Relief(winter 2020)

[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.]

Russian Mennonite refugees, mother and child, circa 1929. Soviet moves to collectivize farming and religious intolerance coupled with widespread famine caused many ethnically German Mennonites, along with other minorities, to flee to Moscow in an attempt to leave Russia. MCC, who had been responding to the needs of the Mennonite communities in Russia, along with other Mennonite organizations, worked to try and resettle Mennonites outside of Russia. (MCC photo).

A feeding kitchen in a lumber mill represents one of the earliest relief responses of the fledgling MCC in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) in the early 1920s. Hunger stalked communities in southern Russia during these years. Mennonites and their neighbours were bent under the triple burdens of violent conflict, typhus and famine. To this day, thousands of descendants of the families that lived through these conditions a century ago recall how corn meal porridge served in these feeding kitchens symbolized both an outpouring of God’s love from distant sisters and brothers and the difference between life and death for their parents, grandparents and extended family.

In this special centennial issue of Intersections, authors explore ways that MCC has extended relief assistance in the name of Christ in scores of countries around the world over the past one hundred years. Articles cover the breadth of the MCC century: from this first and founding relief effort in southern Russia; to relief and reconstruction efforts undertaken by MCC Pax workers in post-World War II Europe; to partnership with Mennonite churches in Central America and Indonesia in the 1990s and the 2000s in responding to the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the Indian Ocean tsunami of late 2004; to relief and reconstruction efforts in this past decade following earthquakes in Haiti (2010) and Nepal (2015).

Sometimes MCC relief responses to dire emergencies have opened the door to longer-term development work for MCC and local partners. In a few cases, disaster responses have led to the creation of new organizations, such as Mennonite Disaster Service. And sometimes sharing physical, tangible gifts of love has contributed to building peace in communities divided by mistrust and conflict.

Handmade blankets, canned meat, relief buckets, school kits, dignity kits for menstruating girls and women: all play essential roles in the relief element of MCC’s long held commitment to offering “relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.” These humanitarian aid items are made with loving hands, gathered and packed by volunteers across Canada, the United States and Europe seeking to share God’s love without discrimination with those in need. Meanwhile, MCC has expanded its humanitarian relief efforts over the past decades beyond the shipment of humanitarian aid from the U.S. and Canada to also include the distribution of locally purchased food and non-food items and the provision of cash and vouchers to displaced families. Through this work across the centuries, MCC has partnered with churches and community-based organization seeking to meet the needs of vulnerable people facing acute hunger and uprooted by war, earthquakes, hurricanes and more. As MCC enters its second century of feeding the hungry and reaching out to help displaced peoples, may it draw lessons and inspiration from its extensive experiences over the past one hundred years of providing relief in the name of Christ.

Rick Cober Bauman is executive director for MCC Canada.

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