestinian woman, we hear calls for MCC to embrace a “thicker” concept of peace that includes public engagement and political advocacy—working for change “upstream”(where problems originate) and not just responding “downstream” (where systems of oppression damage vulnerable communities). Voices like the Hardings and this unnamed Palestinian woman have also pressed MCC to recognize how U.S. imperialism abroad and racism at home are interconnected (see Satvedi 2011 for reflections on the interconnection of legacies of colonialism). These voices have pressed white peace workers from the U.S. over the years to confess and repent our own histories of violence and injustice on this continent and to recognize that our work at anti-imperialism abroad must be complemented by our anti-racism and anti-oppression work at home.

In building an archive of MCC peacebuilding work, we must ask critical questions like: Who is being (de)centered in the peacebuilding stories we tell? Whose labor made any of these peacebuilding efforts possible? If, with bell hooks, we understand our global historical context as shaped by imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy (hooks 2004), we will recognize that Mennonite peace work must be multidirectional and attentive to intersections, and we will strive to create an archive of voices from the MCC and broader Mennonite past that centers the witness of the Hardings and the unnamed Palestinian woman who confronted Hedy Sawadsky.  

Timothy Seidel is assistant professor of peacebuilding and development and director of the Center for Interfaith Engagement at Eastern Mennonite University.


Amstutz, Jim Stutzman. Ed. “Fifty Years of Peacemaking.” Peace Office Newsletter. 22/5 (September-October 1992).

Docherty, Jayne and Mikhala Lantz-Simmons. A Genealogy of Ideas: What Is Old Is New Again. Harrisonburg, VA: Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, 2016. Online at https://emu.edu/cjp/docs/A_Genealogy_of_Ideas_-Journal_1-May_13_2016.pdf.

Driedger, Leo and Donald B. Kraybill. Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1994.

hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Atria Books, 204.

Harding, Vincent. Hope and History: Why We Must Continue to Tell the Story of the Movement. Revised edition. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010.

Lapp, John A. “The Peace Mission of the Mennonite Central Committee.” Mennonite Quarterly Review. 44/3 (July 1970): 281-297.

Sampson, Cynthia and John Paul Lederach (eds.). 2000. From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding. Oxford: Oxford University.

Satvedi, Valentina. Ed. “Anabaptism and Postcolonialism.” Peace Office Newsletter. 41/3 (July-September 2011).

Seidel, Timothy. “The Things That Make for Peace: Our Treatment of Immigrants in the United States Has Links with the Palestine-Israel Conflict.” The Mennonite 12/23 (December 15, 2009).

Shearer, Tobin Miller. “Moving beyond Charisma in Civil Rights Scholarship: Vincent Harding’s Sojourn with the Mennonites, 1958-1966.” Mennonite Quarterly Review. 82/2 (April 2008): 213-248.

Peace clubs in Zambia and beyond

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

Zambia has always taken great pride in being a peaceful country, not having faced either external or civil war. In recent decades, the relative peace of Zambia has drawn thousands of refugees from many African countries. Given this relative peace, I have often been asked: “Why is there a need for peace clubs in a country like Zambia?”

While to some the need for peacebuilding in a context like Zambia has not always been evident, others have recognized that the absence of war does not mean that there is no violence in the country. For example, gender-based violence in Zambia is widespread and pervasive. According to a study done by USAID in 2010, almost half (47%) of Zambian women over the age of 15 have experienced physical violence. One in five women has experienced sexual violence in her lifetime (Wyble, 2004). Gender-based violence in Zambia includes everything from spousal abuse to sexual violence to psychological abuse to child neglect and more. Recognizing that violence can take many forms, MCC chose to support the pioneering of the peace club model in three schools in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, in 2006.

Through participation in peace clubs, many young people have become peacebuilders in their schools and communities. They have learned how to be critical and creative thinkers.

Peace clubs operate as an extracurricular activity. Like any other school club, students are free to join the after-school peace club, with the support of a teacher, to learn about how the principles of peace can help to address the problems they see in their lives and in societies. Since the first pilot project in 2006, MCC has supported the development of the peace clubs model in a variety of ways. MCC staff assisted in drafting a peace clubs curriculum that introduces participants to different aspects of conflict analysis and resolution, examining understandings of conflict and violence, exploring gender-based violence, trauma, and the rights of persons with disabilities and charting the journey to reconciliation. The goal of peace clubs is not to teach young people the exact names of the different problem-solving techniques, or to have them able to recite the curriculum word-for-word. Instead, peace clubs are about helping a young generation develop new ways of thinking about peace, conflict and violence and equipping them with skills to peacefully address and prevent conflict in their schools, homes and communities.

Through participation in peace clubs, many young people have become peacebuilders in their schools and communities. They have learned how to be critical and creative thinkers. Peace clubs have equipped them to face unexpected situations. Furthermore, peace clubs have contributed to a change in attitude and behavior on the part of parents, teachers and students, allowing them to use peaceful means to resolve conflicts. Young members of peace clubs have influenced adult community members to change their culture of violence into one of peace. Peace clubs have contributed to a reduction in corporal punishment and increased the use of non-violent disciplinary methods in schools, homes and communities.

The introduction of peace clubs into Zambian prisons has proved successful, leading the Zambia Correctional Service to seek to establish a Restorative Justice and Peace Building Unit and to expand peace clubs to all 65 prisons in the country.

From its humble start in three schools in Lusaka, peace clubs in Zambia have expanded to 32 Lusaka schools as well as to 12 Brethren in Christ schools in Zambia’s southern province. The idea of what a peace club can be has even expanded beyond school settings, with peace clubs established in churches, prisons and refugee camps. The introduction of peace clubs into Zambian prisons has proved successful, leading the Zambia Correctional Service to seek to establish a Restorative Justice and Peace Building Unit and expand peace clubs to all 65 prisons in the country. Meanwhile, the peace clubs model has expanded beyond Zambia. Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ churches in Malawi look to introduce peace clubs in their contexts to address and prevent gender-based violence. Churches, schools and prisons in fourteen African countries have adapted the peace clubs model, while groups in Latin America and Canada also look to introduce the peace clubs model in contextually appropriate ways.

Over the course of only 13 years, the peace clubs model has grown from three after-school activities to a fully developed curriculum implemented in churches, schools, prisons and refugee camps on three continents. Looking ahead, peace clubs certainly face challenges, including how to diversify funding support for long-term sustainability and how to better measure the impact of peace clubs. One can envision this model being expanded all over the world and adapted to many other contexts and refined to successfully introduce alternatives to violence for a more just and peaceful tomorrow.

Issa Ebombolo is MCC Zambia peace coordinator.

Wyble, Brent. “Making Schools Safe for Girls: Combating Gender-Based Violence in Benin.” Academy for Education Development, 2004. Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED486321.

Peace Clubs Curriculum material can be found here: https://pcc.mcc.org/.

MCC accompanying the Colombian Anabaptist churches in their witness for peace

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

The story of MCC Colombia’s peacebuilding work is in fact the story of Colombian Anabaptists’ peacebuilding work. Although MCC did not open an office and program in Colombia until 2002, its involvement in Colombia began with the founding of Mencoldes (Colombian Mennonite Foundation for Development) in 1976. Mencoldes was born out of the shared conviction of Colombian Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren that just as the gospel mattered for inner spiritual transformation, so must it also speak to the material and social well-being of communities. While MCC and MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) provided the initial funding to launch Mencoldes, it was directed and staffed by Colombian Anabaptists. As Mencoldes matured, it focused on community development, disaster response and economic development.

In 2017, MCC partner Edupaz organized Bread and Peace marches at the schools where Edupaz facilitates peer mediation programs. Edupaz works to ensure a culture of peace at the schools, and the annual Bread and Peace march is part of that effort. Bread and Peace is observed by most of the Anabaptist churches in Colombia on September 21, the International Day of Peace, to publicly testify in their communities that peace is not just lack of armed conflict, but also the hope that everyone will have enough food and comfort to live a dignified life (hence the bread). Edupaz is a ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Colombia. (Photo courtesy of Edupaz)

At the congregational and denominational levels, Colombian Anabaptists in the 1980s (which now included the Brethren in Christ, who joined in 1984) were talking about their faith in new, shared terms. They discussed “responding to their context,” “relating to political power” and “social ministries” and talked about forming themselves to be “witnesses of peace.” As the churches expanded their ministries in these ways, MCC began to support Justapaz (the Mennonite Church’s peace and human rights institution) and other ministries in Anabaptist publishing and efforts to promote and secure the right of conscientious objection to military conscription. Meanwhile, the conflict in Colombia grew more complicated: new armed groups formed, peace talks dissolved and money from the drug trade complicated the situation. By the late 1990s, human rights violations and assassinations had reached an all-time high. At this point the United States became more directly involved in Colombia through Plan Colombia, a massive military and foreign aid package that was intended to support the Colombian state in counteracting left-wing groups and drug trafficking. Soon after the deal was signed in 2000, however, it became apparent that Plan Colombia was escalating militarization of the conflict and funding significant human rights abuses.

In 2010, Viviana Meza Guerra (right) and Yaqueline Morelno Morales hang a vibrantly colored quilt, the fruit of a quilting group and trauma healing project that MCC worker Teresa Geiser of Elkhart, Ind., began in the small Colombian community of Mampuján in 2007. (MCC photo)

In analyzing the situation, Colombian Anabaptist churches decided they wanted more international accompaniment from global Anabaptist churches, particularly those in Canada and the United States. Collectively, they invited MCC to open an office in Colombia. Although MCC had already been walking with them in their peacebuilding work for years, there was a clearer and more explicit mandate following MCC’s opening of a Colombia program in 2002. The wisdom that can be gleaned from this partnership is deep, but for the purposes of this article, I will identify three key learnings MCC has gained from partnering in peacebuilding alongside Colombian Anabaptist churches these past 18 years. First, peacebuilding is holistic, in the vision of abundant life proclaimed in John 10:10. Secondly, peacebuilding requires accompaniment, lived out as a deep contextual and relational commitment to these communities. Finally, peacebuilding is a long-term project that extends well beyond project cycles and even individual lifetimes.

In 1998, Ricardo Esquivia, then the director of the Mennonite peace organization Justapaz (and now director of another MCC partner organization, Sembrandopaz), claimed that “peace is life in abundance.” This articulation gained widespread adherence within the Anabaptist churches over the next two decades. Rooted in Jesus’ words from John 10:10—“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”—it came to encapsulate a uniquely Colombian Anabaptist vision of peacemaking. “For many,” wrote Esquivia, “peace is the absence of war. They have not yet embraced the concept of peace as the fruit of justice, as reconciliation, understanding reconciliation as the reconstruction of lives, of trust, love, respect, and mutual care” (Esquivia 11). It has been on this foundation that Colombian Anabaptists have partnered with MCC in many of their ministries. While we do support Anabaptist partners actively working in conflict resolution and mediation, many more have chosen to work with victims, trauma healing, education in marginalized neighborhoods, agricultural development, community organizing, refugee assistance, documentation of human rights abuses and ministries with youth and children. Despite their different manifestations, partners would articulate these ministries as peacebuilding in the vision of Jesus—life in abundance.

When the armed conflict edged its way into the Pacific coastal region of Chocó, the Mennonite Brethren church—present in the region since the late 1940s—became concerned about the impact this could have on the economic life of their community. Not only did the armed conflict inflate prices, but it disrupted transportation routes and introduced illicit activities into the economic system. In response, the churches looked for ways to cultivate lives of abundance, eventually founding FAGROTES, an agricultural development organization that teaches farmers how to cultivate cacao and rice through intensive hands-on training and provides processing options for farmers wishing to sell their products at market. By envisioning peacebuilding as that which leads to life abundant, FAGROTES has stabilized communities by providing farmers with the expertise and access they need to be able to sustain their families and avoid the worst of the economic fallout of the armed conflict.

For many, peace is the absence of war. They have not yet embraced the concept of peace as the fruit of justice, as reconciliation, understanding reconciliation as the reconstruction of lives, of trust, love, respect, and mutual care.

—Ricardo Esquivia

If “life in abundance” is the framework for Colombian Anabaptist peacebuilding, then “accompaniment” is the practice that defines their peacebuilding. Accompaniment is a relational practice, marked by commitment to others as dignified children of God and attention to their spiritual, emotional and physical needs. In some cases, our partners have committed to accompany the same communities for decades, particularly when communities have been victims of the armed conflict. These peacebuilding models seek to rebuild the torn social fabric through trauma healing, community organizing, economic sustainability and leadership development. Other peacebuilding models attend to a transient population, so their accompaniment is necessarily more temporary, but no less relational. One example of the latter model is the response of the Mennonite Brethren in Valle del Cauca to the recent influx of Venezuelans in the cities of Palmira and Cali. With MCC’s support, these churches began to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuelans who were showing up at their churches. Instead of simply handing out food and health kits, however, the Mennonite Brethren visited participants in their homes and prayed over them; they collected medicines to send back to family members still in Venezuela; they rotated snack responsibilities for the biweekly meetings among group members, so they could share different foods with each other; they helped make doctor appointments when people were sick. According to Francisco Mosquero, coordinator of the Mennonite Brethren aid response in Cali and former director of the peace office, Edupaz, some Venezuelan participants commented to the pastors, “You are different than the other aid organizations, because you see us as whole people.”

You are different than the other aid organizations, because you see us as whole people.

—Francisco Mosquero

For Colombian Anabaptists, this kind of peacebuilding is the work of a lifetime. In the words of Ricardo Esquivia, “We must fill ourselves with patience” (Esquivia 11). When Jenny Neme was closing her tenure as director of the Mennonite peacebuilding organization Justapaz, we invited her to share some reflections with our team. She chose to highlight the slow pace of peacebuilding, reflecting on Justapaz’s foundational work in conscientious objection in the 1990s. Some of the earliest gains were a provision for religious freedom written into the 1991 Constitution, but that was yet a long way from freedom to object to military service (Klassen 254). It would be nearly thirty more years and much diligent, faithful work by Justapaz and others until there was a full legal route to conscientious objection in Colombia. Even today, Justapaz has a department dedicated to conscientious objection, because they still dream of an alternative service option for young people. Although we as MCC work in three-year project cycles, we share our partners’ understanding of peacebuilding as a long-term, lifelong work to which we are all called. And indeed, in MCC Colombia’s 18 years, we have been privileged to see how a long-term commitment to the accompaniment model of peacebuilding brings forth life in abundance in all sorts of unexpected ways. 

Elizabeth Miller is MCC representative for Colombia.


Klassen, Bonnie. “Communities of Hope: Colombian Anabaptist Churches Bridging the Abyss of Suffering with Faith.” In From Suffering to Solidarity: The Historical Seeds of Mennonite Interreligious, Interethnic, and International Peacebuilding. Ed. Andrew P Klager, 251-273. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015.

Esquivia, Ricardo, “Sowing Seeds of Peace in Latin America.” Peace Office Newsletter. 23/2 (April-June 1998): 11.

Nonviolent resistance during the first intifada and beyond

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

The Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People (PCR) was established in 1988 during the first intifada to bridge the gap between Palestinians and peoples from all over the world. The iconic form of resistance from the first intifada that most people remember is that of Palestinian youth confronting fully armed Israeli soldiers only with stones. Stone-throwing, however, was not the only form of resistance. Sit-ins, peaceful marches and graffiti-writing were some forms of nonviolent resistance used by Palestinians against Israeli military occupation. In Beit Sahour in the occupied West Bank, where PCR was established, people decided to return their ID cards, issued by the Israeli military occupation authorities, back to the military government, as a protest against the legitimacy of the occupation. The ID cards symbolized Israeli military control over the lives of Palestinians: the people who decided to stop carrying them took on significant risk, as they could be stopped at any time by soldiers demanding that they produce their ID cards as they traveled within the country.

Paul Quiring (left) served as MCC representative in Palestine from 1976-1978. In this photo circa 1978, Quiring observes the distribution of olive tree seedlings to Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. MCC distributed thousands of the seedlings to farm families in the Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron districts of the West Bank starting in 1976. MCC covered around twenty percent of the cost while farmers contributed the rest. MCC agriculturalists took orders for seedlings, exchanged information about tree care methods and did follow up with the farmers. (MCC photo)

Soon after some 500 Palestinians handed their IDs to Beit Sahour’s mayor in order to return them to the Israeli authorities, the latter imposed a strict curfew on the town to prevent more residents from doing the same. Israeli soldiers went from house-to-house to give people back their IDs in the middle of the night. The Israeli military at that time realized the significance of the ID protest and took it very seriously.

Palestinians repurposed the Boston Tea Party slogan, “No taxation without representation,” refusing to pay taxes to an Israeli military government that did not represent us.

Palestinians in Beit Sahour in turn decided to continue creative nonviolent protests against the occupation. One example of such creative nonviolent action was a tax boycott, which came to be referred to by Palestinians as the “white revolution.” Palestinians repurposed the Boston Tea Party slogan, “No taxation without representation,” refusing to pay taxes to an Israeli military government that did not represent us.

Amidst such nonviolent resistance, protest leaders in Beit Sahour looked for ways to help people cope with Israeli military measures taken against Palestinian communities during the intifada. Neighborhood committees were formed to find ways to ease the lives of residents in each neighborhood as those neighborhoods faced collective punishment because of nonviolent resistance. Curfew was one form of collective punishment often used by the Israeli military, with people forbidden from leaving their homes. Curfews became economic sieges the longer they lasted. Thus, when curfews would last for a week or two, markets would be almost empty even when the Israeli military would lift the curfew for a few hours every four or five days. Neighborhood committees therefore assisted residents in planting kitchen gardens in their backyards and raising animals as alternative sources of food. These measures proved successful in supporting the steadfastness (in Arabic, sumud) of the residents and to a large extent made Israel’s collective punishment measures against Palestinians obsolete.

PCR was founded amidst this creative nonviolent resistance, motivated by a desire to reach out to people all over the world to tell them about the Palestinian resistance and to counter the stereotypes that dominate the western media about Palestinians. A group of Palestinians from Beit Sahour had started to meet with a group of Israelis every other Thursday, alternating between Beit Sahour and Jerusalem. Participants in the dialogue group decided to establish two organizations to carry forward the dialogue, one called the Rapprochement Dialogue Center to be registered in Jerusalem, and the other to be called the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People (PCR) to be founded in Beit Sahour.

Boys stand outside by the entrance to Mennonite Preparatory School for Boys, Beit Jala, in the West
Bank, in December 1968. MCC opened the preparatory school in 1962, with the goal to provide quality Christian education to Palestinian children. The school received funding through the MCC child sponsorship program. MCC turned over the school to Palestinian Christian leadership in 1978. Since then, it has operated as the Hope Secondary School. (MCC photo)

The Israeli military government, however, refused to issue a registration for PCR, so an alternative was needed. Fortunately, MCC was there. MCC provided an institutional umbrella for PCR to function as one of its projects in the West Bank. MCC not only gave PCR an institutional home, but also supported its dialogue efforts and nonviolent initiatives for many years.

Mennonites have been among the few religious groups that have managed to win the respect of Palestinian society because they have worked with Palestinian civil society as partners.

MCC continued to support PCR’s efforts until PCR managed to fully register as a Palestinian not-for-profit organization. PCR today continues to find ways to bridge the gap between Palestinians and peoples from all over the world. PCR seeks to prepare young people for leadership in Palestinian society, empowering them to serve their communities and become active citizens. An alternative media department operates IMEMC News which provides accurate information for people who are looking for fair media reporting. Finally, PCR promotes alternative tourism through its Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies initiative. Siraj encourages people from all over the world to come to Palestine to live with Palestinians, learning from them directly rather than filtered through other lenses. All these efforts contribute to PCR’s primary goals of achieving a just and peaceful Palestine and promoting harmony and rapprochement within society and between societies. As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance. Our hope at PCR is to succeed in keeping this resistance nonviolent for the sake of future generations.

Mennonites have been among the few religious groups that have managed to win the respect of Palestinian society because they have worked with Palestinian civil society as partners and have not carried a donor mentality that has hidden agendas. Had it not been for MCC, the Palestinian Rapprochement Center might not have come into being. MCC has thus been critical to PCR’s mission of promoting a culture of nonviolence and creating understanding among Palestinians and peoples from all over the globe.

George N. Rishmawi is executive director of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People.


International Middle East Media Center. https://imemc.org/.

Kaufman-Lacusta, Maxine. Ed. Refusing to Be Enemies: Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 2011.

Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between Peoples. https://www.pcr.ps/

Qumsiyeh, Mazin B. Popular Resistance in Palestine. London: Pluto Press, 2011.

Siraj Center. https://www.sirajcenter.org/index.php/en/.

Weaver, Sonia. What is Palestine-Israel? Answers to Common Questions. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017.

MCC and the removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

The 1960s marked the height of the cold war, a superpower conflict that would later create a heart-wrenching challenge for MCC workers in Laos. The United States and the Soviet Union struggled for strategic advantage amidst the rise of anti-colonial liberation movements around the world. In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the result was over a decade of turmoil, war, genocide and displacement. 

As Lao villagers returned to their destroyed homes after the war, injuries and deaths became the unrelenting legacy of the war that had passed.

In Laos, the primary U.S. military involvement was a massive secret air war (1964-1973) which tallied 580,000 bombing missions, the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes around the clock for nine years. The air war dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions, small tennis-ball sized bomblets that sent tiny shards of steel flying through the air at ballistic speed. An estimated 25 to 30 percent of these bomblets failed to detonate on impact, littering Lao villages, fields and forests with millions of lethal explosives. As Lao villagers returned to their destroyed homes after the bombing ceased, injuries and deaths became the unrelenting legacy of the war.

In the wake of the bombing, MCC opened a small program in 1975 to assist Laos with recovery and small-scale economic development. Having aligned with the communist bloc, Laos was largely closed to the U.S., save for a tiny contingent of seven U.S. embassy staff and two representatives each for MCC and Quaker Service Laos. As the only U.S. citizens with permission to travel around the country, the MCC and Quaker workers became the sole U.S. witnesses to the painful aftermath of the U.S. bombing campaign.

Bouavanh Maneevong uses an MCC-donated metal detector to search for bombies, in this 1994 photo. After Mines Advisory Group (MAG) began working with MCC, more sophisticated metal detectors and protective garments were used. (MCC photo/Pearl Sensenig)

As they visited villages made of bamboo and thatch, they saw U.S. bomb containers everywhere, some still bearing the name of the U.S. corporation that had produced them. Over lamp-lit meals of sticky rice and spicy sauces served on dishes made from melted-down bomb containers, Lao villagers quietly told MCC workers of family members lost to the ever-present bombs. Amid this warm hospitality the question of responsibility hung silently in the air. MCC workers struggled for words. What did peace theology have to offer in these settings?

What followed was more than a decade of experimentation, much of it without success. MCC imported a custom-made tractor with a chain flail and heavy shielding to protect the driver, hoping that it would safely detonate the cluster bomblets. After months of testing it proved ineffective, and Lao villagers continued to live and die among the bomb-laden fields. It was a time of great sadness.

Hope finally appeared on the horizon when the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), an agency devoted to clearing landmines and other UXO, was formed. In 1994, MCC and MAG collaborated with the Lao government to establish the UXO clearance project. The first 20 deminers were trained and began clearance operations that fall. It was a noble beginning, but woefully inadequate in the face of tens of millions of unexploded cluster munitions scattered across thousands of acres of landscape.

