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:
- To share resources in the name of Christ and proclaim Jesus as Lord.
- 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.
- 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.
- To follow the example of Christ, in striving for justice in identifying with the weak and oppressed and in reconciling the oppressor and oppressed.
- To provide relief for victims of disasters in ways which encourage their maximum initiative, dignity and participation.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.