You Got Booked: developing a tool to teach about mass incarceration

Featured

[Individual articles from the Summer 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

What are effective ways to help people in the United States learn about the history, scope and pervasive impact of mass incarceration in the country? That question animated an MCC U.S. working group tasked with developing learning resources for congregations, schools and other groups about the many flaws in the U.S.’s criminal justice system, including enormous racial disparities from arrest to sentencing to imprisonment. Recognizing that participatory activities can help people learn more effectively, the working group focused its efforts on developing a life-sized board game experience called You Got Booked (to be released sometime in 2019). Participants are assigned identities and resources which will impact their outcomes throughout the activity. These identities highlight the privileges and disadvantages that groups of people face based on their race, gender, citizenship status, culture, age, community and criminal background.

In You Got Booked, participants are split into seven groups. Each group chooses a representative to participate in the experience. The players have a goal to make it around the board once, while building their resources and avoiding a life term in prison. As in reality, each player begins with different resources. Some start with more money, housing, jobs and education. Others start without some of these resources. Others even start the game with a criminal record. All players are expected to reach the same goal, despite their differences in starting resources.

Over the course of the learning experience, participants learn about different facets of mass incarceration in the United States today, including:

  • the exponential growth in the prison population over the past few decades;
  • how the war on drugs, the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences and the design of bail systems have helped fuel that growth;
  • how poverty, the ongoing effects of genocide and slavery and the lack of secure housing and access to mental health resources make people more vulnerable to imprisonment;
  • how racism pervades the criminal justice system and how, especially in communities of color, youth of color get channeled in to what sociologists have called the “school-to-prison pipeline”;
  • how the broken immigration system contributes to the mass incarceration crisis; and
  • the challenges faced by returning citizens upon release from prison.

This learning tool emerged after MCC Central States sponsored a “pipeline to prison” learning tour in Louisiana. In that learning experience, two dozen people visited prison facilities, met with returning citizens and participated in a learning exercise that highlighted the impact that poverty, charter schools and suspensions have on the likelihood of juveniles entering the criminal justice system. After the learning tour, MCC staff agreed on the need to develop a resource that would help others learn of the many pipelines that contribute to mass incarceration and how policies and structural systems impact various groups differently.

Mass incarceration is a pressing moral crisis that the United States has failed to address. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. This crisis of mass incarceration is primarily driven by racial injustice at all levels within the criminal justice system and by high levels of recidivism. Prisons in the U.S. today are not serving as facilities that rehabilitate citizens to thrive in their communities, but instead serve solely punitive purposes. In prison, many people are not given the resources they need to reintegrate into society successfully upon release.

Harsh sentences for non-violent drug offenses (disproportionately levied against people of color) and a failing mental health care system that leads to prisons functioning as warehouses for persons with mental illness have contributed to the mass incarceration crisis. So long as the U.S. fails to reform its criminal justice system and to address the root causes of most offenses, such as poverty, racism and economic inequality, the mass incarceration crisis will continue.

Prison records present severe obstacles to returning citizens. Participants in the mass incarceration learning activity struggle to remain active players on the board after going to prison just once. Prison records, in the activity as well as in real life, create barriers to finding employment, housing and government assistance. Meeting parole requirements also presents challenges. “You do the crime, you do the time,” goes the popular motto: the mass incarceration learning tool shows that “doing time” continues far after prison release.

The learning tool also highlights the role that families have on outcomes for people in prisons and the impact that those in prison have on their families. For persons in prison, their families can potentially provide financial and mental support, including through visits and phone conversations. Families, meanwhile, face trauma when loved ones are taken to prison. For some, their imprisoned family members were the primary financial providers or caregivers for the household. Then, when relatives are released from prison, families in assisted-living or government-funded housing may be forced by government rules to move or separate from their formerly incarcerated family members in order to continue receiving assistance.

The impact on children of having an incarcerated parent is profound. More than 300,000 children go to bed each night with a parent who has been incarcerated. As Nell Bernstein has observed, “these children have committed no crime, but the price they are forced to pay is steep. They forfeit, too, much of what matters to them: their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection” (3).