Amid the urgency of day-to-day clearance operations, the project raised larger questions. More cluster bombs were being dropped by the U.S. in places like Iraq and Kuwait. Might our relationship with the villagers of Laos move us to join the fledgling movement to ban cluster munitions? And what would justice look like in Laos? Should the U.S. government be pushed to provide significant financial support for UXO clearance and victim assistance?

MCC learned several lessons through its work in Laos in the aftermath of war:

The paradigms of peacemaking/service and justice/advocacy are not mutually exclusive.

  • The impact of war on a land and a people extends for generations, long after the media turn to other crises.
  • The enormous destruction and harm done to Laos without the knowledge of the U.S. citizenry is alarming. Our government is not always a reliable source for truth.
  • Clearing the land of UXO is tedious and dangerous work, requiring an enormous expenditure of resources. The harm cannot be undone. Prevention of conflict, when possible, is a better way to reduce human suffering than relief after war, although both are important.
  • By giving numerous presentations in U.S. Anabaptist contexts about the UXO problem in Laos, we learned that many white Anabaptists engage much more naturally with paradigms of service and peacemaking than with the paradigms of justice and advocacy. Raising funds to clear Lao villages of U.S. bombs unleashed a flood of energy and creativity among Anabaptist congregations. Yet the discovery in 1986 of cluster munition component manufacturers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, raised compelling concerns about the silent complicity of Anabaptists with the systems of war. What would it mean to keep faith with the villagers of Laos in settings where the machinery of war was embedded in local economies and income taxes?
  • The paradigms of peacemaking/service and justice/advocacy are not mutually exclusive. The UXO project itself provided crucial information and data that later became the foundation for effective advocacy, an important complement to the storytelling that had become the hallmark of MCC’s early interpretive work on Laos.
  • The broader efforts to ban cluster munitions and gain strong U.S. government support for UXO clearance in Laos were capably led by other agencies, rather than by MCC. Legacies of War, an education and advocacy agency begun by Channapha Khamvongsa, a Laotian-American woman, was largely responsible for persuading the U.S. government to greatly increase its support for bomb clearance in Laos. President Obama traveled to Laos in 2016 and gave a major speech describing the years of suffering caused by U.S. bombing and pledged US$90 million in support of bomb clearance. It was as if a great historical harm had finally been acknowledged. Perhaps those like Channapha, whose people have known great harm, have the keenest passion for justice and the greatest determination to find healing.
  • Finally, the UXO project in Laos has taught us that within every act of service and peacemaking, a strong movement for justice waits to be born.

In 2019, the UXO project in Laos marked its twenty-fifth anniversary. Having long outgrown MCC, the project now employs several thousand workers who clear an average of 600 pieces of lethal ordnance every day. By all estimates, the work will continue for decades.

Titus Peachey served with MCC U.S. in several peace education roles from 1986 to 2016 and before that as MCC co-representative for Laos from 1980 to 1985.


For stories, images and videos about the early years of MCC work on UXO in Laos, see: http://civilianpublicservice.org/storycontinues/advocacy.

For a timeline of MCC and Quaker work on UXO issues in Laos and support for the international campaign to ban cluster munitions, see: https://mcc.org/sites/mcc.org/files/media/common/documents/mennonitequakertimeline.pdf.

For MCC’s Peace Office Newsletter devoted to stories and analysis of MCC’s work on cluster munitions, see: https://mccintersections.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/pon_2008_04-06_vol-38-no-2_cluster-bombs-again.pdf.

For news of Legacies of War’s advocacy work to gain significant U.S. government support for bomb clearance and victim assistance in Laos, see: http://legaciesofwar.org/.

Challenges and learnings: MCC medical work in Vietnam during the war years

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

Drafted by the U.S. government and accepting the invitation to perform alternative service through MCC, I arrived in Vietnam with my wife amidst the war between the North and the South with massive interference from the U.S. military. We were joined by other volunteers from Canada, the United States, Japan, India, Indonesia and the Philippines to work at two MCC hospitals. For some, it was our first plane ride. As idealistic, young MCC workers, steeped in Matthew 25 and the Sermon on the Mount, we were committed to the belief that the kingdom of God deserves our primary loyalty above country and that these understandings are best expressed through acts of service to people in need. Taking an MCC assignment was one way to put that belief into practice.

We were opposed to war and committed to the belief that the kingdom of God deserves our primary loyalty above country and that these understandings are best expressed through acts of service to people in need.

Since its entry into Vietnam in 1954, MCC had partnered with the Vietnamese Protestant church. This Tin Lanh church was the outgrowth of evangelistic work carried out by the Christian and Missionary Alliance since 1911. The Alliance’s emphasis was on saving souls, planting churches and training local pastors. These life-long missionaries were fluent in the language and supportive of the U.S. involvement in the war. 

The medical initiatives arose from the vision of several Tin Lanh leaders. The understanding between the Tin Lanh church and MCC stated that the church would appoint the administrator, support staff and oversee spiritual ministries. MCC would provide doctors, nurses and an operating subsidy. One MCC doctor served as the medical director and a member of the board. The administrators appointed by the church were trained pastors. Gifted with administrative abilities, they also evangelized by holding morning services for patients waiting outside the clinic and Wednesday evening services for hospital staff. This preaching was a point of contention for some MCC workers, offended by subjecting a sick and captive audience to a presentation of the gospel. To express their disagreement, some MCC workers refused to participate in these services. Other MCC staff faithfully attended because it was important as fellow Christians to worship with other Christians, despite differing biblical perspectives.

Some Tin Lanh pastors and leaders expected to receive preferential treatment at their hospital, moving to the head of the waiting line or bypassing the intake nurses to go directly to the doctor. This offended MCC workers’ sense of fairness. When their tolerance gave out, they initiated direct western-style confrontations with the clinic gatekeepers who were caught in the middle between Vietnamese cultural expectations and MCC ideals. This point of contention showed up on the clinic board meeting agenda, providing an opportunity for both sides to explain motivations and cultural imperatives. Resolution was reached when the administrator agreed to put procedures in place to lessen favoritism and MCC staff agreed to be less confrontational, because they better understood the pressure the gatekeepers felt from their church friends. MCC workers also realized their fellow clinic staff deserved the same respect they were trying to gain for patients.

During these war years, MCC workers faced another set of challenges. As a voluntary agency authorized by the South Vietnamese Ministry of Health, MCC automatically received certain privileges, including use of the U.S. military postal system, the right to fly standby on U.S. military planes for free and access to U.S. military bases, their commissaries and their hospitals, among other perks. MCC workers were acutely aware that their actions communicated much to the local community and intentionally considered how to maintain consistency between behavior and belief.

MCC workers in Vietnam were acutely aware that their actions communicated much to the local community and intentionally considered how they might maintain consistency between behavior and belief.

As conscientious objectors to war, we were dedicated to creating an identity separate from the U.S. military. Questions of whether or to what extent to use these privileges provoked many long discussions. Some were easily resolved. For example, when the hospital needed a medication that the Ministry of Health could not provide, a trip was quickly organized to the U.S. military hospital to procure it. Trips to the U.S. commissary for American foodstuffs almost never happened, perhaps because the Vietnamese food on our tables was so delicious. Staying in touch with family and friends back home, meanwhile, was a critical component to our sense of well-being and connectedness. Because the U.S. Army postal service was faster and more reliable than the Vietnamese system, most MCC workers used it.

Other challenges were thornier. Two U.S. military bases were across town from the Nha Trang hospital and their medical personnel were curious about our work: the kind of patients seen, the patients’ medical conditions and the facilities of the hospital. The fact that single young women worked at the clinic was an added attraction. They arrived in their Army jeeps in full uniform and with weapons. Some of them asked how they could help. This launched a vigorous discussion within MCC. U.S. military men and their equipment on the clinic grounds was an incongruous and deeply disturbing sight, threatening to undercut all the times MCC workers had said to the Vietnamese community that they were not part of the military. And yet the U.S. military medical personnel could offer expertise and services that would benefit our patients.

Eventually MCC drew up some ground rules that protected MCC’s principles and stance in the country while allowing U.S. military men to make a contribution. They could visit if they wore civilian clothes, arrived in civilian vehicles and left their weapons at the base. [They were astounded we had no weapons on the clinic grounds.] This practice worked well. One military dentist came out regularly with his equipment to see patients and trained one of the staff to clean and pull teeth; he even got permission to transfer a military dental suite to the clinic so those services could continue. One clinic board meeting revolved around the South Vietnamese flag that flew on the clinic grounds. MCC workers wanted it to be taken down. The Tin Lanh church, in contrast, felt their existence depended on the South Vietnamese government prevailing over the communists. Pastor Huyen, chairman of the board and admired for his patience and wisdom, ended the long and heated discussion, stating: “When and if the North takes over, we will fly their flag, but for now we will fly this flag.”  

This 1975 photo shows, from left, Max Ediger, James Klassen, Earl Martin and Yoshihiro Ichikawa,
MCC volunteers who remained in Saigon during the war in Vietnam. (MCC photo/Earl Martin)

Reflecting from today’s historical vantage point, several things stand out about MCC’s medical work in Vietnam. The one constant was the graciousness shown us by the Vietnamese staff and local community. They welcomed us and invited us into their world, offered us friendship and looked out for us despite our limited language skills and paucity of cultural understanding. Amazingly they did all this although we were citizens from the country that was destroying their land and people. They had the incredible ability to differentiate between us as people and the policies of the U.S. Credit is due to MCC leadership for allowing us to struggle with the issues and having faith that healthy resolutions would be found. The international flavor of MCC workers provided a richness and life-long bonds of friendship. We agree that our time in Vietnam was one of those permanent life markers that changed us in simple and profound ways and all these years later we are still processing our experience.

Lowell Jantzi served as MCC coordinator at The Evangelical Clinic, Nha Trang, South Vietnam, from 1970 to 1973. He later served as MCC representative for Vietnam, together with his spouse, Ruth, from 2003 to 2008.


Beechy, Atlee and Winifred. Vietnam: Who Cares? Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1968.

Bush, Perry. “The Political Education of Vietnam Christian Service.” Peace and Change 27/2 (April 2002): 198-224.

Bush, Perry. “Vietnam and the Burden of Mennonite History.” Conrad Grebel Review 17/2 (Spring 1999): 5–27.

Eby, Omar. A House in Hue. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1969.

Ediger, Max. A Vietnamese Pilgrimage. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1978.

Fast, Paul Shetler. “Carrying a Weight Beyond Its Numbers: Fifty-Five Years of People-
Centered Development.” Conrad Grebel Review 29/1 (Winter 2011): 29-51.

Martin, Earl S. Reaching the Other Side: The Journal of an American Who Stayed to Witness Vietnam’s Postwar Transition. New York: Crown, 1978.

Martin, Luke. A Vietnam Presence: Mennonites in Vietnam during the American War. Morgantown, PA: Masthof Press, 2017.

Reflections from Civilian Public Service (1941-1946)

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Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

Women’s Summer Service Unit from Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp No. 85. at Rhode Island State Hospital for Mental Diseases in Howard, Rhode Island. The Unit was one of 26 CPS mental health units operated by MCC, opened in 1943 and closed in 1946. (MCC photo)

As the specter of war loomed in the late 1930s, Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren and Quakers (who identified themselves as the “Historic Peace Churches”) collaborated to advocate to U.S. government officials that provisions be made for conscientious objection to war. MCC officials represented diverse Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish groups in these discussions with government and military officials. Together, the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers were successful in securing an agreement to establish the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program, which would operate camps where young men would be stationed to carry out work of “national importance” in lieu of military service. These alternative service CPS camps would then fall under the authority of different civilian government agencies, while being operated by MCC and other church bodies.

We exited CPS persuaded that a life of voluntary Christ-followership demands constant service to other people.

Marvin hein

MCC opened its first CPS camp on May 22, 1941 in Grottoes, Virginia. It would continue to operate CPS camps through March 1946. MCC’s first 25 camps all fell under the jurisdiction of the Soil Conservation Service, the Forest Service and the National Park Service. Over CPS’s nearly five years of operation, MCC collaborated with twelve U.S. government departments, including the Public Health Service, the Department of Agriculture and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration. Of the 151 CPS camps or units that operated during World War II, MCC operated 60 of them on either a solo or joint basis. Records indicate that around 38% of the conscientious objectors who passed through the CPS camps were from different Mennonite churches (with 4,665 young Mennonite men out of a total CPS group of approximately 12,000). CPS men fought forest fires, worked at soil conservation, served as orderlies in mental hospitals and much more. MCC’s first CPS mental health unit opened in August 1942 in Staunton, Virginia. Mennonite experiences in CPS mental health units spurred post-war action for more humane mental health facilities, leading to the founding of Mennonite mental health centers such as Oaklawn in Goshen, Indiana, and Prairie View in Newton, Kansas.

CPS broadened ecumenical horizons for participants, bringing young men from diverse Anabaptist groups together—and with Christians from other traditions. MCC organized educational programs for Mennonite participants, publishing a series of booklets for those programs that covered Mennonite history and theologies of service and non-resistance. MCC sought to foster a spirit of CPS men being “willing second milers” rather than “conscripted Christians,” even as some CPS men chafed at rough living conditions, low pay and compulsory labor (and as some CPS men criticized the program for too-close affiliation with the government and the war effort). CPS service had different meanings for different participants: for some it was a religiously acceptable way of fulfilling a patriotic duty, while for others it represented a positive, proactive witness for the gospel of peace (and for some it was both).

In 1941, just before Pearl Harbor, I left public school teaching because I knew that once our country declared war, I could not supervise war bond sales.

Mary wiser

Just as the war effort mobilized many women into the work force, so, too, did women become part of the CPS effort. Wives and girlfriends often moved to be based near and work at or close by the camps where their husbands and boyfriends were stationed. Some women served in the camps as nurses. Women’s sewing societies prepared “camp kits” to send to CPS that included bedding, towels, toiletries, stationery and stamps. Over the course of CPS’s operations, around 2,000 pacifist women lived in or near the 151 camps, with CPS even operating women’s units at eight state-run mental institutions.

The excerpted reflections below from CPS newsletters and reports show young Anabaptist men and women reflecting on the meaning of Christian service and peace witness, on broadened ecumenical horizons gained through service and on the meaning of cooperation with the state in a time of war.

CPS as Christian service

CPS work has meaning to the men who perform it as an expression of loyalty and love to their country, and of their desire to make a contribution to its welfare. It has still larger meaning as constructive service and ministry to human needs, and as a demonstration of a way of life in peace and love in contrast to the destructiveness of war and violence.
—from Mennonite Civilian Public Service Statement of Policy, approved by MCC Executive Committee, September 16, 1943.

We want to do more than take a stand against war… We believed in the spirit of nonresistance, but also in the power of love to overcome evil.

Elmer ediger, 1945

CPS is a constructive witness to the way of love as taught by Christ. The fact that the government has not opened the way immediately to use CPS men in areas of more direct need such as relief and reconstruction has not been too disturbing even though many at home and in the camps as well as administrative officials sincerely desire such service and feel it should be made possible. Because the church desires relief service does not mean they will refuse to cooperate with the government in areas that they can use CPS men and which are constructive in nature. . . . [S]o long as CPS gives expression to this deep religious faith there will be support of CPS by the church. Should it become something else, or should the government disallow a religious expression, church support would no longer be forthcoming.” MCC hopes “that through the CPS experience men will deepen and grow in their faith in and love of God,” “that CPS will do works that are a witness to the faith,” “that the men in camp will be more than drafted men,” and that “the men will rise above the fact that they have been conscripted and look upon their status as an opportunity to hear testimony to a deep faith in God and God’s purpose for man.
“The Mennonite Hope in CPS,” Mennonite Central Committee CPS Newsletter 1/13 (March 19, 1943).

It has been stated that men in CPS are only going the first mile and that often grudgingly. That is far too true; but we can go the second mile. If we were not in CPS where could we better represent the principle of going the second mile? If we cannot go the second mile in CPS, then we are admitting that Christianity is not practical in every occasion.
—Abraham Graber (Amish CPS camper), Mennonite CPS Bulletin 3/24 (June 22, 1945).

To say that the men in CPS are going the second mile and overcoming evil with good is to look at the picture through rose-colored glasses.
—Anonymous CPS man, quoted in “Keeping the Vision Clear,” Mennonite CPS Bulletin 4/9 (November 8, 1945).

Glenn Smith, Forest Service Squad
Leader, adjusts the parachute of
Harry Mishler at Civilian Public
Service (CPS) Unit No. 103 in
Huson, Missoula County, Montana.
Camp No. 103 was a Forest Service
base camp operated by MCC in
cooperation with the Brethren and
Friends service committees. It
opened in May 1943 and closed
in April 1946. Men in the unit were
highly trained, parachuting into
rugged country to put out forest
fires; in down times they performed
fire prevention work. (MCC photo)

Writing in the 1945 MCC Workbook, Albert Gaeddert observed “A weariness with the program.” “With too many campers there is a lack of active participation. Interests seem to center about personal convenience.” “We have discovered certain of our limitations. Selfishness is still very much a part of us. We are not free from greed and the things of this world.”

Most of us entered CPS largely because we had little choice. We exited CPS persuaded that a life of voluntary Christ-followership demands constant service to other people. For two years we had served our national government, the church and each other. Somehow the conviction that our lives were not our own was translated into an unshakable belief that we were destined as God’s people to serve the world.
—Marvin Hein, A Community is Born: The Story of the Birth, Growth, Death and Legacy of Civilian Public Service Camp #138-1, Lincoln, Nebraska 1944-1947 (self-published).

[T]hose to whom CPS has been a challenge and have had as their motive service for Christ and the Church will make excellent relief workers and am hoping that they will be able to go soon into all parts of the world to witness for what they believe.
—Ellen Harder (former CPS nurse, written while working with MCC at Taxal Edge, England) Mennonite CPS Bulletin 4/2 (July 22, 1945).

Broadened inter-Anabaptist horizons

In most instances [the discharged CPS worker] will be interested in cooperating more closely with other Mennonite groups. He will have formed acquaintances among them, which he will not forget and he may not always sympathize too much with old prejudices. He will know other Mennonites as they are.
—Unnamed CPS worker, MCC Workbook, 1945.

Bennie Deckert reflected that “when we were at home many of us lived largely to ourselves. We had very little contact with the outside world, with men of different denominations, occupations, different sects, communities and states. Our friends lived nearby, perhaps in our very local community. Now we know men from nearly every state, denomination, and from nearly all walks of life. To many of us Mennonites has come the realization that there is much more to the word Mennonite than is embodied in our own local group.”
—“Three Years in CPS,” Rising Tide (June 1945).

Women and CPS

Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp
No. 45 Camp sign situated on the
Skyline Drive in Luray, Virginia. Camp
No. 45 was a National Park Service
base camp located in Shenandoah
National Park and operated by MCC.
It opened in August 1942 and closed
in July 1946. CPS men maintained
and improved park and recreational
facilities, including roads. They also
performed conservation and fire
prevention duties. (Photo courtesy of
Edgar M. Clemens)

Lois Schertz: “Even though the working conditions at the Mt. Pleasant State Hospital were deplorable, there were many good things that came from that experience for me as a woman. The unit became a family. We bonded together in a beautiful way, both men and women. For example, in our church services, men and women both participated. This was my first experience in being allowed to lead a worship service. (I went back home after the war and it took a good 30 years for that to happen).”
—Lois Schertz (served at CPS unit at Mt. Pleasant State Hospital, Iowa), “War, Alternative Service, and a Reality Jolt,” Women’s Concerns Report, no. 116 (Sept.-Oct. 1994), 5.

In 1941, just before Pearl Harbor, I left public school teaching because I knew that once our country declared war, I could not supervise war bond sales. Nor did I want to be part of the accelerating groundswell toward war that seemed to be required of public school teachers.
—Mary Wiser, “Searching for a Brotherly Life in a Warring World,” Women’s Concerns Report, no. 116 (Sept.-Oct. 1994), 8-9.

Expanded understandings of nonresistance and peace witness

We want to do more than take a stand against war. Many of us entered CPS with the vision that camp was the place where we could make a clear cut witness against war and for the positive aspect of our belief. We believed in the spirit of nonresistance, but also in the power of love to overcome evil.
—Elmer Ediger, Mennonite CPS Bulletin 4/4 (August 22, 1945).

Along with a stronger faith in the nonresistant position has come a greater sensitivity to the all-embracing implications of the Christian gospel. If nonresistance is held in regard to war only and not in attitude toward the mentally ill, the negro [sic], the under-privileged, employer, and fellow employees then nonresistance finds itself on the same level as a Sunday religion. In appreciating the totality of the way of love there comes a deep awareness of individual inadequacy, yet a drawing responsiveness to the call of Christ to permit him to penetrate every thought and act of our being.
—Unnamed CPS worker, MCC Workbook, 1945.

Mennonites, CPS and collaboration with the state

The irony of CPS was that Mennonites sought to remain free of governmental control, but by force of circumstances and tradition found themselves in one of the most intimate relationships ever established between church and state in American history, and with the military arm of the government at that.
—Al Keim, Gospel Herald, August 7, 1979.

Mennonites hold that it is the Christian’s duty loyally and faithfully to obey the state in all requirements which do not involve violation of the Christian conscience, that is, a violation of the teachings of the Word of God. They assuredly believe a Christian must obey God rather than man when the demands of the State conflict with this supreme loyalty to Christ but they also hold that the Christian should ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,’ and ‘Obey every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.’ Although they acknowledge that it is within the province of the state to require service of its citizens, they reserve the right to refuse such service if it is contrary to conscience. This attitude toward state service does not constitute an endorsement of conscription or compulsion as such, but is rather an expression of the principle of obedience to the powers that be. In like manner, the Mennonite Central Committee takes a positive rather than a merely negative attitude toward the Selective Service Administration and other government agencies which are responsible by law and presidential directive for the administration of this state service.
—from Mennonite Civilian Public Service Statement of Policy, approved by MCC Executive Committee, September 16, 1943.

From left, Floyd F. Yoder from Kalona, Iowa, Orville C. Smith from Sumner, Iowa, and three other men (names unknown) help clear fallen trees after a March 1942 tornado in Locan, Illinois. (MCC photo)

[I]t is quite possible to accept an evil compulsion in a Christ-like manner. But it is also a serious matter to judge anyone’s refusal to accept conscription as being un-Christian. For there are those conscientious objectors who cannot acquiesce to government pressure to perform civilian service in lieu of armed service because war and conscription for war are inseparable. We have a profound respect for the men who have worked with us within CPS before deciding that they must bear their witness in jail. They have been a continual challenge to us in our stand.
—Delmar Stahly, “Invitation to Conscription,” Box 96 (monthly publication of CPS unit in Mulberry, Florida) 2/1 (August 1945).

Alain Epp Weaver directs strategic planning for MCC. Frank Peachey and Lori Wise are MCC U.S. records manager and assistant, respectively.


The Civilian Public Service Story. Website. http://civilianpublicservice.org

Gingerich, Melvin. Service for Peace: A History of Mennonite Civilian Public Service. Akron, PA: MCC, 1949.

Goossen, Rachel Waltner. Women against the Good War. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997

Peace

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14b 

In Lusaka, Zambia, Issa Ebombolo attends a peace club meeting at Mancilla Open Community School in 2011. Ebombolo founded peace clubs in Zambia, an effort that has spread throughout the country and to other continents, and now serves as a peacebuilding coordinator for MCC’s work in Zambia and Malawi. (MCC photo/Silas Crews)

At an unscheduled stop at a mass grave memorial in northern Uganda, we gathered in silence, knowing that one of our colleagues had been forced to flee his village as a child to escape the horror documented by the tragic memorial cairn and plaque in front of us. “LRA War Victims . . . 365 people lay at rest,” the plaque read.

An hour later, we visited an MCC-supported agriculture project unfolding in relative calm and security. This initiative could not have been implemented during the horrific violence perpetrated by the LRA only 15 years earlier. I breathed a prayer of gratitude for the tireless peacebuilding efforts of Uganda’s Ocholi religious leaders, MCC partners who insisted on dialogue and prayer as weapons of peace in the early 2000s. Bishops and lay leaders, some of whom came to Canada to share their peace message, took enormous personal risk to be agents of the gospel of reconciliation. How often I have asked myself since this visit to Uganda: In situations of conflict, does MCC need to undertake peacebuilding work with local partners before any other development or humanitarian relief work is possible?  

As disciples of the one whose peace surpasses understanding, MCC workers continue to make a distinctive and powerful witness for God’s peace in places marred by violence.

As disciples of the one whose peace surpasses understanding, MCC workers continue to make a distinctive and powerful witness for God’s peace in places marred by violence. They join and support the witness of churches, community-based activists and Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu leaders committed to finding alternatives to violence and transformative approaches to conflict. In this issue of Intersections, readers will see how MCC’s peace witness is forged through relationships with “the enemy” and how teaching peace emerges from within the communities where violence has been faced and met with nonviolence. As we mark 100 years of MCC, may we be grateful for the good news of the peace God has brought us in Jesus and faithful to God’s call to share and testify to that good news in our lives.

Rick Cober Bauman is MCC Canada executive director.

MCC and the Jubilee 2000 Campaign

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

While on staff at the MCC Washington Office in the late 1990s, I walked into the office of Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to talk about the Jubilee 2000 Campaign. This dynamic movement advocated for cancelling the massive debts that low-income countries owed to wealthy nations and international monetary institutions. I asked the aide to the Senator if he had received letters from Mennonites about Jubilee 2000. He waved his hand in dismay and vigorously nodded his head saying, “We have plenty of letters; don’t need any more letters. We’re on board!”

This positive response was a remarkable turn-about. When I first came to Washington with MCC in 1995, Congress was hostile to cancelling these debts. Fellow advocates told me, “We can talk to the Administration about this. We can talk to the World Bank. But don’t let Congress know that we’re promoting debt cancellation because they hate this idea!”

MCC staff in Bangladesh, from left, Bita Barua (Sector Coordinator-Health) and Jahangir Alam (Program Officer), and Mafizul Islam (Senior Peace Advisor for Payra) at a restorative justice training for MCC staff, partners and connected organizations, held September 11-14, 2017, at a conference center in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (MCC photo/Dave Klassen)

The Jubilee 2000 Campaign changed that. The Campaign originated with a call by the All-Africa Conference of Churches, which identified the approaching millennial landmark as an opportunity to apply the biblical year of the Jubilee in which debts are forgiven and people given a new start in life. Their challenge was taken up by Christian Aid and others in the United Kingdom, by a U.S. church-based coalition called Jubilee 2000 USA that included MCC and ultimately by some 60 country campaigns around the world. Jubilee 2000 mobilized people of faith from a wide range of participating religious groups: the Catholic Church, mainline Protestant denominations, peace churches and evangelicals, as well as Jewish and Muslim organizations. Polls indicated that the idea of debt cancellation for poor countries was never popular with U.S. society as a whole—churches and religious organizations embraced and drove this effort.

The MCC Washington Office mobilized its Mennonite constituents and served on the Jubilee 2000 Executive Committee. MCC had an important impact on policy makers because of the time and effort it dedicated to this ecumenical effort, but even more because Anabaptists “in the pews” chose to raise their voices on behalf of neighbors in need.

The relatively short time it took to pass debt cancellation legislation surprised many in Washington. Senator Ted Kennedy asked a prominent Jubilee campaigner how they were able to succeed in just a few years, noting that he usually expected at least a ten-year process for any reform effort. Rep. Spencer Bachus, at the time chair of the House Financial Services Committee and lead Republican backer of the legislation, thanked Jubilee 2000 advocates for “giving me the opportunity to do the kind of thing that I came to Washington hoping to accomplish.”

Because of your [advocacy for debt cancellation], Uganda now has medical clinics with doctors and medicines that didn’t exist before and schools with teachers and text books they didn’t have before. There are children alive today because of what you’ve done.

— Charlotte Mwesigye,
Jubilee 2000 Uganda

Uganda was the first country to have its debts cancelled. Ugandan churches and civil society united to make sure that the money saved from debt cancellation was dedicated to poverty reduction efforts. They created a network of monitors across Uganda at the village level to make sure that budgets for education, health care and other social services were actually increased. In 2000, the Jubilee U.S. coalition brought Charlotte Mwesigye, the coordinator of Jubilee 2000 Uganda, to the U.S. to talk to churches around the country about its impact. She said something I’ll never forget. “I want you to understand what your work has accomplished,” she told us. “Because of your work, Uganda now has medical clinics with doctors and medicines that didn’t exist before and schools with teachers and text books they didn’t have before. There are children alive today because of what you’ve done.”

That accomplishment belongs to Anabaptists in the U.S. whose letters overwhelmed Senator Specter’s office and to the caring people of faith who took time to “speak out for the cause of the destitute and for all those in need’ (Prov. 31:8,9). Jubilee 2000 saw many Anabaptists in the U.S. engage public officials, some perhaps for the first time. It was an extraordinary demonstration that advocating for humane public policies can save and transform many lives. That conviction carries on today among Anabaptists speaking out for compassionate government policies and action to end U.S. and global poverty, press for racial justice, overhaul a broken immigration system and protect the rights of Dreamers and asylum seekers. During this difficult time in our national life in the United States, the Jubilee 2000 Campaign can be a reminder and an encouragement that much is possible, much is yet to do and much fruit can yet be harvested for justice and compassion in our nation and world.

MCC workers (from left) Russ Toevs of Whitewater, Kansas; Derek D’Silva of Sonapur, Bangladesh; Abdul Mannan and Khabirul Islam Khokon of Noakhali district, Bangladesh; Paul Shires of Arroyo Grande, California; and Lee Brockmueller of Freeman, South Dakota, in a soybean field. (MCC Photo/Russell Webster)

Martin Shupack is director of advocacy for Church World Service. He worked with the MCC Washington, D.C., office from 1995 to 2005.

MCC, the climate crisis and vulnerable communities

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Part of MCC’s strategic plan for the coming five years is to “design and assess MCC’s program and operations in light of our commitment to care for God’s creation and accompany marginalized communities harmed by climate change.” Why is this important? Put simply, the people that Jesus called us to serve and walk with are the ones on the receiving end of disasters caused by a changing climate. The poor, the vulnerable, the people without a safety net—these are the folks who suffer when droughts happen, when sea levels rise, when mosquitos carrying disease expand their range.

While none of us can escape severe weather, some of us are better able to respond. As Peter Dula, associate professor of religion and culture at Eastern Mennonite University, observed in a recent summary of Anabaptist approaches to creation care: “Holland has dikes. Bangladesh has floods.”

Scientists’ predictions about a rapidly changing climate are proving correct. The climate crisis, meanwhile, is affecting the vulnerable communities in which MCC and its partners work. The climate crisis means not only more numerous and intense extreme weather events, like hurricanes, floods and droughts—the climate crisis is also one driver (among others) of mass migration and conflict.

MCC works with vulnerable communities to further develop their capacity to adapt to the climate crisis by scaling up innovations that enable them to become more resilient to climate and environmental changes. In Zimbabwe, for example, MCC supports resilient and agroecologically sound intercropping farming systems that increase food security through farmer-led cereal legume trials and by growing drought-resistant crops using soil and water conservation techniques like conservation agriculture. Building resilient farmer-driven agriculture extension systems increases farmers’ capacity to innovate, enhances improved soil fertility, diversifies production and improves human and animal nutrition.

Ebou Dango waters onions in a vegetable nursery in Didyr, Burkina Faso. She participates in a program supported by MCC through partner Office of Development of Evangelical Churches (Office de Développement des Églises Evangélique or ODE) to help women farmers adapt to climate change through conservation agriculture practices, seed production and off-season vegetable production. ODE supports agriculture and food security projects across the country. (MCC Photo/James Souder)

Through these innovative, sustainable, affordable, accessible, replicable and resilient intercropping farming systems, smallholder farmers can minimize the impact of climate-induced pests such as the fall armyworm, the maize stalk borer and invasive striga weeds. Using so-called “stinky sticky” technology, based on in-depth understanding of chemical ecology, agrobiodiversity and plant-to-plant and insect-to-plant interactions, farmers plant a cereal crop with a repellent leguminous intercrop (stinky) such as Desmodium uncinatum, with an attractive trap plant such as Napier grass (sticky) planted as a border crop around the intercrop. Through this technology, vulnerable communities can control climate-induced pests and weeds in environmentally friendly ways that build community solidarity.

While resilience and adaptive capacity building are the preferred means to address the impact of climate change, MCC recognizes that sometimes the impacts are far beyond the coping capacities of affected communities. In the Afar region of Ethiopia the impact of climate change is so severe that growing crops is not possible. The pastoralists in these communities survive by keeping animals such as goats and camels. Unfortunately, the extreme chronic droughts due to climate change in the Afar region are leading to human and animal thirst, chronic hunger, malnutrition and sometimes death.

We must connect the dots between climate change and our theology of peacemaking. Simply put, our lifestyle, and our addiction to fossil fuels, do violence to the most vulnerable and marginalized people around the globe.

MCC is responding in Afar by trucking in water for human and animal consumption, providing emergency fodder and vaccines for animals alongside food assistance for humans. MCC is also supporting sustainable innovative projects that improve water access. So, for example, MCC is working with a local partner called APDA on constructing dome-shaped steam wells that harvest water from the volcanic steam that moves up through a fault line in the earth and escapes through vents.

While all people feel the impact of the climate crisis, poor women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from climate change. Restricted land rights, limited channels to influence political decision-making spheres and lack of access to financial resources, training and technology all hinder women’s ability to adapt to climate change. MCC works to ensure that women have access to and control and decision-making power over project resources. MCC also works with men who champion gender equality and who create safe spaces for men in their community to cultivate healthy masculinities, helping to ensure that women’s empowerment efforts are successful and well-received. MCC recognizes that tapping into the wisdom and unleashing the knowledge, experience and capability of women are essential to craft effective climate change solutions for the benefit of all.

In Canada and the U.S., MCC undertakes climate change mitigation efforts, including pressing the church to embrace simple living and care for God’s creation and to pay attention to the impacts of the climate crisis, particularly on the poor and vulnerable. MCC also advocates for government policies that seek to slow down the climate crisis. MCC recently partnered with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College in founding the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions to advance thinking and action within faith communities on climate change mitigation.

David Mutunga is standing in cornfields in Lyuuni, Kenya, that were planted the conventional way instead of with conservation agriculture methods. He does not expect yield from this crop. He will get more yield from his conservation agriculture fields. Conservation agriculture practices include soil cover, minimum soil disturbance and crop rotation and diversification. (MCC photo/Matthew Lester)

The time has come for us, as Anabaptists, to recognize that a faithful response to our brothers and sisters around the world means addressing the root causes of our climate crisis. We must connect the dots between climate change and our theology of peacemaking. Simply put, our lifestyles, including our addiction to fossil fuels, do violence to the most vulnerable and marginalized people around the globe. As is abundantly clear throughout the biblical narrative, God cares about all of creation, especially the most vulnerable among us. May we do the same.

Eric Kurtz is executive director for MCC Great Lakes. Vurayayi Pugeni is area director for MCC programs in southern Africa.


Theme issue on “Responding to Climate Change.” Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice
Quarterly. 5/3 (Summer 2017). Available at https://mcc.org/media/resources/7125.

Website: Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions

Dula, Peter. “Anabaptist Environmental Ethics: A Review Essay.” Mennonite Quarterly Review. 94/1 (January 2020): 7-37.

Sand dams in Kenya: translating past successes to address future challenges

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In the Nzamba community of the semi-arid Ukambani region of Kenya stands a one-hundred-year-old rock-and-mortar wall built across a dry waterway. Sand has filled in behind this rock dam, which accumulates water from the rainy season’s storms. Months later in the dry season, scoop holes around the dam are frequented by residents who collect water for the household, livestock and crops. This sand dam was the oldest visited in a recent evaluation of sand dams, undertaken by MCC with its two Kenyan partners, Sahelian Solutions Foundation and Utooni Development Organization. Thousands of sand dams have been built in Ukambani since the colonial era, attesting to their potential as an elegant solution to the fundamental challenge of water supply. Thus, sand dams have a seeming permanence in the local landscape, both in the durability of the structures and in their enduring appeal to communities. However, dramatic changes have occurred in the region, and even greater climate and social changes are poised to occur over the coming years. As MCC and its local partners look back on their instrumental role in several decades of promoting sand dams, these dual questions can inform what lessons we take from these projects: What accounts for the staying power of this community-based solution to providing water? And how might projects like this stay forward-looking in the face of the accelerating shifts in climate and social structures?

The staying power of sand dams was not evident early on, as they were not universally embraced upon their initial introduction. The dam at Nzamba is characteristic of this initial skepticism and resistance: community members (especially women) who built the Nzamba dam were forced under colonial “chief’s law” to trek many days through the bush to a railhead for dam supplies. Understandably, the local Kamba people associated sand dams with colonial repression: the resistance to the sand dam was not a principled objection to the technology, but the manner in which it was imposed on the community.

Nanteya Mamayio (green sweater) and other Maasai get water from the MCC-supported sand dam constructed by MIDI and the villagers of Singiraine, Kenya. The water source provides 3,000 families (20,000 people) from a 15-mile/25 kilometer radius with water for cooking, bathing and laundry. (MCC photo/ Matthew Lester)

For the Kenyan public’s reception of sand dams, the tide turned during a crippling drought in the 1970s, when a respected Kamba engineer suggested sand dams might alleviate the crisis. The resulting trial sand dam was so obviously effective at providing water that neighboring communities started replicating the success. Equally important was framing sand dams more as a communal activity, rather than only as a new technology. Sand dams were initiated and built by the communities themselves within the traditional mechanism of mwethya, a system of shared labor and mutual benefit. Community “self-help groups” which grew out of mwethya now form the backbone for implementing sand dams. The overarching key lesson from past sand dam success is how important adapting sand dam technology to the local context and introducing it using traditional mechanisms were vital to its widespread adoption. Only when communities were able to implement sand dams under their own terms, within the mwethya tradition, were the benefits of sand dams realized.

No development solution is static, as cultural and environmental changes alter the context in which a solution is implemented. What adjustments were critical in the past? Are sand dams equipped to meet future changes? Some adjustments to sand dams have naturally evolved. For example, communities building sand dams recognized early on that the silting of dams dramatically reduces water storage capacity. In response, sand dam projects started including terracing along the edges of the dams, thus capturing the silt. This adjustment not only improved water storage, but also provided better conditions for growing crops near the dams. Communities also discovered that building sand dams paired well with carrying out a range of associated activities, such as brickmaking and beekeeping. Kenyan organizations promoting sand dams began to do so within an integrated model of development that included income generation and livelihoods components. Intentionally including such activities expanded the range of potential benefits to communities, yet it also required a more robust degree of community organization and ongoing support. The recent MCC evaluation of sand dams found that most sand dams have water in the dry season, but that this resource is largely underutilized at many dams—livelihoods initiatives that could take advantage of this resource have not been as widely adopted as expected.

Sand dams were initiated and built by the communities themselves within the traditional mechanism of mwethya, a system of shared labor and mutual benefit.

Several assessment studies have quantified the benefits and challenges of sand dams, thus raising awareness of where sand dams have fallen short of expectations. So, for example, assessments have found that sand dams have not translated into large-scale improvements in food security and that water extracted from sand dams presents a health risk due to bacterial contamination. Squaring these findings with the clear anecdotal accounts of sand dam effectiveness, and their obvious popularity with communities, remains an ongoing point of investigation. Attempts to make sense of conflicting conclusions often miss a cultural component, as assessments center around Western values of quantification and objectivity, which can be at odds with traditional African narratives and relational styles.

Central to the future of development projects such as sand dams is their ability to respond to the global climate crisis, which is shifting the very environment upon which Kamba culture and practices are adapted. Although not developed with climate change in mind, sand dams fortuitously represent a resilient response to the climate crisis. Sand dams have the potential to buffer shocks caused by shifts in rainfall patterns by increasing opportunities to collect rain when it does fall.

Less certain is how sand dams adjust to equally dramatic social changes. Sand dam promotion remains within a community-based, NGO-supported model. Efforts to incorporate sand dams into the mandate of local governments have largely failed; for the most part sand dams have not spread spontaneously in the private sector or by community financing, as was hoped. In the face of global cultural changes like moving towards privatization and away from community traditions, do self-help groups themselves have staying power, or is there another effective model of sand dam promotion as yet unrecognized? This is perhaps where observations by the sand dam communities themselves converge with development-level assessments: supporting the underlying community structures is just as important as the sand dam technology itself.

In part because of their popularity in Kenya, sand dams are now implemented in other countries such as Mozambique, Ethiopia and Chad. The degree to which sand dams can scale-up further remains to be seen, but the century-long durability of the dam at Nzamba suggests that these structures will be collecting water for decades to come.

Doug Graber Neufeld directs the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions at Eastern Mennonite University. James Kanyari is food security field officer for MCC Kenya.


Ertsen, Maurits and Rolf Hut. “Two Waterfalls Do Not Hear Each Other: Sand-Storage
Dams, Science and Sustainable Development in Kenya.” Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C. 34/1-2 (2009): 14-22. Abstract available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1474706508000661.

Graber Neufeld, Doug. “Sand Dams: Providing Clean Water?” Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly. 7/1 (Winter 2019): 14-16. Available at https://mccintersections.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/sand-damsproviding-clean-water/.

Graber Neufeld, Doug. “Food Security Strategies in Kenya.” Intersections: MCC Theory
and Practice Quarterly. 4/2 (2016): 8-9. Available at https://mccintersections.wordpress.
com/2016/05/02/food-securitystrategies-in-kenya/.

Kamuya, Kevin M. and Rand Carpenter. “Drought Mitigation in Kenya.” Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly. 2/4 (Fall 2014): 4-5. https://mccintersections.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/droughtmitigation-in-kenya/.

Ryan, Catherine and Paul Elsner. “The Potential for Sand Dams to Increase the Adaptive Capacity of East African Drylands to Climate Change.” Regional Environmental Change. 16/7 (2016): 2087-2096. Available at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-016-
0938-y.

MCC and fair trade: from SELFHELP Crafts of the World to Ten Thousand Villages

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) defines fair trade as a “trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers—especially in the South.” Fair trade organizations that produce and sell handicrafts, food items and more put these goals into practice through the application of the WFTO’s ten principles of fair trade, which include transparency, fair wages and good working conditions.

Edna Ruth Byler in 1965
with artisan handicrafts from
Jordanian-controlled West Bank.
The grassroots “fair trade” effort
of Edna Ruth Byler provided
meaningful income for artisans
by selling their handicrafts.
(MCC photo)

Faith communities have played an important role in developing these principles and practices of fair trade, and Anabaptist communities and MCC are recognized as critical to the development of the fair trade industry in Canada and the Unites States. Anabaptist involvement in fair trade began with Edna Ruth Byler after she visited Puerto Rico in the late 1940s and saw the embroidery women were making but had no place to sell. She returned to the United States and began selling their work out of the trunk of her car and then in church basements and fellowship halls. Interest grew, and what started as a one-woman operation turned into SELFHELP Crafts of the World (hereafter SELFHELP Crafts), one of the first businesses to develop fair trade practices to benefit artisans. SELFHELP Crafts became an official MCC program in the mid-1960s, with headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania, and a flagship store in nearby Ephrata. In 1965, this work expanded from the U.S. to marketing in Canada, with the Canadian Overseas Needlework and Crafts Project launching in Saskatchewan, and with the first SELFHELP Crafts of the World store in Canada opening in Altona, Manitoba, in 1972. SELFHELP Crafts rebranded in the 1990s as Ten Thousand Villages (referred to below simply as Villages).

MCC, through SELFHELP Crafts and now Villages, has been active in fair trade for nearly 75 years, with Villages’ mission to “create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.” Through Villages, MCC has learned significant lessons about the impact of fair trade on artisan livelihoods. Most recently, MCC Canada commissioned an impact evaluation that examined artisan groups in India and Nepal to better understand the role Villages has played in advancing artisan livelihoods. While this study looked at a small portion of the work that Villages does, focusing on a limited geographic region, it identified lessons that are relevant to the breadth of Villages’ engagement with artisan groups and fair trade suppliers, lessons related to a) the impact on household income and socioeconomic status; b) the role of Villages in producers’ organizational growth; and c) the tensions between supporting artisans and compliance with WFTO standards.

Impact on household income and socioeconomic status: The evaluation found that handicraft sales represent an important source of income for artisans. For instance, handicraft work often comprises 50% to 75% of artisans’ total household incomes. No artisans, meanwhile, were found to be living below the poverty line. Many artisans highlighted the social supports they received through fair trade handicraft work, such as health care, literacy classes and improved communication skills. While the evaluation found that fair trade does have a positive impact, with artisans receiving regular income that allows them to send children to school, purchase food and clothing and receive social supports, quantifying the extent of this impact is extremely difficult due to the wide variety of producer groups with which Villages works. So, for example, Villages is only one of many purchasers to which most producer groups sell, making it difficult to single out the distinct impact of Villages’ purchases.

A Palestinian refugee living in the West Bank holds a piece of needlework in 1977. In 1952, Ruth Lederach, an MCC volunteer working as a nurse in Arroub, West Bank, proposed that MCC establish an embroidery project to help Palestinian women who were displaced by the 1948 war, earn much-needed income. (MCC photo/Paul Quiring)

The historical role of Villages in producer organization growth and development: The impact of Villages on producer groups, however, is quite clear, as all groups noted that partnering with Villages strengthened their ability to produce and sell to other buyers when they first started. Villages is among the oldest buyers for groups, and the support and technical assistance provided over the years helped improve producer capacity and sales and build momentum and reputation. Support from Villages included flexible payment arrangements, shipping support, leeway with delays in fulfilling orders and payment advances (with Villages paying half the cost of orders upfront). The evaluation also noted that the long-term impact on producer groups by selling to a well-known and respected buyer like Villages and generating a long-term business relationship with regular orders and payments cannot be overstated.

Challenges and tensions between supporting artisans and compliance with WFTO: To be considered compliant with fair trade principles by the WFTO, producer organizations must submit detailed reporting that presents evidence for how they adhere to the WFTO’s ten principles of fair trade and its more than seventy compliance criteria. The evaluation noted that ensuring WFTO compliance and having a positive impact on artisans are different and often conflicting goals. Compliance requires significant investment in staff time, funding, data collection and management to meet reporting requirements and provide the level of detail needed. For small producer organizations that operate on small margins, it can be difficult to meet these requirements while also dedicating the time and resources needed for artisan capacity building and support.

Ten Thousand Villages and the broader fair trade industry have grown significantly from simple beginnings as a venture in the trunk of Edna Ruth Byler’s car. Shifting economic landscapes and rapidly changing business models force fair trade enterprises to compete in a challenging environment. The future of Ten Thousand Villages is in flux. In the face of flagging sales and consistent operational losses, MCC Canada made the difficult decision at the beginning of this year to close the ten MCC Canada-owned stores, along with its warehouse and its head office, by the middle of 2020. Eight Villages stores operated by local boards will continue to operate in Canada. Meanwhile, Ten Thousand Villages in the United States continues to reposition itself within a competitive market for brick-and-mortar sales, seeking to strengthen online sales and to develop distinctive “maker-to-market” sales spaces that connect consumers with artisans and their stories. Whatever the future holds for MCC and Ten Thousand Villages, MCC can take deep pride in having pioneered a global movement dedicated to ensuring that producers are treated and compensated fairly.