The mass incarceration learning tool allows those who feel completely disconnected from the issue of mass incarceration to gain a lived, albeit second-hand, experience of the stark realities of mass incarceration and of how the racial, class and other identities placed on participants shape their outcomes. Participants who are connected to mass incarceration through their families and communities have a chance to receive an overview of their experiences and relate to how a flawed system may have impacted or could impact them. Participants may experience feelings of anger, guilt and bitterness during the activity: a debriefing exercise is essential for processing feelings, but also for discussing opportunities to act to counter and dismantle the unjust system of mass incarceration through public policy advocacy.

MCC hopes that You Got Booked will be an effective resource for church congregations, schools, advocates, returning citizens and others wanting to better understand mass incarceration and that participants will leave the exercise ready to act. Let us change the way we think and speak of those in and returning from prison. Let us embrace all people and challenge unjust policies.

Cherelle Dessus is legislative assistant and communications coordinator for the MCC Washington Office.

Learn more

You Got Booked will be available to borrow from MCC’s regional offices in 2019. Contact information for the MCC office nearest you can be found at https://mcc.org/contact.

Bernstein, Nell. All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated. New York: New Press, 2007.

The U.S. struggles to find a balance between justice and punishment. Many times, the criminal justice system creates more problems than it solves. Isaiah 1:17 issues a call to learn to do good, to seek justice and correct oppression, to enhance the voices of those sinned against and disadvantaged. Sign up for Washington Office action alerts to contact your members of Congress about important issues at mcc.org/get-involved/advocacy/Washington.

To learn more about and to borrow an MCC exhibit about the children of incarcerated parents, visit https://mcc.org/learn/what/restorative-justice/exhibit-when-parent-prison.

Advertisements

Accompanying People in Prison, Countering Mass Incarceration (Summer 2018)

Featured

[Individual articles from the Summer 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27), challenging us not to place limits on who our neighbor is and whom we are called to love. However, we generally prefer to name for ourselves whom we identify as our neighbor. Too often we have been guilty of marginalizing those deemed unworthy because of acts they have committed, or simply because of who they are. Jesus calls us to the kind of love that refuses to be complicit in the marginalization of people, the kind of love committed to justice by opposing all that exploits and neglects. It is our hope that this issue of Intersections takes us further on the journey of compassion and justice for persons too often rendered invisible in our society—specifically, those incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons who are, and remain, our neighbors.

In recent years, MCC has become increasingly active in responding to the realities of imprisonment and to the needs and hopes of prisoners and returning citizens. In the United States, MCC’s response has been shaped by the rise of mass incarceration and a prison-industrial complex marked by systemic injustice and racial disparities. In this issue, several authors examine different dimensions of mass incarceration in the U.S. Elaine Ewert Kroeker and Cherelle Dessus reflect on different MCC efforts to raise awareness among Anabaptist churches in the U.S. of the harms and the racialized character of mass incarceration, while Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz examines the impact mass incarceration has had on Indigenous peoples in the United States. Through an interview, Dwayne Harmon and Ron Muse, themselves former prisoners, reflect on the challenges returning citizens face and the best ways to accompany people upon their release from prison. Barb Toews, meanwhile, presses us to think about physical space, justice architecture and design in the context of mass incarceration and asks us to imagine what a correctional facility would look like that was truly focused on rehabilitation, accountability and healing.

Meanwhile, MCC also supporters restorative justice and peacebuilding efforts in prisons outside the U.S. Paul Shetler Fast and Keith Mwaanga describe and analyze MCC efforts in Haiti and Zambia to support people both while in prison and upon their release. Together, the articles in this issue of Intersections challenge those who would follow Jesus in the U.S. and around the world to discern what loving our neighbor looks like in the context of mass incarceration.

Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz is MCC U.S. restorative justice coordinator. Krista Johnson Weicksel works as peacebuilding coordinator in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department.

The promise and challenge of intercultural service teams

Featured

[Individual articles from the Spring 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

While MCC teams across the past
century have almost always had some form of intercultural composition, the
intercultural character of MCC teams has become more pronounced in recent years.”