On the outskirts of Vientiane, Laos, in Nakhoun Noy village, Mon Sipasert (right) works with her sons Som Nuk Sinnachack (left) and Bounthanom Sipasert in this 1997 photo. This family made creches for Ten Thousand Villages.(MCC photo/Mark Beach)

Allison Enns is MCC food security and livelihoods coordinator, based in Winnipeg.


Keahey, Jennifer, Mary Littrell, and Douglas Murray. “Business with a Mission: The Ongoing
Role of Ten Thousand Villages within the Fair Trade Movement.” In A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity. Ed. Alain EppWeaver, 265-283. Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House, 2011.

Littrell, Mary and Marsha Dickson. Artisans and Fair Trade: Crafting Development. Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, 2010.

Raynolds, Laura T. and Elizabeth A. Bennett. Eds. Handbook of Research on Fair Trade. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015.

Shifts in settler self-consciousness within MCC Indigenous Neighbours work in Canada

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Starting with its role in the resettlement of Mennonites to Canada, MCC has always been intertwined, even when unacknowledged, with the lives of Indigenous peoples. Aside from work with ecumenical coalitions, MCC’s first intentional, direct engagement with an Indigenous community in Canada was likely in the Southern Inuit town of Cartwright Labrador in 1960, which expanded in the early seventies to Northern Inuit and eventually Innu communities. Following the establishment of the MCC Canada Native Concerns (now Indigenous Neighbours) program in 1974, MCC engagement with Indigenous communities across the north expanded, with an MCC service assignment emerging in the Kwatkiutl community of Tsulquate in British Columbia. Soon the initiation of MCC’s summer gardening program in 1978 began exposing young Mennonites to varied Indigenous communities, with all the complexities of nurturing relationships in an unfamiliar setting marred by the brokenness of colonialism.

Service by settler Canadians could take the form of prescribing what Indigenous people needed according to MCC’s agenda, rather than prioritizing the agendas of marginalized Indigenous nations.

In her history of MCC in Canada, Esther Epp-Tiessen identifies several learnings that emerged over the decades of MCC program engaging Indigenous communities in the country. Epp-Tiessen observes that MCC workers entered into relationships with a listening and learning stance during this initial period of exploring service and community development projects in Indigenous contexts. This listening and learning stance in turn led MCC to advocate for justice for Indigenous nations through Canadian ecumenical coalitions like Project North and by assisting the formation of the Interchurch Task Force on Northern Hydro Development.

In the mid-to-late eighties, as MCC workers in Indigenous communities began to develop long-lasting friendships and take some risks in solidarity, partnership and increased local accountability started becoming measuring sticks for local involvement. “How could MCC stand next to the people it served in such a way that the people and not MCC took leadership; that the heritage and identity of the people it served was respected?” asked Betty Pries (61). Some MCC staff started to speak of two MCC constituencies: its traditional Mennonite supporters and its Indigenous partners with whom MCC workers built relationships and whose needs, MCC staff argued, should shape MCC’s program in Indigenous contexts and push MCC towards advocacy. The 1980s witnessed several examples of MCC staff listening to and responding to counsel from Indigenous partners, including: MCC worker Dorothy Mills’ refusal to carry out policies of the Department of Social Services in Davis Inlet in 1984; solidarity with the Innu in their struggle against low-level military flights near Goose Bay; participation in the Lubicon Cree campaign against oil and gas companies; and, to a lesser extent, engagement with the Anicinabe Park Occupation in Kenora in 1974 and Kanehsatake (Oka) in 1990.

Over the following decade, MCC began confronting more of the complexities of its service worker model, including the paternalism inherent in some MCC development and engagement approaches. At the most basic level, service by settler Canadians could take the form of prescribing what Indigenous people needed according to MCC’s agenda, rather than prioritizing the agendas of marginalized Indigenous nations. A review of MCC’s summer gardening program, for example, indicated that the program fostered significant relationships, but there were no more gardens being maintained than when the program began, suggesting a lack of Indigenous ownership. MCC’s service theology, Epp-Tiessen contends, has always run the risk of paternalism, quoting Mennonite ethicist Ted Koontz’s analysis of the potential paternalism of service: “We have; they have need; we give them what they need. In a deep way the patterns of our thinking may contribute to the very sense of disempowerment which we seek to overcome” (208). Grappling with the potential paternalism of service has pressed MCC workers to ask if a vision of MCC service might be articulated that does not focus on what we (settler Canadians) do to help them (Indigenous First Nations).

MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours program encouraged Canadian Anabaptists to recognize their positioning within the broader dominant settler society and to collectively acknowledge their power and privilege as settlers, as well as acknowledge the sins of a colonial past and ongoing colonial present.

As awareness grew of potentially paternalistic modes of service, MCC’s focus in Canada over the past two decades regarding Indigenous issues has shifted inward. MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours work encouraged Canadian Anabaptists to recognize their positioning within the broader dominant settler society and to collectively acknowledge their power and privilege as settlers, as well as acknowledge the sins of a colonial past and ongoing colonial present. This was not a new idea for MCC. Indigenous friends and partners had been encouraging Mennonites for several decades to reflect inward on their place as settlers in Canada. In 1975, a Kenora Report by Meti scholar Emma LaRoque commissioned by MCC to assist it “in gaining a theologically valid perspective on minority oppression,” observed that “the Mennonite Church must come to terms with power and powerlessness.”

MCC more broadly was slow, however, to internalize a critical understanding of racialized oppression and how Mennonites of European background in Canada participated in such racialized oppression. Stressing the importance of internal work, MCC Canada Indigenous Neighbours program coordinators Harley and Sue Eagle emphasized relationship building itself as peacebuilding. In the 1990s and the first part of this century, learning and owning our own complicity in settler colonial history and healing the brokenness within broader Canadian society, including the Anabaptist community in Canada, came to be understood as essential for—and an inherent part of—building authentic relationships between settler Canadian Mennonites and Indigenous peoples.

To spur Mennonites to reflect on colonial legacies in Canada, MCC promoted use of the Kairos Blanket Exercise, an interactive tool designed by the ecumenical Kairos initiative of which MCC was a part. During the years of the Canadian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, MCC pushed for Mennonites to acknowledge and address Mennonite involvement in the Indian Residential School system, including in the Timber Bay Children’s Home at Montreal Lake, Saskatchewan. The Commission’s 94 Calls to Action implored the church to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, which had already become another emphasis for MCC conversations with its Anabaptist supporters, including how the assumptions behind the doctrine continue to manifest in our theology, legal structures, and unconscious interactions. MCC also increasingly engaged in places where the interests of Anabaptist communities came up against Indigenous ones, such as the Haldiman Tract in Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario and the Young Chippewayan land dislocation in Saskatchewan documented in the film Reserve 107.

Tricia Monague peformed a
traditional dance in a jingle dress
on the steps of Parliament Hill
following a mass blanket exercise
there. (MCC photo/ Alison Ralph)

MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours work today is at a significant crossroads. MCC is more aware of the dangers of paternalism and has a bolstered commitment to advocacy with Indigenous peoples. At the same time, MCC has access to fewer formal denominational or organizational structures allowing for the fostering of relationships between MCC and Indigenous First Nations than ever before. MCC’s history of placing workers in Indigenous communities is largely a thing of the past. MCC continues to engage with Indigenous communities when possible, particularly in northern Ontario. Yet many of MCC’s current connections with Indigenous individuals and institutions, as well as with non-Indigenous supporters passionate about Indigenous justice, developed over time through the placement of MCC workers in Indigenous communities. Neil Funk Unrau, reflecting on the Anabaptist interaction with the Lubicon Cree Nation, suggests that the distinctively Anabaptist response to injustice against Indigenous nations in Canada has consisted not simply of showing up sporadically when barricades are being erected, but of a willingness to be present long-term in the community for the “slow, frustrating task of building people-to-people relationships” (with the readiness to be present giving MCC’s response legitimacy).

MCC has considerably fewer opportunities now for sending people out of their comfort zones to be mutually transformed by the complexities of relationship building. We therefore need creativity to determine anew how to foster opportunities for authentic relationship beyond occasional interaction. Advocacy that responds to Indigenous calls for respecting treaties and Indigenous rights is one important response, though we need to be mindful of the need for authentic relationships to do advocacy well. Ecumenical collaborations have been an important part of MCC’s past and could hold some relational opportunities going forward. The key challenge remains how to further catalyze settler Anabaptists in Canada as a people to engage with the Indigenous neighbours with whom we share this land.

Kerry Saner Harvey is Indigenous Neighbours coordinator for MCC Manitoba.


Epp-Tiessen, Esther. Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History. Winnipeg: CMU Press, 2013.

“History of Aboriginal-Mennonite Relations Symposium.” Journal of Mennonite Studies. 19 (2001).

Pries, Betty, ed. Seawindrock: The History of MCC in Newfoundland and Labrador 1954-1993. Winnipeg: Mennonite Central Committee Canada, 1993.

Reserve 107: Reconciliation on the Prairies. Film. Available here: https://www.reserve107thefilm.com/.

MCC and Indigenous peoples in the United States: assessing the past, visioning the future

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

A Loss of Turtle Island blanket exercise, led by MCC Central States staff Erica Littlewolf (Northern Cheyenne) and Karin Kaufman Wall, was one of the events held on the first day of the MCC Native American learning tour to help participants understand the loss of Native lands and rights in the U.S. (MCC photo/Brenda Burkholder)

In this article, MCC Central States Indigenous Vision Circle coordinator Erica Littlewolf reflects on the past, present and future of MCC’s work with Indigenous peoples.

How has MCC’s work with Indigenous peoples in the United States (and on Turtle Island more broadly) changed over the decades? What, if anything, has remained constant?

I dream that MCC will co-journey with Indigenous peoples in mutual relationships and that fostering right relationships will be at the heart of this work. I dream that MCC would recognize Indigenous peoples in the United States as sovereign, as if they are working with peoples from another country.

I first heard of MCC while working through the MCC U.S. Summer Service program for four months (2000-2004) in my home community. I then began employment with MCC in 2007 with the Oglala Lakota Nation Service Unit located in Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At that time, MCC gave small community grants to local organizations doing decolonization work, while also addressing humanitarian needs in the community, such as by providing firewood to keep people warm during the winter months. In 2009, following a long discernment process with the Pine Ridge community and MCC, we decided we would remove the unit from the reservation and begin the Indigenous Visioning Circle. We envisioned the work moving from the micro-level, serving one community, to the macro-level, looking at systemic issues. We were encouraged by the community to utilize the resources and networks to which MCC has access, such as MCC’s offices in Washington, D.C., and at United Nations in New York.

I think MCC is beginning to see that change needs to happen systemically instead of viewing things as the “Indian problem” that needs to be fixed with social services. This shift has been happening gradually for many years—we can take part in this ongoing change. Everyone is necessary and the more creative we can be the better.

What lessons has MCC learned from its work with Indigenous nations? What have been key successes and failures?

I think it remains to be seen what MCC has learned from its work with Indigenous nations. I think when MCC has truly changed, MCC workers will see themselves as beneficiaries of wisdom and relationship, not just as part of an organization that gives. It will be more of a question of, “How has MCC changed because of this work?” meaning they have implemented their learnings and not just talked about having learned things. I also think that each interaction and relationship MCC has had, has currently or will have in the future with Indigenous people is a chance for MCC to learn and change. Whether an exchange is good or bad in the moment is irrelevant—more important is reflection on past actions for the sake of improved relationships in the future.

What is your vision for how MCC will work with Indigenous peoples in the future?

My vision for how MCC will work with Indigenous peoples in the future is relational. I dream that MCC will co-journey with Indigenous peoples in mutual relationships and that fostering right relationships will be at the heart of this work. I dream that MCC would recognize Indigenous peoples in the United States as sovereign, as if they are working with peoples from another country. I dream that MCC can see the damage of the Doctrine of Discovery, while also embracing the opportunity we presently have to work toward change. My hope is that MCC can take leadership from Indigenous people, yield power and control and see what can come of a new-old way of doing things. I dream that we can look beyond one-year or two-year plans and think of the seven generations in all that we do, that our actions may be bold, life-giving and give way to life for those yet to come.

Erica Littlewolf is the Indigenous Visioning Circle program coordinator with MCC Central States.


Theme issue on “Overcoming the Doctrine of Discovery.” Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly. 6/1 (Winter 2018). Available at https://mcc.org/media/resources/7621.

MCC as an incubator for new approaches to relief, development and peace

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

MCC has grown dramatically over the past century. By many typical measures—geographic scope, size of operating budget and the number of volunteers, staff and partners—MCC is now impressively large. These measures, however, significantly underestimate the reach and impact of MCC over one hundred years, because MCC has also seeded or spun off an astonishing number of independent organizations. Many of these continue to thrive and have developed in interesting and unanticipated ways that nonetheless align broadly with MCC’s mission. I would thus argue that a proper retelling of the MCC story requires the inclusion of the stories of numerous institutions that no longer bear MCC’s name.

A proper retelling of the MCC story requires the inclusion of the stories of numerous institutions that no longer bear MCC’s name.

This argument may seem rather obvious when looking at trends in MCC’s global program. In recent decades, MCC has shifted toward a partnership approach that focuses on building the capacity of local grassroots organizations. In countries such as Bangladesh, for example, at least a dozen MCC job creation projects have spun off into new ventures that are still in operation. Meanwhile, in most contexts where it operates, MCC has gradually shifted from initiating and implementing projects towards accompaniment of a diverse range of local partners, including churches, church-related agencies and community-based organizations.

MCC’s story in Canada and the U.S. includes numerous examples of initiatives that became independent or differentiated themselves from MCC. Ten Thousand Villages is one of the best known examples of an initiative that began within MCC (first as SELFHELP Crafts of the World) that developed its own distinctive identity.

Beyond Villages, a wide range of separately incorporated organizations have emerged out of MCC programs, projects or departments throughout Canada and the U.S. They can be found from coast to coast, from More Than a Roof, a nonprofit addressing housing needs in British Columbia, to the Prairie View Mental Health Center in Kansas, to MTS Travel in Pennsylvania, to the Tire Recycling Atlantic Canada Corporation in New Brunswick. Many more independent organizations that had their beginnings within MCC could be named. Across these distinctive organizations, one can detect a pattern: MCC tests and lays the groundwork for a good idea to take root, and then lets it go so that its impact can grow.

What generated MCC’s nurturing, collaborative and entrepreneurial organizational culture, and what will enable it to continue?

To dig a little deeper into the Canadian context, MCC is widely credited with instigating two social innovations that have come to overshadow MCC program in Canada—the private sponsorship system for refugees and the contemporary restorative justice movement. In both instances, MCC supported the emergence of a cluster of complementary organizations to deliver services that met the needs of particular communities. For refugees, these complementary organizations included the Calgary Centre for Newcomers, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, the Global Gathering Place in Saskatoon and the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support in Kitchener- Waterloo. For victims and offenders, such complementary organizations included Community Justice Initiatives in Kitchener-Waterloo, Initiatives for Just Communities and Mediation Services in Winnipeg and Saskatoon Community Mediation Services. MCC also helped to establish broader networks such the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association and the Church Council on Justice and Corrections in order to share best practices and amplify advocacy messages. Indeed, advocacy has always been a collaborative pursuit for MCC: the ongoing public policy influence of organizations such as KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives or Project Ploughshares, the peace research institute of the Canadian Council of Churches, would not be possible were it not for the crucial support provided by MCC at their formative stages.

I could discuss many additional examples at length, including the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which is not only an example of a former program that flourished once given its independence, but is one of MCC’s most significant ecumenical partnerships in Canada. One should also note that, while playing a less direct role, MCC figured prominently in the birth stories of several significant binational Anabaptist-Mennonite organizations that have come to focus on specific elements of MCC’s overall mission, including Mennonite Economic Development Associates and Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Stezen Mudenda (the care taker at KMTC, Kulima Mbobumi Training Center, in Zimbabwe) is using mulch, one of the practices of conservation agriculture, to conserve moisture in the soil. (MCC Photo/Matthew Sawatzky)

Questions that this remarkable family tree raise for me are: what generated MCC’s nurturing, collaborative and entrepreneurial organizational culture, and what will enable it to continue? A growing number of incubator programs across Canada and the U.S. support emerging social enterprises and nonprofits, yet MCC has functioned as an incubator in an unstructured and responsive way for much of its history. Indeed, I think “incubator” is an apt one-word description for MCC, pointing us to a crucial and underappreciated dimension of the MCC story. In addition to serving as an incubator of organizations, MCC has been an incubator of partnerships, institutional leaders and, perhaps most importantly, disciples.

Paul Heidebrecht is director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College.


Canadian Foodgrains Bank. https://foodgrainsbank.ca

Christian Peacemaker Teams. https://www.cpt.org

Mennonite Disaster Service. https://mds.mennonite.net

Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). https://www.meda.org

MCC creation care and sustainability initiatives over the decades

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Concern for the environment and respect for God’s creation have been part of MCC’s approach to its work since 1920. Over the decades, MCC’s awareness of the rapid pace of environmental degradation, resolutions taken by Anabaptist denominations and stories from partners about the impacts of the climate crisis on their communities have spurred efforts to enable communities to adapt to climate change, engage constituents in modifying their lifestyles to reduce harmful environmental impacts and expand advocacy efforts.

Program: For many decades, MCC has actively cared for creation by promoting reforestation and soil conservation in its agriculture and food security programming. Starting in 1994, MCC also began to systematically incorporate creation care and environmental responsibility into program planning and evaluation. This approach was formalized in 1999 when the MCC board adopted an environmental stewardship and program planning policy that articulated basic expectations for its international program. This included assessing projects for their environmental impact, identifying national and regional priority environmental issues and conducting program evaluations that examined how environmental considerations were included in planning. An Environmental Guide for Program Planning was developed to provide guidance on how to put MCC’s environmental stewardship policies into practice across MCC program.

In March 2010, MCC adopted a set of operating principles, or core values, that shape MCC’s program and operations. This included a commitment to act sustainably. “Called to live simply and to be a steward of God’s creation, MCC seeks to act in ways which promote environmental, social, and economic sustainability,” MCC’s binational board proclaimed. As part of living into this commitment to act sustainably, MCC program staff revised and approved an environmental assessment tool for use in planning, monitoring and evaluating its relief, development and peacebuilding programs.

Public engagement: MCC’s engagement with Anabaptists in the U.S. and Canada on creation care and environmental sustainability began with the 1976 commissioning of the More-with-Less cookbook, with the goal of helping Christians to eat better and consume less of the world’s food resources. In 1982, MCC established a Global Education Desk in its Akron, Pennsylvania, office. While the education responsibilities of this position were eventually merged into other departments, the desk’s goal was to educate pastors and congregations in the U.S. and Canada about how their lifestyles affected the earth and were linked globally.

Farmers in Koti, Burkina Faso, meet to share updates with MCC/ODE staff and showcase their vegetable harvest during dry season. MCC partner ODE has created a garden space where 100 farmers, 50 men and 50 women, grow vegetables during the off-season. The gardens are sustained using water from four wells, with plans to expand to eight wells. (MCC Photo/James Souder)

The early focus of MCC’s creation care and environmental sustainability efforts on reforestation and soil conservation projects has expanded in recent years to other activities to help communities adapt to climate crisis-related risks, including providing access to potable water and seasonal safety nets, introducing crops and livestock breeds, supporting livelihood diversification, promoting hazard resistant shelter construction and helping communities prepare for disasters.

In 1989, the General Boards of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church adopted a statement, “Stewardship of the Earth—Resolution on Environment and Faith Issues,” which called MCC in the U.S. and Canada to “seek policy directions from the several Mennonite church bodies in promoting creation stewardship.” MCC board members responded by including creation care as one of its three top priorities at MCC’s annual meeting that year and called for staff to continue to address environmental concerns from a biblical perspective. Responding to this call from Mennonite churches and the MCC board, staff developed a variety of resources in the 1990s for individuals, families and churches related to creation care, including:

  • Earthkeepers, a 1991 study for individuals and churches that linked ecotheology to questions of militarism, war and economic systems;
  • the three-part Trek series, released between 1996 and 2004, with reflections and suggestions for individuals and families to live simply and with mindfulness of their ecological footprint; and
  • the WaterWorks Toolkit, a curriculum for churches highlighting water conservation, released in 2004

Several MCCs also undertook public engagement initiatives on creation care. MCC Ontario employed a creation care coordinator from 2006 to 2011 who focused on encouraging Anabaptist schools and churches to explore their impact on creation and to install solar panels as part of a green energy initiative. MCC Saskatchewan started a blog and workshop initiative called “No Waste Wednesdays” in 2010 that ran through 2013, focused on encouraging constituents and the public to adopt environmentally responsible ethics and behaviors. More recently, in 2016 MCC U.S. partnered with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College to establish the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions to mobilize Anabaptists around climate change mitigation and advocacy. In 2018, the Center conducted a speakers’ tour targeting Anabaptist churches, universities and organizations that featured three international MCC staff and partners sharing about the impacts of climate change on their communities.

MCC remains committed to help communities adapt to the impacts of rapidly changing climates, to call Anabaptists and others in Canada and the U.S. to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of their lifestyles and to advocate for policies that promote environmental sustainability.

Advocacy: MCC’s advocacy efforts related to climate change and sustainability have been guided by MCC’s programming and connected to its public engagement. Beginning in the 1970s, MCC’s Washington Office was an early member of the Washington Interreligious Staff Community Energy and Ecology Working Group. In the 1990s, the Washington Office focused advocacy efforts on promoting fuel efficiency standards, sustainable use of public lands and an energy policy that addressed climate change. In 2001, the Washington Office released its Guide to the Environment, providing biblical reflections and action steps for concerned Anabaptists and others.

Constituent education included the 2003 spring seminar’s focus on creation care advocacy. In the past ten years, in response to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the communities in which MCC’s partners work, the Washington Office has continued its environmental advocacy work with a strong focus on climate change, international adaptation assistance and adequate funding and strong safeguards for the Green Climate Fund. Additionally, advocacy has focused on the environmental impacts of the fences and walls being built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ntate Marou Lenkoe, a farmer in Makilenyaneng, Lesotho, stands in one of the crops he grew using the conservation agricultural methods he learned as a participant in a “Farming God’s Way” workshop. MCC partner Growing Nations runs the workshops to teach farming methods with a biblically-based creation care focus to help counter the effects of climate change and reduced rainfall. (Photo/Barry Mann)

MCC’s commitment to creation care and environmental sustainability is not new. While MCC’s focus has shifted over the decades in response to growing awareness of environmental degradation and the voices of partners affected by the climate crisis, MCC remains committed to help communities adapt to the impacts of rapidly changing climates, to call Anabaptists and others in Canada and the U.S. to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of their lifestyles and to advocate for policies that promote environmental sustainability.

Meara Kwee is MCC’s protection coordinator, based in Akron, Pennsylvania.


Jantzi, Jeanne Zimmerly. Parent Trek: Nurturing Creativity and Care in our Children. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001.

Longacre, Doris Janzen. Morewith- Less Cookbook. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1976.

Meyer, Art and Jocele Meyer. Earthkeepers: Environmental Perspectives on Hunger,
Poverty, & Injustice. Scottdale: PA: Herald Press, 1991.

Moyer, Joanne. Earth Trek: Celebrating and Sustaining God’s Creation. Scottdale, PA:
Herald Press, 2004.

Schrock-Shenk, Dave. Ed. Basic Trek: Venture into a World of Enough. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002.

Simple living, peace theology and MCC’s World Community Cookbooks

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

A decade ago, as MCC turned ninety, I had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of MCC cookbooks within MCC’s institutional story and the impact of those cookbooks on all kinds of communities around the world. I was surprised by how deep my reflection took me and how much of my identity as a Christian is connected to the World Community Cookbooks trilogy: More-with-Less Cookbook, Extending the Table and Simply in Season.

My analysis and appreciation for these cookbooks begin with Matthew Bailey-Dick’s 2005 essay on “The Kitchenhood of All Believers,” in which he argued that we have failed to appreciate how collections of recipes are more than cultural, historical or sociological artifacts, but can also be useful resources for theological reflection. Some of us Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada can be lousy Anabaptists—we can get so focused on how cookbooks carry on particular culinary ethnic traditions that we fail to notice that even a cookbook can “stand as a witness to the Gospel” and serve as “a mission partner for God’s work in the world.” Bailey-Dick goes on to identify at least eight different ways Mennonite cookbooks in Canada and the U.S. communicate the forces that shape our faith: simple living, the globalization of Mennonites, remembering the past, Mennonite migration patterns, gender roles, Anabaptist history, acculturation and inter-Mennonite cooperation.

Doris Janzen Longacre and her daughter Cara Sue Longacre demonstrate preparing a dish at a seminar in 1976. Janzen Longacre’s More-with-Less Cookbook was first published in 1976 and quickly embraced not only for simple, nourishing recipes but also for its inspiring emphasis on sharing resources and choosing to live with less. (MCC photo/Ernie Klassen)

When it comes to the World Community Cookbooks, I could treat each of these themes separately. The very idea of “more-with-less” has its roots in the world food crisis and expressions of simple living of the 1970s. As an organization, MCC has contributed to Mennonites’ collective experience of globalization, shaped Mennonite migration patterns, served as an organizing base for gender justice and figured prominently in the last century of Anabaptist history as we have worked to integrate who Mennonites have been and who we are becoming. In this article, however, I prefer to mix these themes together into a kind of peace theology party mix. That is, when I look at this trilogy of cookbooks, I see all these themes contributing to a larger conversation about how we live as Anabaptist Mennonites seeking to practice and preach the gospel of peace in the global village of a groaning planet.

A few words about what I mean by “peace theology” are in order. Peace theology is an approach to interpreting Christian scripture, articulating a religious worldview and proclaiming a form of Christian faith that manifests in a commitment to renounce violence and follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Peace theology is not one thing, nor is there one form of Mennonite peace theology. In 1989, for example, MCC sponsored a collaborative project of its Peace Committee and Ecumenical Peace Theology Working Group to describe the various types of Mennonite thinking about peace and explicate their theological foundations. With a goal “to seek a consensus on a perspective that would be useful to MCC” as it strove to “articulate [its] perspective in interchurch/ecumenical contexts,” the project produced the modest print publication, Mennonite Peace Theology: A Panorama of Types, published by MCC’s Peace Office in 1991. In 2005, MCC initiated another round of this original project, culminating in a conference and book entitled At Peace and Unafraid: Public Order, Security, and the Wisdom of the Cross. Like the earlier panorama, this conversation sought to sort through difficult questions about daily Christian living and about what systems help create and maintain peaceable communities. The project team proposed seven “continuing lines of inquiry,” the first of which was a call for more empirical evidence: “We could use a further project combining the folk methods of Doris Janzen Longacre and the scholarly methods of Gene Sharp to gather more examples of nonviolent ‘best practices’ that are contributing to human security.” I mention all of this because I consider Doris Janzen Longacre, editor and compiler of the original More-with-Less cookbook and its companion volume on simple living, Living More with Less, to be one of the insufficiently praised contributors to Mennonite peace theology in the twentieth century.

While her formal training was dietetics, Longacre’s approach to her work staffing MCC’s Food and Hunger Concerns Desk was also pastoral. In the 1970s, MCC was challenging its constituents to eat and live more simply by decreasing household food budgets by ten percent. This call to action came from the recognition that patterns of overconsumption in Canada and the U.S. were feeding global injustice. Longacre grappled with the “holy frustration” of wanting to cut back but not knowing where to begin, and in that grappling emerged with a discovery: it is possible that wasting, eating and spending less actually gives us more. In the opening pages of More-with-Less, Longacre describes (white) Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada as good cooks who care about the world’s hungry, deftly turning a social location into a theological and ethical one: “We are looking for ways to live more simply and joyfully, ways that grow out of our tradition but take their shape from living faith and the demands of our hungry world.” Food security and food sovereignty are indeed matters to which peace theology must attend. The Christian gospel, encountered through the World Community Cookbooks, is a message of well-being found through interdependence.

In the 1970s, MCC was challenging its constituents to eat and live more simply by decreasing household food budgets by ten percent. This call to action came from the recognition that patterns of overconsumption in Canada and the U.S. were feeding global injustice.

Through More-with-Less and Living More with Less, Longacre identified ways of knowing, being and doing that help us see and make connections among our lives, communities around the world, the natural world that needs both our respect and tenderness and God’s calls for justice and for nonconformed lives that are also lives of freedom. More-with-Less invites those in the global North who are affluent to turn our gazes inward and ask questions like: “How can my community resize its ecological footprint so that we can live more freely?” Extending the Table, meanwhile, turns our gaze back out at the world, but with a new awareness that God’s world is full of resources. The rich giving to the poor is not justice. Justice is done when the rich and poor share what they have with each other. Finally, Simply in Season brings the outward and inward together because the invitation to eat locally and seasonally is about gaining a better understanding of both the rhythms and seasons of the places where we live and the complexities of the global food system in the places where we shop. Indeed, Simply in Season co-editor Cathleen Hockman-Wert urges us to think of eating and shopping for food as spiritual disciplines because God’s first gift to all Earth’s creatures is that of food and not all foods are morally neutral. Whenever I turn to this trio of cookbooks, something I do weekly as part of my own spiritual practice of preparing meals for my family and friends, I do so grateful that I am awake and alive to the challenges of living more with less.

Malinda Elizabeth Berry is associate professor of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.


Bailey-Dick, Matthew. “The Kitchenhood of all Believers: A Journey into the Discourse
of Mennonite Cookbooks.” Mennonite Quarterly Review. 79/2 (April 2005): 153–178.

Burkholder, John Richard and Barbara Nelson Gingerich. Mennonite Peace Theology:
A Panorama of Types. Akron, PA: MCC Peace Office, 1991. Available at https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/sites/ca.grebel/files/uploads/files/Panorama-of-Types.pdf.

Friesen, Duane K. and Gerald W. Schlabach. Eds. At Peace and Unafraid: Public Order, Security and the Wisdom of the Cross. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2005.

Longacre, Doris Janzen. Living More with Less. 30th anniversary edition. Scottdale, PA, 2010.

More-with-Less Cookbook. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2000.

Hockman-Wert, Cathleen. “Preaching the Good News with Our Mouths Full.” Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology. 9/1 (Spring 2008): 69–75.

Lind, Mary Beth and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. Simply in Season. Scottdale, PA: Herald
Press, 2005.

Schlabach, Joetta Handrich. Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1991.

Assessing the evolution of MCC’s development work: reflections from MCC’s global staff

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Most MCC workers from Canada and the U.S. in MCC’s global programs have typically served for one-, three- and sometimes five-year terms. A relatively small number, meanwhile, have continued in service for more than five years. MCC programs have thus experienced ongoing flux in staffing. Amidst these cyclical disruptions, MCC’s “national staff” (MCC workers who serve within their own countries, such as an Indian woman who oversees MCC India’s education program or a Bolivian man who directs MCC Bolivia’s rural development program) have provided indispensable and vital stability, depth of contextual knowledge and breadth of experience to MCC programs. In this article, MCC staff from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Haiti, India, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) and Nigeria, who together have over 150 years of MCC experience, reflect on shifts within MCC’s program, challenges faced, successes celebrated and lessons learned from MCC’s development work carried out in the name of Christ.

Bangladesh

The MCC program in Bangladesh began in 1970 as a relief effort to respond to needs of victims of natural disasters. MCC responded to floods, cyclones and tidal bores with money, materials and personnel. As time went on, this relief response progressed into agricultural and economic development activities. Development efforts focused on two main initiatives: educating poor farmers how to increase crop production and empowering disadvantaged women to earn a living to support their families.

MCC’s agricultural program introduced winter vegetables and soybeans (a new crop) in its operational area. MCC introduced these crops to increase income for farming families and to help alleviate the widespread malnutrition among the rural population. The crops MCC introduced continued to be grown by farmers long after MCC stopped working in the area, providing income for farm families and food. Almost all crops grown by farmers in Bangladesh are grown with the intent of selling some or all of them for cash. In many cases farmers sell their entire crop to pay off debts and later buy the same food back by selling their labor. In the case of Bangladesh, MCC’s focus on agriculture was very appropriate.

MCC carried out its agricultural research in the seventies and eighties in collaboration with Bangladesh’s research institutes. Its annual research publications were valued greatly by national researchers.

MCC carried out its agricultural research in collaboration with the country’s agricultural research institutes. MCC’s annual research publications were valued greatly by national researchers. From the early seventies through the eighties, Bangladeshi agricultural institutions were not staffed adequately as the new country lacked the personnel and financial resources necessary to meet the needs of farmers and the agriculture sector in general. Limited government resources were used primarily to boost rice and wheat production. MCC’s work with vegetable and soybean crop research and extension was greatly appreciated by governmental agricultural researchers and extensionists alike.

Disadvantaged women were defined as those who were abandoned, divorced or widowed and who, in most cases, had children to raise. In a conservative society, normal employment outside the home was not a viable option for these women. The program therefore focused on creating jobs where these women could work from their own homes or in cloistered areas not far from their homes.

MCC Bangladesh’s job creation program helped bring about Aarong, a now nationwide and hugely successful department store created to sell products made primarily by disadvantaged women. The job creation program also spawned other business initiatives, including Saidpur Enterprises, Jute Works and Prokritee. These fair-trade businesses are now independent of MCC and are still creating jobs for disadvantaged women and bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars for their families.

In its early years of involvement in Bangladesh, MCC worked through other Private Voluntary Development Organizations (PVDOs) and with different government agencies to implement its relief and development programs. However, towards the mid-seventies, MCC began to directly implement agriculture and job creation programs. During this period, which lasted until after 2000, MCC placed highly qualified personnel to conduct research into agricultural production and job creation. These researchers worked at the grassroots level to find solutions to problems in these sectors.

During this time, MCC adopted the approach that Bangladeshi national staff should not usually make a career working for MCC, but should typically move on from MCC after a few years. This bias, coupled with a policy of three-year expatriate personnel circulating through the program, led to short-term institutional memory which in turn caused some innate weaknesses in the organization. One of these weaknesses was the lack of sustained leadership at the top due to operating with purely voluntary workers. Changes in leadership every three-to-five year caused the program to suffer. A large organization such as MCC Bangladesh would have benefited greatly from long-term leadership to provide stability, consistent direction and improved morale.

MCC Bangladesh’s job creation program spawned several business initiatives, including Saidpur Enterprises, Jute Works and Prokritee. these fair trade businesses are now independent of MCC and are still creating jobs for disadvantaged women and bringing in hundres of thousand of dollars for their families.

From 1972 to 2000, expatriate volunteers were the mainstay for research and extension activities in both job creation and agriculture for MCC Bangladesh. After 2000, MCC’s methodology changed drastically from “direct programming” to working through “partners.” This approach had a disadvantage in that it removed MCC from direct contact with the people it was trying to help. It was also not very successful in placing expatriate workers with partners to conduct research or extension activities as the partners chosen lacked the resources to: 1) invest in research in and development of new technological approaches and 2) work with government departments to employ expatriates. Despite these disadvantages, this shift in methodology towards partnership became more attractive as Bangladesh developed skilled people of its own who created and staffed Bangladeshi organizations and the government became more and more reluctant to allow expatriates to serve in the country as development or relief workers.

Regardless of the many changes to the program over the years, MCC’s efforts in Bangladesh have always focused on the poor, disadvantaged and those in need of aid. Its concern has always been for those who feel powerless to progress on their own, giving them the tools they need to rise out of poverty into a sustainable existence.

Derek D’Silva worked with MCC Bangladesh in multiple capacities from 1974 to 2011, most recently as MCC Bangladesh director.


India

Mennonite Central Committee in India has changed significantly over the decades. My life too has been changed through my association with MCC. After receiving assistance through MCC’s Vocational Training program as a young woman, I joined MCC India’s staff, where I have served for over 39 years. This service has been a tremendous honour—a journey of love, care, hope, strength and strong faith in God’s love.

Our work patterns have changed and so has the office environment. Today we have many more electronic gadgets compared to our old typewriters. While today we almost always have electricity, in the past we worked amidst power cuts for several hours a day.

More than 300 Indian institutions received canola oil, milk powder, soap, canned chicken and wheat through these MCC distributions, providing essential care for many children in schools and the elderly in old age homes.

MCC’s work in Kolkata is well-known by residents, especially because of the humanitarian resource items that MCC distributed for many years to schools, orphanages and old age homes. More than 300 institutions received canola oil, milk powder, soap, canned chicken and wheat through these MCC distributions, providing essential care for many children in schools and the elderly in old age homes.

The closing of the distribution program in the 1990s brought a lot of anxiety. MCC began to focus more on development work and thus did not want its partner institutions to become dependent on MCC but rather to look beyond handouts. MCC encouraged them to develop proposals for income generation activities. However, this did not always work as hoped. For example, the mission of the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa’s mission, with which MCC worked, is to feed the poor and hungry. They do not have the means to start an income generation program. Rather they are called to give service and to date they are still taking care of orphans, the mentally challenged, the destitute and the dying.

Our education program is now more focused on access to quality education than simply on access, but still in India access to education, period, is a pressing need. The one-to-one educational sponsorship that MCC India used to operate had a personal touch and fostered relationships between sponsors and children. Each year the students sent Christmas Greetings with a letter and card, which the students enjoyed doing. This one-to-one relationship between student and sponsor got lost with the change in focus towards strengthening schools as institutions. We in the Kolkata office still maintain contact with students. When we see a student get a job after years of struggle through schooling and training, that brings satisfaction and joy to our work and the change we see in the family later is remarkable. MCC India has transformed many lives and brought smiles to the faces of students and their families. Compassion and love have made a difference in individual lives.

Achinta Das (left) and Ayesha Kader present a skit as MCC staff, along with their families, celebrated Christmas 2017 at MCC’s office in Kolkata, India. (MCC photo/ Colin Vandenberg)

MCC stands out among other funding agencies because MCC respects each partner agency with whom we work. We care for people and we listen and implement our work in a just way. We trust our partners’ good work. We work as partners and do not make them feel that we are the donors and they are the receivers. Yes, we need our work done, too, so we are transparent from the beginning of the project with partners, their board members and participants about our expectations. We also share with them about MCC’s work and who supports MCC.

MCC carries out its mission without preaching the word of God. Rather, our staff live out the word of God, which one can see through their attitude, behaviour, respect for each other, compassion, just dealing and love. That is why many of the people whom we come across want to join MCC’s staff or want to become a Mennonite. I pray that this mission carries on bringing faith in Christ.

In our office, we always say, “This is God’s work and He will surely guide us through.” MCC is so fortunate to have worked with God-fearing people like Mother Teresa, the late Brother T.V. Mathews, the late Sister Florence, Dr. Johnny Oommen and many others who have served and continue to serve with compassion, love and hope. These partners and spiritual leaders are our strength and help us to be gracious, kind, humble and helpful to each other in times of need.

MCC continues to be a strong support to the impoverished and marginalized and works hard to meet the needs of the people. MCC is known for its simplicity, justice, listening attitude and commitment to building the capacity of the poor. God bless MCC!

Ayesha Kader is education sector coordinator for MCC India. She has worked with MCC for four decades.


Bolivia

Direct implementation has given way over the past decade or two to partner accompaniment.

I have worked with MCC Bolivia since 1995, first as a technical officer and more recently as rural program coordinator. In these roles, I have carried out evaluations of MCC’s development programs. These evaluations have revealed that the strengths of MCC’s work are its emphases on connections, interpersonal relationships and friendships. Bolivian communities have recognized the commitment and dedication shown by MCC workers throughout the project implementation process. From the beginning to the end of their service terms, MCC workers are reminded of the importance of accompanying marginalized communities and the churches and community-based organizations that work with them. The relationships MCC workers build with Bolivians continue even after MCC staff return to their countries of origin.

Patrocinio Garvizu (from left),
Doug Beane and Cresencia Garcia
gathered with a local family in
Juan Ramos, an isolated mountain
community in Bolivia, to sort beans
that were just harvested. Edwin
and Maricela Calderon, two of the
four children in the family, helped
with the task. Garvizu and Garcia,
both national staff, worked with
community members to set priorities
for agriculture-related projects.
(MCC photo/Linda Shelly)
Patrocinio Garvizu (from left),
Doug Beane and Cresencia Garcia
gathered with a local family in
Juan Ramos, an isolated mountain
community in Bolivia, to sort beans
that were just harvested. Edwin
and Maricela Calderon, two of the
four children in the family, helped
with the task. Garvizu and Garcia,
both national staff, worked with
community members to set priorities
for agriculture-related projects.
(MCC photo/Linda Shelly)

Throughout my time with MCC, we have consistently worked to improve food security and access to safe water and sanitation facilities and to minimize the risk of violence faced by vulnerable communities. Even amidst this consistent focus, however, one can note shifts. For example, in the past MCC implemented its own projects in rural and urban communities, with a focus on the city and provinces of the Santa Cruz department. Direct implementation has given way over the past decade or two to partner accompaniment. A related shift during these past two decades has been a reduction in the number of MCC service workers assigned to live within rural communities as part of MCC’s rural development program in Bolivia. MCC continues to place workers, but its focus is now on supporting and accompanying partner organizations as those organizations, rather than MCC staff, implement rural development projects in eastern and western Bolivia.

In the past, MCC Bolivia focused its program on resettling Low German Mennonite, Quechua and Aymara families who arrived in the east of the country in search of land for building houses and growing crops. Migration today continues to be a challenge facing rural communities, as these communities struggle to meet water and food security needs. MCC continues to walk alongside farming communities, both native Indigenous and Low German Mennonite, in supporting agricultural diversification, adaptation to changing climates and cross-communal collaboration and learning.

Exchange visits with other MCC programs have been extremely valuable for MCC Bolivia staff and our partners. So, for example, an exchange visit with MCC programs in Bangladesh and Central America allowed us to share ideas about how to support and strengthen local organizations, what effective conservation agriculture programs look like, how to plan agricultural development work in a way that maximizes food security and how to accompany rural communities as they face changing climates.

Although international NGO development projects are welcome in Bolivia, they should be part of a development plan promoted by the Bolivian state. MCC’s projects, like the work of other international NGOs, are monitored more carefully today than before by government authorities. MCC has worked hard to meet Bolivian government expectations, while remaining constant in its commitment to accompany marginalized communities and standing firm in its call to serve in the name of Christ.

Patrocinio Garvizu has worked for MCC in Bolivia for twenty-five years, most recently as MCC Bolivia’s rural program coordinator. Originally from a Quechua community in western Bolivia, he has lived for many years in eastern Bolivia with his wife and two children.


Haiti

MCC was talking about protecting natural resources and the importance of trees since it started working in Haiti, long before other NGOs and local organizations began worrying about erosion and deforestation in the country. It has always had a long-term vision for sustainability.

I have seen many things in my years with MCC in Haiti. MCC’s history here is long—it is a sixty-year legacy of focusing on people and building local capacity in Haiti. I myself am an example of MCC’s investment in long-term and sustainable development through people. When I was called to work for MCC as a young man, almost forty years ago, I had no idea this would be my life. I could not imagine all that would happen in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley through MCC.

MCC’s work in Haiti has always placed a strong emphasis on building up local organizations and equipping local people. This has consistently been our strength. MCC has maintained a focus on community building and mobilization of community cooperation groups called gwoupman in Haitian kreyòl. MCC has prioritized accompanying the most vulnerable and worked to empower women through its programs. It has built respect for natural resources and the environment and has always maintained a focus on peace, justice and long-term change.

When I think of MCC’s legacy in Haiti, I think of the green trees that cover so many mountains that used to be barren deserts, the streams that now run again in river beds that had been dry for decades, the birds that have returned and the faces of all the people with whom we have worked to make this happen.

MCC was talking about protecting natural resources and the importance of trees since it started working in Haiti, long before other NGOs and local organizations began worrying about erosion and deforestation in the country. It has always had a long-term vision for sustainability. MCC’s work was best when we held fast to that empowering vision. A commitment to long-term sustainability is why MCC Haiti has always invested in trees. MCC helps people learn how to care for their own natural resources, like the soil, trees and water sources, helping them understand the necessity of protecting these essential resources. To build on what people have, rather than always importing solutions from the outside—that has been our focus. If we can’t protect what we have, we cannot live well or long in Haiti.

The most challenging times for MCC was during the years of military control after the Duvalier rulers. It became really challenging for MCC to work in these years. During that time there were practical challenges that kept us from doing the work as well as the spiritual and psychological challenges that come from living under fear and repression. We couldn’t plant trees and we couldn’t organize trainings to conserve the soil to help people plant better. But the most difficult thing was that we could not hold meetings or bring community members together. We could not mobilize. We could not put our hands together to support one another. This was the reality during the military years. Today we are faced with political problems again, the worst since that time. This is always our challenge in Haiti, to be on the ground, doing the work despite the political problems around us and the people that want to divide us and pull us apart.

Jean Remy Azor worked with
Jefte Saingelus, the son of Joseph
Saingelus (also MCC Haiti staff), to
unload bags of food for relief after
the January 2010 earthquake that
devastated parts of Haiti. The photo
was taken in late January 2010 at
the MCC office in Port-au-Prince.
(MCC photo/Ben Depp)

When I think of MCC’s legacy in Haiti, I think of the green trees that cover so many mountains that used to be barren deserts, the streams that now run again in river beds that had been dry for decades, the birds that have returned and the faces of the people with whom we have worked to make this happen. We have shown people that a sustainable, hopeful future is possible and is worth investing in. People now believe that trees can be a source of income and have enough value for people to buy and plant them with the little money they have. There are communities where MCC works that now have their own self-supporting tree nurseries. We have created a business spirit around trees, for people to enter the tree business, to invest back in their own communities. MCC has created a spirit of hope that motivates people to invest in the future. They now see buying trees as something that is important because trees have economic and environmental value—people want to invest in trees because they have hope and believe they have the power to change their future. You cannot put a price on this change in mindset.

MCC’s staff and partners, in the way they do their work, their passion for their work and the way that they live out their values through service, are truly engaged in service in the name of Christ. Such service is MCC’s greatest success and is the seed of enduring development planted here in Haiti.

Jean Remy Azor is executive director of MCC Haiti partner, Konbit Peyizan. He worked previously with MCC Haiti for 37 years.


Nigeria

Reviewing MCC Nigeria’s history, one can see several programmatic shifts. For example, MCC’s main engagement during its initial years in Nigeria involved placing teachers from Canada and the U.S. in Nigerian schools as part of MCC’s Teachers Abroad Program (TAP). As Nigerians began graduating more teachers from universities and teacher colleges, MCC’s program expanded into a variety of other sectors, such as agricultural development, health care outreach, afforestation and more. The seeds of new ideas were planted, with some sprouting, blossoming and growing into oak trees and with others dying off. Other shifts over the past decades included:

  1. A transition from primarily engaging Nigerian partners through the secondment of MCC workers to also providing grants to support partners’ visions;
  2. A shift from churches being MCC’s primary or even exclusive partners to MCC also developing partnerships with organizations identified with other faiths (in Nigeria’s case, Islam);
  3. A movement from relationship building as MCC’s primary programmatic mode towards the adoption of results-based programming;
  4. A shift from MCC program leadership coming exclusively from Canada and the United States to Nigerians such as myself being able to take up a leadership role in my own country, a shift that values the depth of cultural and contextual knowledge Nigerians bring to MCC’s work in Nigeria.

Despite the changes in some areas of MCC’s operations in Nigeria, some things have remained constant, such as:

• working alongside partners in relationships of mutuality;
• being present to share in the joys, sufferings and challenges of the Nigerian people in the communities where MCC operates;
• building relationships with churches and vulnerable communities;
• valuing and connecting with Nigerians as people made in God’s image.

Matthew Tangbuin is MCC Nigeria representative. He has worked for MCC for 21 years.


Laos

Over the four decades of its presence in Laos, MCC has been actively involved in projects ranging from addressing the problem of unexploded ordinance (UXO), organizing teacher training, providing needed supplies for children’s education and implementing complex integrated rural development projects aimed at improving food security, nutrition and sanitation in remote villages. Throughout these varied projects, what has remained constant is an emphasis on peacebuilding. However, the focus of MCC’s peacebuilding has changed over the years, shifting from initially helping farmers come to grips with deaths from bombies to more recently helping to resolve land issues and offer conflict resolution training in rural communities.

What I believe characterizes MCC at its best has been working closely with villagers, sharing their triumphs and their heartaches, learning from them and witnessing slow but steady improvement in their lives.

Reflecting on my years with MCC, what stands out for me, and what I believe characterizes MCC at its best, has been working closely with villagers, sharing their triumphs and their heartaches, learning from them and witnessing slow but steady improvement in their lives. Our reward has been a sense of fulfillment in seeing renewed hope, empowerment and gratitude in the eyes of those we helped, such as the boy whose eyesight was restored after being injured by a bombie explosion and then rushed to the hospital by MCC.

If ever there was a desperate need in Laos, it was to clear bombies (unexploded bomblets) dropped by the U.S. military onto farmers’ fields in the north of the country at the height of the U.S.-led war in neighboring Vietnam. Farmers could not grow their rice crops because of the bombies— or, when they tried, many were killed and injured. In 1975, in collaboration with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), MCC initiated efforts to reduce the ongoing damage caused by unexploded bombs and bomblets. In true MCC fashion, the MCC team worked directly with farmers, supplying shovels, oxen, plows and a shielded tractor to clear the land. This method of bombie clearance, while it had a positive impact, was inefficient and, shielded tractors aside, not always safe.

Through advocacy and public engagement, MCC sought over the ensuing twenty years to raise awareness about how unexploded bombies put Lao farmers and their families at daily risk. Then, after two decades of effort, MCC partnered with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) from the United Kingdom. In 1994 alone, MCC and MAG destroyed more than 4,000 pieces of unexploded ordinance!

In its health and integrated rural development projects, MCC has used the same effective approach of working closely with villagers in remote districts of provinces such as Huaphan, Phong Saly, Vientiane and Saysomboun. Working with village leadership, we determined and addressed their most pressing needs. Our approach worked, helping to alleviate poverty and illness. I have countless memories of seeing villagers bringing their sick children to see the MCC medical doctor early in the morning, before the dispensary was opened, grateful for access to medical care.

I have countless memories of seeing villagers bringing their sick children to see the MCC medical doctor early in the morning, before the dispensary was opened, grateful for access to medical care.

We had many challenges. Travel to visit poor families in remote villages was time-consuming and expensive. For the bombie clearance, MCC and the Lao government lacked technical expertise, so finding efficient and safe ways to remove bombies proved time-consuming. Raising awareness about the bombie problem took too long—it was almost twenty years after the war that the bombie problem became globally recognized.

Over the decades, MCC Laos staff have learned the value of working closely with communities, building up community peacebuilding skills, collaborating amicably with partners and various government entities (from village councils to government departments and ministries) and the centrality of the wellbeing of those we are here to help. When we have kept these principles in mind, we have had success in every endeavor we have undertaken.

Hien Phammachanh served with MCC Laos from 1984 to 2010, most recently as co-representative.


Klassen, George. The Rower Pump. Dhaka: MCC Bangladesh, 1979.

Patience and partnership: two tensions in the development of MCC health programming

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

MCC’s health programing has taken many shapes over the last one hundred years, including distribution of medical supplies in 1940s Europe during war and post-war reconstruction, staffing mental health hospitals in the United States during World War II, construction and management of clinics and hospitals around the world from the 1940s to the 1980s, HIV responses in the first two decades of this century, support for water and sanitation projects and responses over the past decade to trauma and sexual violence. Throughout this complex history, two central and unresolved tensions have persisted in MCC health programming: the tension between shorter-term relief and long-term change and between direct management and partnership.

Short-term relief or long-term change?

Short term solutions, like providing temporary staff to struggling mental hospitals in the U.S. as part of the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program, gave way to research and advocacy for systemic changes and the creation of new institutions like Mennonite Mental Health Service in the U.S and the Mental Health Program in Canada.

MCC was founded in 1920 by Mennonites to provide short-term humanitarian aid to coreligionists in Europe. During World War II and its aftermath, much of MCC’s international programming was built on a short-term relief model, including in health, where the focus was on sending supplies and personnel to address immediate medical needs. However, by the early 1940s, as MCC put down roots in more diverse contexts, its approach to health began to shift. As MCC worker Robert W. Geigley explained in a 1943 evaluation of struggling health programs in Paraguay, “here you cannot assume that [short term] material aid will bring any lasting result. You save a man from syphilis and he dies of tuberculosis. You cure him of TB, and he goes back to the same home with the same poor food and diet, and in six months he has TB again. . . . The approach to problems here must be very different than in the case of European areas . . . we therefore [propose] a long, slow developing program, with the idea of starting at the bottom with broad projects . . . looking for results only over a period of ten to twenty years.”

This push toward longer-term impact in health work can be seen across MCC programs from the 1940s to the 1960s. Short-term solutions, like providing temporary staff to struggling mental hospitals in the U.S. as part of the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program, gave way to research and advocacy for systemic changes and the creation of new institutions like Mennonite Mental Health Service in the U.S. and the Mental Health Program in Canada. Similarly, clinical staff placed at non-MCC hospitals around the world quickly realized that if the fundamental systems of healthcare and the drivers of ill health were not addressed, their efforts would result in only superficial impact. This realization in turn led to a flurry of hospital and clinic construction and management around the world: in the 1950s alone, this included the construction and management of clinics in China, Haiti, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Paraguay, Philippines, Taiwan, Uruguay and the United States. Similarly, clinical health programs serving urgent needs, such as the MCC-run hospital in Grande-Rivière-du-Nord, Haiti, frequently spun off projects serving longer-term needs like water and sanitation, education, agriculture and reforestation.

Another persistent tension in MCC’s health programming has been between letting diverse local partners drive programming and retaining more centralized control.

However, MCC has remained committed to addressing immediate needs in health programing, which has created a productive tension with the desire to support long-term change. For example, in Haiti, MCC work began with short-term medical interventions in the 1950s. It started to pivot away from short-term medicine in the 1970s in favor of working for longer-term systemic change. This shift peaked in the early 2000s, when MCC focused entirely on health-related advocacy and basic water and sanitation infrastructure. However, by the late 2010s, MCC had returned to a more balanced approach between these poles, with both long-term public health and advocacy work as well as direct support for interventions addressing mental health, sexual violence and acute child malnutrition.

Partnership: direct management or partnership?

Maria Jose washes her face with
a bucket of water at a well in the
Daf neighborhood of Caia in 2008.
Living with seasonal drought in rural
Mozambique makes growing crops
and personal hygiene difficult. In 2007,
through MCC, a mechanical engineer
specializing in hand-powered well
drilling arrived to resume and expand
an initial effort done two years earlier.
(MCC photo/Matthew Lester)

Another persistent tension in MCC’s health programming has been between letting diverse local partners drive programming and retaining more centralized control. This tension is closely intertwined with the tension between long-term impact and short-term results. However, this history is not a simple path from direct control to local partnership. Even by 1944, MCC’s health work in Paraguay included pairing a local apprentice with each foreign doctor MCC sent to Paraguay, with the vision that the apprentice would eventually take over the work. Similarly, when MCC started medical work in different countries for the first time, it nearly always did so by working through existing institutions, such as Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti, Cuauhtemoc Regional Hospital in Mexico or the Hebron General Hospital run by the Anglican Church in the Jordanian-controlled West Bank. However, over time these seeds of partnership grew to include more and more national staff, more local organizations as partners and less reliance on imported staff and solutions. In the 1970s, MCC accelerated this move away from directly implemented programming and toward a partnership model of programming.

However, despite its clear advantages, reliance on partnerships has brought recurrent challenges and a counterbalancing desire for more direct control, common priorities and uniform standards. Early support for partner hospitals in the 1940s and 1950s quickly moved toward directly running hospitals when MCC staff grew frustrated with lack of control, different quality standards and failures of partners to fully align with MCC values. By the 1970s and 1980s, however, many of these directly-run hospitals were turned over to local partners and staff as MCC emphasized local ownership once again. At the same time, while relying increasingly on partners and local staff to implement health programming, MCC showed a growing willingness to set central program priorities and standards. For example, while MCC’s Generations at Risk HIV initiative in the first decade of this century was implemented by partners, it set more centralized direction, prioritization of approaches and minimum standards of care than had been present before.

Finding Balance

Over the past century of health programming, the relative emphasis within these two sets of tensions has been constantly shifting over time and between places. This history is not a clear evolution from bad to good, or even from one model of work to another. Rather, it represents a slow and largely decentralized evolution of MCC’s approach to health programming that attempts to be responsive to the many diverse contexts where MCC works, the push and pull of various stakeholders and the gradual accumulation of experience and wisdom.

Paul Shetler Fast is MCC health coordinator, based in Goshen, Indiana.


Packard, Randall M. A History of Global Health: Interventions into the Lives of Other Peoples. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.

Rosen, George. A History of Public Health. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.

Theme issue on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly. 7/1 (Winter 2019). Available at https://mcc.org/media/resources/8506.

Learning and transformation: tracing shifts across MCC’s education program

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Throughout its one hundred-year history, MCC has supported learning opportunities for millions of people in the United States, Canada and around the world. In the process, MCC has passed through its own arc of transformational learning as new experiences opened workers’ eyes, leading many to see themselves in a new light and even rethink their most basic assumptions about education itself.

MCC has supported education by sending teachers to other countries, providing scholarships for students, shipping millions of school kits and working to strengthen local partner schools. This education support has been driven by a belief that education improves people’s individual and collective lives by building knowledge, skills and values that prepare people for vocations and empower them to find new solutions to community problems.

In Kolkata, India in 2012, civil engineering students at Don Bosco Ashlayam’s Self-Employment Research Institute (SERI) work on a construction project. MCC’s Global Family program supported student Kanchan Kumari Shaw, left, and other students with financial need who qualified for enrollment in vocational training courses at SERI. (MCC photo/Lynn Longenecker)

MCC workers have also learned that formal schooling has a more problematic side, one of unintended negative impacts. In her 1977 reflection on Integrating Education and Development (a study written 15 years after MCC began intensive support for formal education as a key solution for problems in Africa), Nancy Heisey reached this staggering conclusion: “We have seen that education, defined as schooling, is one of the roots of the development problem for nations struggling with the demands of a modern world.”

This article examines MCC’s education approaches over the past century, while analyzing the successes and challenges MCC has faced in its education work. It will also explore concerns that MCC workers like Heisey raised about educational programs and MCC’s ongoing search for ways to support education that is liberative and empowering rather than being a “root of the problem.”

MCC’s first few decades focused on famine relief in Russia, the resettlement of Mennonite refugees to Paraguay and post-World War II relief efforts in Europe. Education was not MCC’s primary focus in these decades but was nevertheless sometimes part of these early efforts—for example, MCC supported children’s homes in Europe during and after the Second World War as well as schools in the Mennonite colonies in Paraguay. At this stage, the emphasis on education was more as a tool for shaping values and identity than as a tool for development. Specifically, these education initiatives sought to shape the values and identity of Mennonite communities and MCC workers.

We have seen that education, defined as schooling, is one of the roots of the development problem for nations struggling with the demands of a modern world.

—Nancy Heisey, 1977

Mennonite groups that had settled in Paraguay with MCC support insisted on having their own schools. A 1944 report quoted a common adage that held, “As the school, so the church,” explaining that the church is “vitally concerned with keeping absolute control over matters of education.” In the 1940s, some teachers in the Paraguayan Mennonite schools who had become adherents of Germany’s National Socialist ideology were using their influence to promote Nazi values among young people in the colonies. This raised great concern both within the Paraguayan Mennonite colonies and within MCC and generated calls for finding teachers who were “loyal to Mennonite Christian principles.” In a 1946 report to the Executive Committee, MCC’s director in Paraguay recommended that MCC should “use its influence [within Paraguayan Mennonite colonies] in the direction of securing the right kind of teachers.”

This understanding of education as a tool for shaping values and identity was also reflected in MCC-operated alternative service programs in the 1940s and 1950s. MCC and Mennonite church leaders recognized that alternative service terms had life-changing effects on Mennonite young adults and began to intentionally create orientations, trainings and curricula to maximize this transformational learning opportunity and so strengthen commitment to traditional Mennonite convictions. The MCC Peace Section was established in 1942 in part to “lead and aid our churches in the education of the youth in the ways of peace and non-resistance in keeping with our confession of faith as based on the word of God.”

In a 1947 Peace Section meeting, Rufus Franz gave a passionate call to strengthen MCC peace education. He argued that a person cannot “fully live according to the principles of peace” without a “heart changed experience.” He granted that education alone cannot bring about this miraculous transformation of one’s heart but did insist that education can “make the conditions so favorable that the miracle can be realized.” This could happen through Christian service: “we must help them [people in service] to lose themselves in order to save themselves, in Christian activity and service.”

From the 1950s onwards, MCC began to support educational initiatives that aimed to further economic development by securing education for more young people in the so-called developing world. So, for example, MCC launched scholarship programs to increase access to education for disadvantaged groups. In 1954, MCC began paying schooling costs for orphaned boys in Korea. This program of individual scholarships to help children access formal education soon expanded to other countries. These scholarships were funded by individual donors who received regular reports about the children they supported. This model eventually came to be known as Global Family, growing to over 2,000 students by 1968 and continuing for nearly fifty years in different forms.

Suha Namrwouty, age 6, learns letters and sounds from Ifidal Abu Madil at the Shoroq wa-Amal (Sunrise and Hope) children’s center in the Khan Younis Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Palestine in 2004. MCC’s Global Family program supported arts and sports and academic tutoring at the center for children who were growing up in the midst of poverty and violence. (MCC photo/Ryan Beiler)

MCC wrestled with tensions related to the sponsorship model. On the one hand, it generated strong interest from some supporters because of the sense of connection it created, giving donors a tangible glimpse onto the impact of their donations, and of course it provided life-changing educational opportunities for many thousands of children. On the other hand, the individual sponsorship model tended to reinforce a paternalistic dynamic between giver and receiver, created challenges related to participant selection and added a significant administrative load for MCC staff to facilitate individual connections. In the early years of this century, MCC stopped producing reports for donors about individual children, instead providing reports about MCC’s work with specific schools or informal education programs. This coincided with a programmatic shift within MCC’s education program towards strengthening educational quality and away from an exclusive focus on access.

MCC also supported education as a tool for development by placing teachers in schools. The first large-scale effort to place MCC teachers in schools was in Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada beginning in 1956. Building on this experience, MCC established the Teachers Abroad Program (TAP) in 1962 in response to a call from newly independent African nations who believed formal education was the key to economic development and modernization. Mennonite college graduates motivated by a desire to serve were also looking for opportunities to use their professional skills to make a positive difference in the world. TAP eventually placed over 200 teachers per year, providing over 2,800 “teacher-service years” over a quarter century, primarily in countries across Africa. MCC also placed many teachers across the United States during the sixties and seventies through the Voluntary Service program, including in Cleveland, Atlanta, Appalachia, St. Louis and Mississippi.

The reflections of MCC teachers about their work from the 1950s onwards tell the story of MCC’s own education as an organization. The majority of these teachers were white Mennonite college graduates driven by a desire to make the world a better place and inspired by the values of peace and justice nurtured by Mennonite colleges, churches and MCC itself. They went out with the best of intentions, motivated by visions of what they could accomplish, yet their service experiences prompted critical questions, as these workers’ worlds were turned upside down. Put bluntly, for many MCC teachers their own transformative education consisted in cracks in the internalized, subconscious sense of superiority over the people they were there to serve. The first crack was to simply notice these internalized attitudes. Whether in post-colonial Africa or in the white supremacist context of the United States, white MCC teachers began to realize that while education had the potential to empower, it was also shaping others in their image: success was understood to mean that students could eventually become teachers and continue the system their white teachers had set up. By 1970, a TAP report recognized this dynamic and described a hope for the gradual emergence of an “educational system which is more authentically Kenyan in character, and purpose.”

Whether in post-colonial Africa or in the white supremacist context of the United States, white MCC teachers began to realize that while education had the potential to empower, it was also shaping others in their image: success was understood to mean that students could eventually become teachers and continue the system their white teachers had set up.

In 1977, Nancy Heisey wrote her analysis of education and development, highlighting fundamental problems of the education system MCC supported and promoted: this system cultivated values of individualism and consumerism, reinforced a worldview of white, Western superiority and fostered a pyramidal societal model in which an elite few succeed while the majority are discarded and left unprepared for a vocation or life in a rural context. Such educational systems, Heisey observed, intensified rather than diminished inequality between rich and poor, an observation that led to her conclusion that formal schooling was “one of the roots of the development problem.”

The lessons of this era led to a slightly more humble, self-critical approach by MCC from the 1980s onwards. When MCC began sending English teachers to China in the early 1980s, the language was markedly different than when the first TAP teachers were sent to Africa twenty years earlier. Instead of helping “emerging nations . . . compress a century of development into the span of a decade” (MCC Workbook 1962 about TAP) or helping “the local protestant churches and overseas missions to inherit the land” (MCC Workbook 1965 about TAP), the new China Educational Exchange was described in 1982 as “an unusual opportunity for learning and serving in this moment of history. This is a venture of faith. In this program is the expectation, joy and wonder of growth. Neither do our Chinese friends nor we know where these exchanges will lead.”

In 1990, a landmark gathering in Lesotho brought together MCC staff and African educators and church leaders for an All-Africa Education Conference to evaluate MCC’s involvement in African formal education. The report from this conference echoed the critiques that Nancy Heisey had articulated 13 years earlier and concluded with the assertion that “MCC must listen to what Africans are saying.” The conference seemed to both acknowledge the flaws in the education system and affirm that MCC should stay engaged and support African efforts to improve and reshape the system.

The awakening awareness of white, colonial privilege in international contexts paralleled a growing recognition by the white majority within MCC of their privilege in the U.S. and Canada as well.

In the last quarter-century, MCC began to use the language of partnership and emphasize the idea of local ownership. Together, the emphases on partnership and local ownership have resulted in great diversity in MCC-supported educational ventures. Education partners today include early childhood education centers, primary and secondary schools, after-school programs, vocational training, peace education and education for children with disabilities. In this era of partnership, MCC’s role in education has shifted from direct teacher placement and MCC implementing educational programs to helping local schools and organizations do their educational work more effectively. MCC support now often comes in the form of grants to partners to buy materials, pay for activities, train staff and more. MCC staff facilitate reflective learning processes—commonly called planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting, or PMER—to help ensure accountability and transparency and to capture lessons learned that can strengthen the work or be shared with other partners. Emphases within MCC’s current education program include: strengthening school management committees to increase parent and local community involvement; improving gender equity in education; making education more relevant by focusing on practical vocational skills in addition to traditional academic subjects; strengthening child safeguarding practices to prevent and respond effectively to child abuse; and building teacher capacity to work with children who have experienced trauma.

Learning has been at the core of MCC’s work for one hundred years, as MCC has simultaneously worked to provide learning opportunities for others and intentionally tried to learn from its own experience. It is exciting to imagine what new opportunities and lessons are waiting in the years ahead.

Lynn Longenecker is MCC education coordinator, based in Akron, Pennsylvania.


Heisey, Nancy. Integrating Education and Development. Development Monograph Series. Volume 1. Akron, PA: MCC, 1977.

Theme issue on “Community Participation in Education.” Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly. 7/3 (Summer 2019). Available at: https://mcc.org/media/resources/8812.

Reflections from the Teachers Abroad Program (TAP), 1962-1985

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

“This is my assignment in a nutshell. I am an American Mennonite in the Republic of Congo teaching French to Angolan refugees in an American Baptist Mission Secondary School whose director is a Canadian.”

— Agnes Schutz, quoted in “TAP Teachers Describe Teaching Situations,” MCC News Service, November 13, 1964.

In 1962, in response to calls from African churches and government ministries and as an outgrowth of a study carried out by Mennonite educator and MCC leader Robert Kreider, MCC inaugurated the Teachers Abroad Program (TAP). Building on MCC’s experience in the 1950s placing hundreds of teachers in remote parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, MCC founded TAP to support newly independent African countries in their quests to build up an educated populace and to support African churches as they sought to contribute to African liberation and independence. At an All Africa Churches Christian Educational Conference in 1962, African church leaders declared that “The leadership of African countries, in the future, will depend upon the secondary schools of today. Indeed, great emphasis has been given to the role of secondary schools in producing ‘top-level’ manpower and thereby contributing both to economic development to expanding public and social services. The Church should recognize that one of the greatest services it can give to the nation is to run secondary schools of the highest possible standard, both in academic attainment and in the values which they impart.”

I’m not really sure that I have made any [contribution]. It is only now, after one year of working, that I am beginning to feel that maybe I have something to offer.

Margaret steider, 1967

Over the ensuing two decades, MCC placed 768 teachers in 27 countries government-run schools in Botswana, the Republic of Congo (later Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DR Congo), Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria, and smaller numbers sent to Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Grenada, Greece, Indonesia, Jamaica, Lesotho, the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, Pakistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. TAP began tapering off in the mid-1970s, ending in 1985. In the course of their three-year service terms, TAP participants reflected on the challenges of teaching, the dynamics of life in contexts shaped by colonial legacies and the nature of Christian service. The excerpts below from MCC news releases and worker progress reports show TAP teachers engaged in such reflections.

Demanding teaching loads

During the last few years the Mennonite church has become widely known throughout East Africa. And one of the reasons for this has been the MCC Teachers Abroad Program.

Paul Kraybill, eastern Mennonite board of missions and charities, 1967

“‘To teach in East Africa in a mission school requires that one be versatile.’ This statement given in orientation before our departure from the U.S. in August 1962, certainly sums up the need of a teacher in Kenya. To illustrate this let me list some of the courses I have taught in the two terms since our arrival at the Kaimosi Girls Secondary School. First term my classes included African History, Geometry, Algebra, Arithmetic, British History, Biology, and General Science. Second term I have added to this list Geography. . . . Duties beyond that of teaching also present many opportunities for varied ‘talents.’ Speaking in chapel services, Sunday morning or evening services, teaching Sunday School classes, invigilating examinations or evening study hours, acting as night-watchman or maintenance man during the school holidays all add variety to a rather busy schedule. We also direct athletic events after school hours and each staff member is sponsor of a club or society such as crafts, dramatics, debate, music, or science.”

— David Yoder, “Teaching in East Africa,” received in Akron, PA, May 4, 1963

Student passion for education

Anthony Epp, one of twelve Teachers Abroad Program (TAP) participants who arrived in the Congo after a year of French study in Belgium, talks with a student at Sundi-Lutete Secondary School, Congo, in 1967. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Epp)
Anthony Epp, one of twelve Teachers Abroad Program (TAP) participants who arrived in the Congo after a year of French study in Belgium, talks with a student at Sundi-Lutete Secondary School, Congo, in 1967. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Epp)

“I have seen students coming to chapel at 6:30 am to begin another day. I have watched them copying blackboard outlines with dogged persistence, trying to understand European concepts so foreign to their culture. I have known high school students who think missing school is punishment. Then at noon I have seen them going to their crowded dormitories to prepare their skimpy meals. Beans or rice or salted fish are their T-bone steaks! Peanuts, bananas, and manioc serve as staple foods. I have struggled with them to stay awake for two hours in the afternoon on a windless day. I have watched them carry dripping buckets from the spring in the evening. There are clothes to wash, more studying, soccer (if there is time) and the evening meal to prepare. I have heard the study bell at seven.”

— Carroll Yoder, teacher in Sundi-Lutete, Republic of the Congo (now DR Congo), quoted in “Africa’s Student—The Compelling Dimension,” MCC News Service, January 22, 1965

“As we teach the students here, we wonder what struggles they really encounter: getting fees during these uncertain times in Nigeria, finding a faith that satisfies African needs, facing vast and complex changes from village life to city life. We pray that our stay in Nigeria will help the students of Ochaja Secondary School face the 20th century with bolder steps.”

— Dave Giesebrecht, quoted in “Education—Not a Magic Cure-All,” MCC News Service, November 15, 1968

TAP as Christian witness

“I’m not so much interested in whether five years from now anyone at Tumutumu [Kenya] is still using the syllabus for Religious Knowledge that I wrote. What I am interested in is whether the girls can see a difference in my life, and know that it is Christ Who makes me different. If they see this, then the logical conclusion is that He can make the same difference in their own lives.”

— Mim Stoltzus, quoted in Jean E. Snyder, “Shades of Tumutumu,” MCC News Service, January 24, 1969

“During the last few years the Mennonite church has become widely known throughout East Africa. And one of the reasons for this has been the MCC Teachers Abroad Program which is greatly appreciated. . . . It is making a very significant contribution to the Christian schools of these countries.”

— Paul Kraybill, Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, “Educator in Africa Says Time is Short, Task Urgent,” MCC News Service, October 27, 1967

TAP as transformative education for MCC workers

We TAPers are generally very idealistic people. (Maybe anyone under MCC is.)

Lois Shenk, 1968

“[O]ne of the most important things life here has taught me has been a greater sense of trust and dependence upon God in the everyday jobs we are called upon to do. Time and time again, when confronted with tasks for which I am not prepared and which I know are beyond all my natural ability, I have been amazed at the way in which He does them if they are given to Him. Often it is when you reach the end of your own strength and resources in a given task, and realize how completely powerless you are, that the power of God is most clearly revealed.”

— Judith Hilty (Tanganyika) to MCC administrator Urbane Peachey, June 8, 1964

“Being the only Mennonites in the country, we worship with people of different denominations and have been tremendously encouraged and enriched as we’ve shared our various Christian experiences. We think we’ve gained a new openness and appreciation for differing forms of Christian expression.”

— Ron Mathies, “The ‘Other’ Advantages and Opportunities of TAP,” MCC News Service, April 15, 1966

“By the time we were ready to leave [our student’s village in Nigeria], we had two live chickens, two huge stacks of bananas, other fruit and some eggs— all in appreciation of our visit. They couldn’t thank us enough for coming. Strange when it was we who were most blessed by the visit.”

— Bill and Marianne Thiessen, “Village Visit: A Highlight for Teachers in Nigeria,” MCC News Service, February 9, 1968

“It is much easier to think what this year [in Tanzania] has meant to me than trying to analyze the contribution which I have made. I’m not really sure that I have made any. It is only now, after one year of working, that I am beginning to feel that maybe I have something to offer.”

— Margaret Steider, “TAP: A Service with Adventure,” MCC News Service, October 20, 1967

Ronald Mathies, a participant in MCC’s Teachers Abroad Program (TAP), talks with students at Blantyre Secondary School in Malawi. Mathies completed three terms with TAP, and went on to become MCC’s Executive Director from 1996-2005. (MCC photo)

TAP workers seeking to learn new cultures

“A TAPer’s bookshelf is just about as cultural-ogical as they come… TAPers in East Africa have each had at least a lecture or two in Bantu theology by an anthropologist. In addition TAP Retreats are stimulating days of intense discussion—analysis of self and culture and an attempt to discover the role of the young Christian professional in bringing about the Kingdom of God in the hearts of men. We TAPers are generally very idealistic people. (Maybe anyone under MCC is.)”

— Lois Shenk, “Shouldn’t We Be a Little Frank—In the Name of Christ?” MCC News Service, July 19, 1968

“One can hardly relate effectively to the local community without being able to speak to people, and yet a short term hardly warrants enough time to be spent on language study to get reasonable facility in it. This is particularly true when one is in a high school situation in Kenya, for one can manage so well without knowing any language but English. But the longer I am here, the more embarrassing it becomes to go beyond the school gates and not be able to communicate with the rural people.”

—Judith Hilty to MCC administrator Robert Miller, September 20, 1964

Teaching and living amidst colonial legacies

“[D]o not be too critical of African nationalism and of newly independent African governments. You may frequently hear expatriates expounding on the view that Africans are not doing an adequate job of governing themselves. . . . it is my belief that, not only should a foreign worker refrain from being too critical, but he should be in basic sympathy with the nationalistic movement of the country in which he serves. . . . within certain limitations, a person need not forsake his convictions as a Christian in order to subscribe to this sympathetic attitude towards African nationalism.”

—Ken Lohrentz, “Attitudes of the TAP Teacher,” February 1965

“It is really difficult to enjoy the comforts of a nice house when one knows that one has such comforts because one has a white skin and when one learns that money which had been set aside to improve student quarters has been poured into the construction of one’s own comfortable house. Several times recently we have encountered the astounding philosophy that it is only natural to look after housing needs of white teachers before those of the Congolese who are already used to living in poor conditions. It is on hearing such attitudes from ‘missionaries’ that one begins to understand why missionaries are not always loved.”

— Anthony Epp, teacher in Sundi-Lutete, Republic of the Congo (now DR Congo), “Progress Report—March 1966,” April 2, 1966.

Lois Shenk, a participant in MCC’s Teachers Abroad Program (TAP), shown teaching Sunday school at Githumu Secondary School in Thika, Kenya, in 1967. (MCC photo/Willard Claassen)

Alain Epp Weaver directs strategic planning for MCC. Frank Peachey and Lori Wise serve as the MCC U.S. records manager and assistant, respectively.

Development

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

“Bread, in God’s name, bread.”

The cry for bread in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) one hundred years ago was for food. Mennonites in the United States and Canada responded and MCC was born. Only months later, the food to southern Russia was followed by tractors. Today, MCC’s work on behalf of the churches in Canada and the U.S. continues through relief, development and peace extended in the name of Christ. Some would say that these three follows each other chronologically, one after the other, but it would be more accurate to say that MCC’s relief, development and peace efforts are intertwined.

MCC bread distribution in Hamburg, Germany, ca. 1947. (MCC photo)

In Uganda today one sees the interconnectedness of relief, development and peace. MCC works with churches and community-based organizations as they respond to the immediate relief needs of communities while also addressing the trauma from rampant killing and abuse in their communities over years of violent unrest. Today, the work of development is also critically important in these same communities. In the Karamoja region, MCC works with the Church of Uganda as it teaches new agricultural skills to farmers who once herded cattle. When visiting a community to talk about the project, one woman told us the crops didn’t appear on their own but required hard work. Sand dams in this same community also provide water the people need to live healthy lives. The stories confirm a simple truth: when people are given the tools to make their lives better, they can thrive. This special centennial issue of Intersections features glimpses into MCC’s work in development over the past decades—work to improve education, healthcare, agricultural production, access to water and more. Articles analyze shifts in development approaches as well as offer analyses of specific development ventures. Of special importance in this issue are the voices of long-serving MCC national staff, who reflect on shifts, challenges faced, and lessons learned in MCC’s development work: listen carefully to the wisdom from these faithful MCCers.

Ron Byler and Ann Graber Hershberger are the MCC U.S. executive director and associate executive director, respectively.

MCC, local partnerships and humanitarian standards

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[Individual articles from the Winter 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

During the first MCC response in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) in the early 1920s, MCC worked with local Mennonite institutions and committees to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to respond to famine. While the humanitarian landscape has changed dramatically since MCC’s inception, MCC has continued to increase partnerships with local organizations, including local churches, faith-based organizations and other civil society organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to people impacted by conflict and disaster. In the last few decades, humanitarian principles and standards have significantly evolved to ensure more accountability to and ensure the rights of disaster-affected communities. MCC’s strength in responding to humanitarian crises is its wide network of local partners. MCC provides support based on requests from local organizations who are well connected to their local contexts and have access to affected communities. Because these organizations have longstanding relationships in their communities, they can respond quickly to emergency needs and offer assistance that is appropriate and responsive to ongoing needs and is sensitive to contextual challenges.

In June 1957, flour and cornmeal were distributed to storm victims in South Korea. In this photo, MCC service worker Joseph Smucker, of Goshen, Indiana helps to lift a tub of flour (weighing about 50 lbs) onto the head of a woman who is also carrying a baby on her back. Each recipient was allotted 5 lbs of flour per family member. (MCC photo)

MCC’s reliance on local partnerships also presents challenges, including in the ability to scale-up, and can cause tensions with humanitarian principles and standards. This article provides an overall summary of key humanitarian standards and the more recent emphasis on the localization of humanitarian assistance. It highlights examples of MCC’s response to various emergencies and how local partners enhance the quality and accountability of humanitarian assistance, while also noting areas of tension and growth.

Accountability to the people and communities affected by disasters stands at the centre of the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) adopted by international non-governmental organizations in 2015. Humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence form the key principles that govern humanitarian action. The CHS builds off earlier humanitarian conventions, codes of conduct, principles and standards developed by the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Sphere project and other humanitarian coalitions and standards organizations. The CHS outlines nine commitments which can be grouped into three overall categories: 1) timely access to quality humanitarian assistance which builds local capacities; 2) participation of, communication with and accountability to affected communities; and 3) a commitment to learning and building the capacity and effectiveness of humanitarian actors. The examples and discussion below show how MCC’s approach of partnering with local organizations interfaces with these standards.

At times, partner requests can be at odds with minimum standards and humanitarian principles. Local organizations are often faced with political and social pressures to respond to as many communities and people as possible, pressures which, if acted on, can dilute the quality of assistance.

At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2017, governments, international aid organizations and United Nations agencies committed to reshape the humanitarian sector, articulated in what has come to be called the Grand Bargain Commitments. One of these commitments is to increase support and funding for local and national organizations in humanitarian action, often referred to as the “localization agenda.” The UN Secretary General called for humanitarian assistance to be “as local as possible and as international as necessary”—this includes a call for private and government resources to support local agencies, rather than relying on large international humanitarian agencies, and to commit multi-year funding to enable better response capacity. These commitments are based on the recognition that local civil society actors are often the first to respond to humanitarian crises and are an ongoing presence in their communities before and after these crises.

The first group of humanitarian standards refers to the importance of providing timely, quality and appropriate assistance, including assistance that builds local capacity and avoids harm. The strength of MCC’s relief response stems from its wide network of over 500 local partners. Local organizations are more connected and responsive to the needs of people affected in the communities they serve. Due to MCC’s existing partnerships in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, MCC has been able over the past decade to facilitate its largest response to a humanitarian crisis since World War II. Following the Nepal earthquake in 2015, existing community development partners were able to quickly identify affected communities in remote areas and to identify and address the most urgent needs, despite huge communication and logistical challenges. During the Israeli military’s bombardment of Gaza in 2014, MCC was among the first international organizations to respond to the immediate food and shelter needs of affected people. In countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe, MCC’s ongoing agriculture and food security work with vulnerable communities has paved the way for MCC to also respond during food security crises. MCC’s existing community development and peacebuilding partnerships allow it to quickly respond to humanitarian crises because of the pre-existing program these partner organizations have with vulnerable groups.

On July 17, 2014, a truckload of food packages were distributed by MCC partner Zakho Small Villages Project at an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp in northern Iraq–most of the IDPs fled the city of Mosul after its takeover by Islamic State group (also known as ISIS). More than 230 heads of household received the packages which contained basic cooking staples such as rice, lentils, oil and other ingredients, as well as some basic hygiene items. Names not used for security reasons. (MCC photo/Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

At the same time, MCC has faced challenges in some large-scale disaster responses because MCC either did not have existing local partners, as when it responded to the Japan earthquake in 2011 and to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Following the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2014, MCC worked to form new partnerships in Banda Aceh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. MCC also built on local partnerships in India with other Canadian NGOs to form a multi-church agency response in southern India.

In the case of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, MCC had a broad network of local partners and significant resources to program. Over the course of MCC’s seven-year response, MCC undertook food security, shelter, water and sanitation and trauma healing responses through partnerships with Haitian organizations. MCC’s wide network of existing and new partners allowed MCC to mount an immediate, significant and multi-sectoral relief and recovery response. However, the final evaluation noted that MCC should have engaged with fewer partners and focused on fewer sectors. In a large-scale disaster response in which MCC raises significant resources and has a wide network of partners with urgent requests, it can be challenging to keep MCC’s overall response focused.

The capacity to provide timely and appropriate assistance depends on whether local partners have active programming and strong relationships in affected areas. When local partners have robust and active relationships with affected communities, they are also more likely to deliver quality and appropriate assistance. Food assistance is one of the most common requests that MCC receives from local partners. Local partners recommend culturally appropriate and quality food assistance. MCC’s local partners can help discern the proper modality of the humanitarian response (i.e., cash, vouchers or in-kind food baskets). When food baskets are identified as the best approach, local partners are well-positioned to determine the make-up of the food ration. Decisions about the mode and type of food items are then reviewed by MCC to ensure that they meet Sphere minimum standards, including standards that aim to ensure that households receive the required ration for dignity and survival. MCC and its partners together assess what shape humanitarian assistance initiatives should take, with partners bringing local knowledge about what communities name as the top priorities and about what they understand as appropriate, and with MCC assessing such requests through the lens of global humanitarian standards.

At times, partner requests can be at odds with minimum standards and humanitarian principles. Local organizations are often faced with political and social pressures to respond to as many communities and people as possible, pressures which, if acted on, can dilute the quality of assistance. MCC often pushes local organizations to focus their responses to meet minimum humanitarian standards for fewer communities and households, rather than diluting the response across too many recipients. When faced with overwhelming needs, MCC and its partners must maintain the overall principle of humanity, focusing on meeting the needs of the most affected communities to the necessary standard.

In this 2009 photo, Slavica Koncarevic (left), staff of MCC partner Bread of Life Belgrade (BOLB), distributes MCC canned turkey and blankets to members of the Roma community, a minority ethnic group that faces discrimination in education and employment. (MCC photo/Tim Friesen)

The second group of CHS principles relates to participation, communication and accountability. Affected people must help shape humanitarian responses, provide feedback and lodge complaints while those responses are underway and contribute to the evaluation of humanitarian responses. MCC has worked with various churches, faith-based organizations and other groups to set up or strengthen local disaster committees. These local committees will typically include local church leadership along with required skills, knowledge and representation from the affected community. In the case of MCC’s recent response to the crisis in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MCC worked with three Congolese Anabaptist church denominations to set-up local relief committees to develop and oversee the response, a multifaceted response targeting internally displaced Congolese that included food assistance, education support, livelihood recovery, trauma healing and peacebuilding components. The local relief committee offered input into the shape of the response, channeling feedback from youth leaders, the women’s commission of the church, church leadership and local government officials.

In addition to coordinating and delivering humanitarian assistance, relief committees provide invaluable counsel in identifying the priority needs the humanitarian assistance will aim to address and in selecting (or “targeting”) the priority households for receiving assistance. In the case of the Kasai response, the local relief committees, with strong accompaniment from MCC, helped in selecting the geographic areas in which they would respond as well as the priority households to receive assistance. Building on the humanitarian principles of humanity and impartiality, the committees selected households based on need, focusing on the most vulnerable, including households with pregnant or nursing mothers, unaccompanied children, people living with disabilities and the elderly. Diverse representation on relief committees, and particularly the involvement of displaced people themselves, strengthens accountability and the targeting of the response. This relief committee model helps protect church leadership who may be accused of discrimination based on church membership or affiliation or other characteristics (e.g., ethnicity or political affiliation). MCC has also worked hard to ensure there is better gender representation on these committees and worked toward integrating gender analysis into its humanitarian response.

In addition to overseeing the targeting of the response, local organizations also solicit feedback and manage complaints from communities receiving humanitarian assistance. Their presence in the community means that they can receive feedback and complaints more directly and are more accessible than staff from other outside agencies. A growing priority for MCC is to help local organizations set up formal feedback and complaint mechanisms in order to increase accountability to and participation of the affected community, as well as to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, fraud and corruption. MCC continues to build its capacity to better work alongside local partners to ensure the participation of affected people throughout the assessment, design, monitoring and evaluation process, as part of a broader commitment that MCC’s humanitarian responses be adaptive and appropriate.

MCC humanitarian work over the past decades has increasingly relied on local partnerships, with MCC now almost exclusively working with local partners in disaster response.

Coordination and collaboration are also central to this second group of CHS principles. Local organizations are connected to the communities, organizations and government where they operate and often prioritize coordination with local government. At the same time, large international organizations coordinate through the UN cluster system which can often create barriers to participation from local organizations, including safety, language, social or cultural barriers. As an example, in the case of the Haiti earthquake, the initial UN coordination meetings were held in the MINUSTAH (UN Haiti peacekeeping force) compound, with the meetings conducted in English or French and not Haitian Creole. The meetings were often dominated by representatives of international NGOs from the global North with large capacity and were not accessible spaces for staff from smaller local organizations. MCC sometimes represents its local partners within these UN coordination mechanisms.

The last group of three CHS principles relates to organizational learning, capacity building and the effective use of resources. In 2017, MCC conducted a review of its program planning, monitoring and evaluation system. The findings and recommendations included the need for MCC to continue to increase partner and MCC staff capacity in assessment, design, monitoring and evaluation methods, particularly the use of participatory action research methods. The Keystone survey in 2013—an independent survey of MCC’s local partners—found that partners perceive MCC to be a learning organization and at the same time would like more MCC capacity building support in participatory monitoring evaluation methods.

MCC’s capacity building support helps ensure that MCC will have skilled partners who can adhere to humanitarian standards in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian initiatives. MCC works at partner capacity building in multiple ways, including: a) sponsoring training on humanitarian principles and minimum standards, planning, monitoring and evaluation, and trauma healing and peacebuilding; b) helping organizations set up diverse local relief committees; c) facilitating learning exchanges between different groups; and d) providing significant accompaniment in assessment, planning and reporting. One of the criticisms of working through local organizations is their surge capacity—the ability (or lack thereof) of these small local organizations to scale-up to respond to large humanitarian needs. MCC’s approach has been to start small and scale-up as these partners demonstrate their capacity to manage larger initiatives. MCC humanitarian work over the past decades has increasingly relied on local partnerships, with MCC now almost exclusively working with local partners in disaster response. In our experience this model has allowed us to meet humanitarian standards and principles including ensuring an appropriate and quality response, accountability to, participation of and communication with disaster affected communities. MCC continues to build its capacity with long-term local partners, allowing MCC to scale-up over time and increase its capacity to respond to disasters through local partnerships while meeting humanitarian standards.

Soup being served at a school in Germany, 1947–48, as part of MCC relief efforts at the end of the Second World War. MCC particpated in a joint childfeeding program that reached 72,000 children in eight cities in southeastern Germany. (MCC photo/Heinz Wagener)

Bruce Guenther is MCC’s disaster response director, based in Winnipeg.

Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability. Available at https:// corehumanitarianstandard.org/ the-standard.

The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. Geneva: Sphere Association, 2018. Available at https://www.spherestandards.org/.

Barbelet, Veronique. “As Local as Possible, As International as Necessary: Understanding Capacity and Complementarity in Humanitarian Action”. HPG Working Paper. London: Overseas Development Institute, 2018. Bennett, Christian, et al. Time to Let Go: Remaking Humanitarian Action for the Modern Era. London: Overseas Development Institute, 2016.

The use of cash and voucher assistance for protection outcomes in humanitarian assistance

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[Individual articles from the Winter 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The majority of MCC’s humanitarian assistance programming over the past century has involved the distribution of food and non-food items. However, over the past decade the distribution of cash and voucher assistance (CVA) has become one of the fastest growing types of humanitarian interventions, including within MCC. While CVA has become well-established within MCC and across the humanitarian sector as a tool for improving food security, providing for basic needs and strengthening social safety nets in shock-prone areas around the world, the impact of CVA programs is still being assessed by MCC and other humanitarian actors. This article discusses the promising impact of CVA on protection programming, examining how CVA has the potential not only to improve food and economic security for uprooted and marginalized families, but can also help protect vulnerable groups (such as women, girls and boys) from different types of violence stoked by desperate economic conditions.

Prior to implementing cash and voucher assistance in any context, one must undertake a comprehensive gender analysis to understand the potential impact cash may have on community and household dynamics and on individual safety, particularly for vulnerable groups in that context. In some instances, distributing cash may increase pre-existing vulnerabilities (e.g., contexts in which men in a family control cash resources), leading to negative protection outcomes and placing individuals at higher risk of experiencing harm. In all humanitarian settings, an analysis of pre-crisis gender relations should be included in the gender analysis to gain a better understanding of how expectations around roles and responsibilities would function under normal circumstances and how those roles have shifted in crisis situations. The gender analysis should consult local women, men, girls, boys and other vulnerable groups in order to better inform the planned programming and challenge pre-existing ideas of gender relations and preferred programming that project staff may have. It is particularly important not to assume that gender-based targeting is the ideal strategy in all contexts; in some instances, this type of targeting may reinforce traditional gender norms or place women and girls at increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV).

Providing a one-time cash transfer on an individual or household basis depending on need can allow households to cover key expenses that may otherwise put vulnerable individuals at greater risk of harm in high stress situations.

While the primary use of cash and vouchers in assistance programming often seeks to meet basic household needs (such as rental assistance, household items and food assistance), there are secondary outcomes related to gender equity and protection that can be linked back to the implementation of cash-based assistance. In a recent evaluation of MCC’s voucher assistance programming in Lebanon, many women participating in the monthly food voucher program noted that the voucher had not only had a direct impact on the amount and quality of food their families were consuming, but that there was also an impact on their feeling of self-worth within the family. Participation in the voucher program meant for these women that they were able to contribute something substantial to the household’s purchasing power, including the ability to choose and purchase food, and that stress levels in the household declined due to the knowledge that predictable monthly vouchers would be available to cover their food needs. While not explicitly linked to reduction of GBV, it is a justifiable assumption that reduced stress levels within the household can contribute to reduced tension and violence.

Other responses undertaken by other agencies, such as International Rescue Committee (IRC), include: providing cash assistance to displaced individuals; helping to replace lost documents in order to gain access to government and NGO services; and providing unconditional cash transfers to adolescent girls with the goal of reducing early marriage, unsafe working conditions and exposure to transactional sex. An emerging use for cash assistance for protection is the use of cash to support a survivor-centered response to GBV. In this type of response, cash is used as part of a broader GBV response programme, in which survivors are provided with psychosocial support as well as cash assistance in order to help survivors access core response services such as safe housing, medical care and livelihoods training that would otherwise be inaccessible due to unaffordable costs or limited financial resources.

In sudden-onset emergencies, cash programming can be used to provide families with short-term cash transfers to promote early recovery and address issues related to protection risks, or issues that will leave individuals more vulnerable to protection risks down the line. In these responses, cash and voucher programing can be used for non-reoccurring expenses, such as replacing roofing material or covering urgent medical needs. Providing a onetime cash transfer on an individual or household basis depending on need can allow households to cover key expenses that may otherwise put vulnerable individuals at greater risk of harm in high stress situations.

Syrian refugee Ahmad* buys groceries with vouchers provided through an MCC project in Beirut, Lebanon in 2014. MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD) distributed the vouchers to Syrians living in Lebanon, to help relieve the burden on host communities and reduce tension between hosts and refugees. (MCC photo/Silas Crews)

*Full name not used for security reasons.

In a recent study carried out by the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP), researchers found that cash and voucher programming had a positive impact on reducing intimate partner violence in 80% of projects surveyed when programmed in conjunction with other GBV activities addressing root causes of violent behavior. Cash assistance was found to reduce tensions within the household related to income insecurity. This type of assistance was also found to delay or prevent early and forced marriage in acute situations where cash was able to alleviate family desperation. However, cash alone was not able to change the underlying beliefs that lead to early or forced marriage, highlighting the need for cash programming to be integrated into a more comprehensive approach to protection.

As cash and voucher assistance programming has become recognized as a growing component of humanitarian response programming, it is important to assess the impact of this assistance in order to achieve optimal results. The use of cash and voucher assistance in protection programming is still an emerging area of programming and research that shows a good deal of promise in providing survivors of GBV and vulnerable populations with additional resources and tangible outcomes around safety and protection in humanitarian assistance programming.

Annie Loewen is an MCC humanitarian assistance coordinator based in Winnipeg.


Cross, Allyson; Tenzin Manell and Melanie Megevand. November 2018. Humanitarian Cash Transfer Programming and Gender-Based Violence Outcomes: Evidence and Future Research Priorities. Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP). Available at http://www.cashlearning.org/downloads/genderandctpwrcirc.pdf

Allen, Samantha. May 2019. “CVA for Protection: A Mapping of IRC’s Use of Cash and Voucher Assistance to Help Achieve Protection Outcomes.” May 2019. https://www.alnap.org/system/files/content/resource/files/main/1559138467.IRC%20%20CVA%20for%20Protection%20vf.pdf

Recovery through coordination: MCC and the 2015 Nepal earthquake

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[Individual articles from the Winter 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal is an event etched in the memories of many Nepalis. The immense damage brought on by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake took the lives of nearly 9,000 people, severely injured around 22,000 more and destroyed over 600,000 homes. The earthquake’s epicenter that struck Barpak village of Gorkha district destroyed every house in the village. MCC Nepal’s working districts of Dhading, Lalitpur, Ramechhap and Okhaldhunga were among the regions in Nepal highly affected by the earthquake. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the people of Nepal experienced the effects of trauma and faced the prospect of a long and difficult recovery.

In the weeks following the earthquake, MCC Nepal supported rapid response distributions of emergency food, toiletries and shelter supplies in Dhading, Okhaldhunga and Lalitpur through its existing partner organizations. MCC mobilized an assessment team to survey the damage caused by the disaster and assess the ability of MCC and its partners to respond to recovery needs. MCC launched a humanitarian appeal to its supporters, resulting in about US$3 million raised to address the needs of those most affected by the earthquake. Due to the magnitude of damage sustained and the overwhelming requests from local communities for assistance, the government of Nepal loosened restrictions on international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) wishing to respond, leading to an influx of INGOs seeking to aid communities devastated by the disaster.

Coordination with the government throughout the earthquake response was a learning experience for MCC and our partners, particularly as the government was going through a federal restructuring process. Since MCC was already a registered international NGO in Nepal, our partnerships with local Nepali organizations and MCC’s existing government agreement allowed for a smoother process of obtaining approval from the government body that oversaw earthquake response work in Nepal, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). More significant, however, were the existing government relationships that our partners had with local-level government stakeholders. A key part of the enactment of Nepal’s 2015 constitution was a decentralization of power from the federal level to the local level, where our partners relate daily with local government officials and through these relationships receive approval and buy-in from local government bodies for their ongoing development projects.

One poignant example of this close coordination with local government officials comes from our partner, Shanti Nepal, which carried out two earthquake recovery projects related to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Dhading district. In a discussion of Shanti’s work, Devi Prasad Silwal, the vice-chair of the rural municipality, said, “I can trust Shanti Nepal with my eyes closed. There will be no question about the quality and sustainability of their work.” This praise from the local level of government in Dhading goes beyond words: both Shanti and MCC have noticed an uptick in financial contributions to projects from municipalities now that funds are also being decentralized and more widely disbursed to NGOs from the municipality level.

In an unpredictable context like a disaster response scenario, it is helpful to remove as many barriers as possible for participants to successfully recover from the disaster.

Solid relationships with local government officials combined with using local structures and groups to plan and manage projects have led to an increase in community ownership of Shanti’s work. For example, one of Shanti’s earthquake recovery projects included the repair of a drinking water system in Baspur village in Dhading district. As with most of its other projects, Shanti involved the existing local mothers’ group and water user committee to aid in the reconstruction and ongoing management of the water system. Mothers’ groups are government-led initiatives that use locally organized groups of women to lead and support community development initiatives. These groups were already in place prior to the earthquake, playing a key role in the local management of Shanti’s work. For this water system in Baspur, the mothers’ group collects money from users each month for maintenance needs and also organizes community education around hygiene and sanitation practices.

The very same advantage of decentralizing political power to the local level also served as a challenge at times during our earthquake recovery project. Our partner, the Rural Institution for Community Development (RICOD), implemented a recovery project in southern Lalitpur district that provided top-up support for housing reconstruction for families who had been certified by the NRA’s engineers as eligible for assistance. This required families to properly file a claim with the NRA for assistance, which was a confusing process for many. The families then needed to rebuild their homes in stages, receiving incremental approval along the way from the NRA after completing each step of the reconstruction process. The complexity of this process led to project delays, and in 2017, in the middle of the reconstruction process, local elections were held in Nepal for the first time in 20 years. In one community where RICOD was working, the newly elected ward chair suddenly demanded that RICOD provide housing support for all households in his ward or they would have to withdraw from working in his community. Despite advocating to this official, RICOD believed the most appropriate and ethical way forward was to transition away from that community towards work in another area. As RICOD sought out a new community in which to work, they faced additional attempts of local government officials trying to influence participant selection, with those officials often prioritizing persons who were not those with the greatest need. Around this time, RICOD began increasing its engagement with local NRA officials, which allowed for greater trust and coordination, eventually opening the door to a new partner community where RICOD was able to successfully implement the rest of its project.

Ashok Nepal works in his vegetable field in the Ragani Village Development Committee of Okhaldhunga District, Nepal. Nepal participated in cash crop and vegetable production training conducted by MCC partner SAHAS (Group of Helping Hands). SAHAS had provided seed materials to enable him to plant cabbages, chilies and corianders. (MCC photo/Avash Karki)

As we think about the lessons learned from our earthquake recovery program, we would summarize our learnings in this way: in an unpredictable context like a disaster response scenario, it is helpful to remove as many barriers as possible for participants to successfully recover from the disaster. Some things, like the implementation of a new federal structure and local elections, cannot be controlled. Yet we can control whether we decide to engage in recovery work that is dependent on successful and timely action of governmental and other actors. Going forward, we would minimize this type of recovery programming because there were simply too many delays and risks introduced into the implementation of the projects. Instead, we would build on the success our partners experienced in this recovery effort through the utilization of existing community groups and networks to carry out recovery projects. Mothers’ groups, water user groups and community-based organizations seemed to be great fits for our partners in the planning, implementation and ongoing management of their projects.

While aspects of these learnings are unique to the context of Nepal, it is an overall reminder that partnership continues to be the best way for us to respond to local disasters. We view our partner organizations as the primary vehicles for MCC Nepal’s work, and we are discovering that these partnerships are bolstered even further through engagement and relationship building with local government stakeholders and community groups.

Avash Karki is MCC Nepal earthquake program support officer. Ryan Fowler is the MCC Nepal representative.


Bracken, Louise, Hannah Ruszczyk and Tom Robinson. Evolving Narratives of Hazard and Risk: The Gorkha Earthquake, Nepal, 2015. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Gautam, Dipendra and Hugo Rodrigues. Eds. Impacts and Insights of the Gorkha Earthquake. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2018

Lessons learned from MCC Haiti’s humanitarian relief initiatives after the 2010 earthquake

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[Individual articles from the Winter 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, killing well over 100,000 people (some estimates place the death toll much higher), destroying tens of thousands of homes and businesses and severely damaging the country’s infrastructure. Over the ensuing months and years, MCC, which had been operating in Haiti since 1958, undertook a large-scale (for MCC) humanitarian and rehabilitation response. A summary of key facets of MCC’s multi-year earthquake response can be found below. In this article, Herve Alcina, logistics and humanitarian aid coordinator for the earthquake response, reflects on what lessons MCC learned as it joined Haitian churches and community-based organizations in responding to the needs of individuals and communities devastated by the earthquake.

What were successes in the humanitarian assistance distributions after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti?

One of the things MCC did very well after the earthquake was responding quickly. So many people had pressing needs and MCC was there to respond in any way we could. We gave tarps, relief buckets, filter buckets, canned meat, comforters, hygiene kits, emergency food like rice and beans and other items that people needed urgently. We also worked with local committees in the camps. This helped us to be able to work more directly with local people and was a strength of our response.

What lessons did MCC learn from its Haiti earthquake response?

We learned that if we are going to do a response that requires specialized skills, like the construction of houses, we need to make sure that our team has enough capacity to manage highly technical projects. We should focus more on what we are already experts at, and not start to do new kinds of work after a disaster, even if there is a great need.

There were so many needs and so much suffering, so we chose to do evaluations after the project was underway and learned that some people had gotten supplies from multiple organizations. Some people received aid when they and their families had not been impacted by the earthquake. We learned about the need to do assessments before projects start, even if it means delaying the project by a few days. We learned that if we are going to do a response that requires specialized skills, like the construction of houses, we need to make sure that our team has enough capacity to manage highly technical projects. We should focus more on what we are already experts at, and not start to do new kinds of work after a disaster, even if there is a great need.

One of the things that was difficult about the earthquake was programming such large amounts of money. When I look back, I think that sometimes our projects were too large for partners that had never handled projects of that size. Sometimes that created conflict and led to projects that didn’t work as well as we would have liked. A challenge in distributing humanitarian assistance after the earthquake was that there wasn’t always a strong system of coordination and communication among NGOs. That is something that I think we can always improve on for any disaster response.

Mary Sony sits by her market stand in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which she lost in the January 2010 earthquake making it very difficult to help support her family. Sony took part in a recapitalization program run by MCC partner Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice (FOPJ) to resupply products and train vendors how to manage money and provide customer service. (MCC photo/Silas Crews)

How has MCC Haiti integrated lessons from the 2010 earthquake response into more recent emergency responses?

We learned many lessons about humanitarian aid distributions after the 2010 earthquake. Unfortunately for Haiti, we’ve had three disaster responses in the past three years where we have been able to practice applying the lessons we learned. After Hurricane Matthew (2016), Hurricane Irma (2017) and the 2018 earthquake, we conducted rapid field assessments before considering any projects. Carrying out these assessments was very useful and made us more effective in getting MCC resources to people who were the most vulnerable.

MCC Haiti has been working hard over the years since the 2010 earthquake to do more capacity building trainings for our partner organizations on topics such as psychological first aid, how to develop better project plans and how to protect vulnerable people. All of these things have resulted in better disaster responses from MCC and our partners.

Essential learning from the 2010 earthquake response thus include the following:

MCC in Haiti works with vulnerable people, and sometimes those vulnerable people are harder to get access to—they are farther away from MCC offices and there might not be a road that gets to them. Yet we have worked hard to not forget these isolated communities, even when other NGOs have abandoned them.

  • We have learned that we need to build on the expertise and specializations of our staff. We have learned that we aren’t as good at housing projects, so we no longer do them, but we are very good at short- and long-term agriculture work, so we have included this aspect in many of our disaster projects where people lost their gardens and livelihoods.
  • We learned that sometimes projects can be too big for partners to manage, and that they need smaller-scale projects that gradually expand, so MCC has worked to build our partners’ capacity more gradually and intentionally with smaller projects that progressively get bigger, instead of seeking to develop really large projects like after the 2010 earthquake, projects that proved hard for partners to manage. This has allowed us to build stronger partners who we are more confident in their capacity to implement larger projects.
  • An important lesson that we learned from the evaluation of MCC’s earthquake response is to stay true to our values. MCC in Haiti works with vulnerable people, and sometimes those vulnerable people are harder to get access to—they are farther away from MCC offices and there might not be a road that gets to them. Yet we have worked hard to not forget these isolated communities, even when other NGOs have abandoned them. For example, after Hurricane Matthew in 2017, all the large NGOs went to the south of Haiti, where some of the worst destruction was, but there were also people who lost their homes and gardens in the Artibonite Valley, people who didn’t have a voice to say they needed help, but our partners knew that they needed our help, and advocated for these people so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. MCC responded to them, bringing these communities canned meat, comforters and relief buckets. Through these small actions, MCC stood in solidarity with these often-neglected rural communities and recognized their suffering.
  • A major lesson we have learned is to pre-position humanitarian resources, allowing for faster and more efficient relief distributions. Every year, MCC Haiti receives a container filled with basic emergency supplies MCC might need if a disaster strikes Haiti again, supplies like comforters, relief buckets and canned meat. We keep these material resources in storage right on our office grounds, so we are ready at any time to respond. This pre-positioning allowed us to respond within 48 hours to a recent disaster. I am proud that we have been able to help people quickly in their time of need.
Nicholas Mardoché carries a case of canned meat from a delivery truck to a storehouse in Camp Galilee, which became home to many people, including Mardoché, after the January 2010 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti. On the afternoon of 12 January 2010, a magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, and the surrounding areas. By 24 January, there were at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater, causing further damage and slowing recovery. (MCC photo/Ben Dep)

Herve Alcina has coordinated MCC Haiti’s logistics and material aid responses to the 2010 earthquake, Hurricane Matthew (2016), Hurricane Irma (2017) and the 2018 earthquake.


Dubois, Laurent. Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. New York: Picador, 2013.

Farmer, Paul. Haiti after the Earthquake. New York: Public Affairs, 2012.

Frerichs, Ralph R. Deadly River: Cholera and Cover-Up in Post-Earthquake Haiti. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 2017.

Katz, Jonathan M. The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. New York: St. Martin’s, 2014.

Listening (again) to the MCC Katrina Listening Process

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[Individual articles from the Winter 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Nearly fifteen years ago, Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast of the United States. In a matter of days, more than 2,000 people died or went missing, and at least 1.5 million New Orleans residents fled the city to wait for the water to recede. Almost 500,000 people remain in diaspora—nearly one in three pre-Katrina New Orleans residents—the majority of whom were part of an historic African-American community that has been part of the city for generations. For these and other historically marginalized peoples along the Gulf coast, the impact of Katrina the natural disaster was multiplied by the unnatural and ongoing disasters of racism and other forms of systemic oppression already present in the region. These complex and overlapping issues made responding to Katrina an extremely challenging process, the impact of which continues today.

Since the tsunami, psychosocial support takes priority in many MCC disaster responses, alongside providing water, food and emergency shelter in the early days, and then recovery of livelihoods, education and longer-term shelter in the following months and years.

This article is based on primary source documents and secondary evaluations of MCC’s response to Katrina, which began in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. As per MCC’s memorandum of understanding with Mennonite Disaster Service, in which MDS responds to disasters in the United States and Canada and MCC responds to disasters elsewhere in the world, MDS undertook the initial Mennonite disaster response to Katrina. Yet it soon became clear that Katrina’s devastation was unprecedented. MDS invited MCC to respond with material and financial resources in partnership with MDS and other agencies. These groups provided a timely response that local partners said effectively met immediate human needs. Later evaluations, however, raised questions about the long-term impact of the humanitarian response. A review of these evaluations reveals how Katrina offers an important yet challenging lesson on how default patterns and modes of institutional operation can at times contribute to furthering harm in a community instead of contributing to its healing.

In the case of MCC’s response to Katrina, a gap between good intentions and actual effect emerged. Evaluations suggested that during the early stages of Katrina, MCC struggled as an institution to contend with deficiencies in its cultural competence and with its internalized racism. In particular, MCC diminished the role that local people of color in affected communities could have in shaping the response. Evaluations found that decision-making that shaped MCC’s response was generally nested in MCC offices far from the community, directed by staff and leadership who were predominantly white, Mennonite and male, rather than with those who had the most at stake in carrying out a response that was fitting to the scale and type of disaster that Katrina was.

After the initial phase, MCC U.S. Peace & Justice staff formed a group called the Katrina Listening Process (KLP) to address the deep and emerging concerns over the devastation of Katrina and MCC’s response to it. The KLP’s vision was to “create mutually authentic and healthy relationships by following the wisdom in local communities in shaping this and future projects . . . and to lovingly challenge the institution to respond in accordance with its commitment to become an anti-racist organization.”

In subsequent months, the KLP carried out interviews and consultations in New Orleans and other Gulf communities. KLP members heard stories of communities of color affected by Katrina, many of whom noted how external material and financial aid during the crisis weighed heavily on their communities. While many interviewees expressed appreciation for the immediate resources, they also acknowledged that the overwhelming influx of people and resources amounted to what one hurricane survivor called “generosity chaos,” noting how the response increased the burden on their communities. Another survivor commented on the difficulty of dealing with the trauma of losing one’s home, community and land, while also managing the trauma of newly arrived outsiders who sought to help. What was missing in the response, these interviewees said, was an abiding commitment to receive direction from affected communities, and, specifically, to address their concerns about the systemic displacement and dispossession unfolding right before their eyes.

To adequately listen to the knowledge of marginalized communities depends on MCC’s capacity as an institution for authentic relationships with local communities, including communities of color.

What these affected communities saw as critical to an appropriate humanitarian response was not merely the provision of material and financial aid, but the need for intense advocacy and organizing around core issues of systemic oppression. In the aftermath of Katrina, African-American communities faced the tangible erasure of their community, a reality in which their very homes and neighborhoods were being wiped out. They were concerned about the prevalence of police activity that led to the random arrest and detention of community members. They had anxiety about the increasing interest among newcomers in rebuilding and “revitalizing” a community that was historically their home, a concern that rebuilding would mask gentrification, if not the economic and cultural blockade of historic New Orleanian return. These concerns sadly ended up being well-founded. Good-intentioned responses but wrongly directed actions contributed to systemic forms of erasure and dispossession.

This of course does not mean that the entire story of MCC’s Katrina response is one of harm. The KLP did result in some thoughtful redirection. A discernment process was established, for instance, that would enable local community members to provide input into the unfolding MCC response. Systemic issues were identified and named, shifting the response from meeting immediate needs to following partners who confronted them. Thoughtful staff carried out further listening and sought to craft an anti-racist response. MCC’s Washington, D.C., office became active on some issues connected to Katrina, such as advocating for greater access to low cost, affordable housing. Nonetheless, the KLP did not have the enduring impact that its participants imagined it would. Many who were part of the process felt that MCC dedicated too little effort to the work of listening and reshaping institutional patterns. Evaluations show that the KLP closed without a clear sense among its members that MCC as an institution had learned from its mistakes.

Despite its limited effect, the KLP offers lessons that MCC grapples with today. It reminds us, for instance, that communities most affected by disasters intimately know what they need. Local knowledge and expertise, especially among the most oppressed and marginalized segments of a community, represent the genius and imagination that are critical for community resilience. One might imagine how a response may have looked, for instance, if poor, African American matriarchs from one of New Orleans’ powerful and historic communities were taking the lead in determining desired outcomes of humanitarian responses at the beginning.

To adequately listen to the knowledge of marginalized communities depends on MCC’s capacity as an institution for authentic relationships with local communities, including communities of color. The KLP shows that when an organization is preparing for a long-term project or responding to an emergency crisis, healthy, authentic, anti-racist and actively nurtured relationships matter—critically. Relationships enable the listening that is essential for the most crucial elements of an effective response—and listening is even more critical in the context of disaster.

The KLP also recognized that without internally transformative, ongoing work rooted in a deep commitment to anti-racism, challenging old patterns and habits that under pressure cause harm proves difficult. Lenses and skill-sets for working in anti-racist ways need to be widely shared across MCC. In short, the capacity for anti-racist accompaniment depends to a large extent on MCC’s willingness to struggle with its own cultural patterns and habits of internalized and institutional racism. In the absence of such a struggle, there remains inevitable risk of doing harm.

The capacity for anti-racist accompaniment depends to a large extent on MCC’s willingness to struggle with its own cultural patterns and habits of internalized and institutional racism. In the absence of such a struggle, there remains inevitable risk of doing harm.

Finally, the KLP shows precisely why institutional memory and the lessons of the past matter. MCC had a unit off-and-on for nearly twenty-five years in New Orleans, carrying out anti-racism work. This history, however, did not extensively shape MCC’s response to Katrina. As another evaluation observed, institutions like MCC must prioritize story-keeping. Lessons of the past must be preserved so that future workers might meaningfully reclaim and learn from them, and thereby better see the pitfalls of patterned paths and institutional habits in the future.

When the next disaster strikes, will MCC respond differently? Some of our learning indicates that we may. One must be mindful, however, of the ways that historical critique is easier than contending with the present. The KLP offers a reminder that a truly anti-racist organization must continually struggle to change. To that end, the KLP and other learning processes like it represent the internal criticism that is necessary for MCC to persist in a difficult struggle towards becoming an institution capable of anti-racist work.

In October 2005, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers Duane and Joan Kauffman, of Harlan, Kentucky, repair the roof of the children’s center located next to Amor Viviente Church in Metairie, Louisiana. Winds from Hurricane Katrina had torn off many of the building’s shingles. (MCC photo/LaShinda Clark)

Andrew C. Wright is program director for MCC Central States.


Chambers, Robert. Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last. Second Edition. London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1999.

Crutcher, Jr., Michael E. Tremé: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

Enarson, Elaine. “Women and Girls Last? Averting the Second Post-Katrina Disaster,” Social Science Research Council. June 11, 2006. Available at https://items.ssrc.org/understanding-katrina/women-and-girls-last-avertingthe-second-post-katrina-disaster/

Gavin, Alice. “Reading Katrina: Race, Space and an Unnatural Disaster,” New Political Science, 30/3 (September 2008): 325-346.

Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador, 2008.

Woods, Clyde A. Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restorations in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Eds. Jordan T. Camp and Laura Pulido. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017.