Many years ago, during an MCC country program review in Latin America, the evaluation team I was on engaged in a lengthy discussion about the “perks” that expatriate workers from Canada, the United States and Europe enjoyed during their MCC service term. Our local context expert, a professional who worked for a major aid organization, was dumbfounded that MCC would cover 100% of the costs of child care and private school tuition for service worker families and provide work for both spouses as a matter of course. At some point in the discussion, however, we realized that all along he had assumed that service workers were paid a salary commensurate with his own. When he realized that international service workers were what we used to call “volunteers,” he said, “Never mind! I thought you all had salaries! I completely withdraw everything I just said. Now it makes perfect sense.”

And yet, despite the “perfect sense” that it makes to differentiate support packages received by international workers serving outside their countries of nationality from the salaries and benefits received by national staff employed by MCC in their country of nationality, conversations and debates persist within MCC about the challenges that such differentiated support packages pose to creating truly intercultural teams. I strongly
suspect that no MCC country program has fully succeeded in satisfactorily resolving these tensions generated by different types of support packages, because every country program is operating within a context of power and privilege and within hierarchies shaped by the legacies of colonialism. MCC operates within and at times reflects and reproduces these broken structures and can only imperfectly redress the wrongs that they produce. Immigration and labor laws vary from one country to another, dictating
in part how compensation is organized. The ways that family members understand one’s commitment to working with MCC may differ widely as well. However, creative approaches to policy at the country program level can at least partially correct the persistent imbalances and foster more equivalence among team members who come from disparate situations, in turn nurturing a shared sense of mission.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul claims that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6–7, NRSV). This vision of Jesus’ self-emptying in service has arguably animated and infused MCC’s understanding of service in the work of accompanying hurting people. This conception of service as self-giving and self-emptying is in turn translated into organizational commitments:

  • Witnessing to God’s upside-down kingdom, MCC embraces God’s partisanship for the poor and is committed to working amongst marginalized communities for human rights and poverty reduction.
  • As a response to the Biblical commandment to love God, our neighbors, and our enemies, MCC serves and learns in community and builds bridges across cultural, political, religious and economic divides.
  • Working towards a vision of God’s reign on earth, MCC is committed to dismantling barriers of racial, economic and gender-based oppression and to ensuring that all community members are active participants in program design and decision-making.

While it is clear (at least in theory) how these principles apply to community work—e.g., participatory decision-making, grass-roots accompaniment—MCC has paid less attention to how the principles play out within intercultural MCC teams. As teams become more diverse, especially in terms of national origin, the lines defining who are the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed become somewhat blurred as categories of social class intersect with ethnicity and national origin. Determining what constitutes equitable treatment becomes challenging. Is a national staff person with a master’s degree and 15 years of experience working for non-governmental organizations poor, marginalized and oppressed in comparison to a 20-year-old SALTer from Goshen, Indiana? If that
national staff person is still paying off an educational loan from a family member, can MCC help her make payments as it would for some expatriate workers? What if the national staff person has an urgent medical need, but her health insurance provider will not give her an appointment until next month, while the international service worker at the next desk can see any specialist in the city that day and be fully reimbursed?

What does it look like, in the words of MCC’s operating principles, to learn in community and build bridges across cultural, political, religious and economic divides? How do these principles of equity and commitment to dismantling discrimination work in practice within an international team that includes staff from the country and that includes
some staff compensated through regular salaries and benefits (national staff serving in their country of nationality), while others are compensated as volunteers (expatriate service workers, who receive a stipend, but also generous benefits such as housing, full health insurance and, where applicable, children’s education costs)?

MCC, to be sure, is not the only international non-governmental organization that grapples with the complexities involved in working towards equity and fairness in the compensation of members of intercultural teams that include national staff from the specific country of operation. Houldey (2017) and Roth (2015) suggest that in some contexts as many as 90% of all aid workers are national staff working in their countries of origin. As these national staff work alongside international workers from other contexts, workers inevitably observe different types of and disparities within compensation and support. A writer for the “Secret Aid Worker” blog (2015), for example, poignantly questions the justifications offered by international NGOs for differentiating the medical insurance packages offered to international and national staff.

MCC works at this challenge by giving its country programs flexibility to create internal policies aimed at fostering equality within program teams that are contextually relevant. For example, when my spouse and I served as MCC representatives for Colombia, we instituted a $400-per-person-per-year emergency medical fund within our budget for
national staff to draw on in situations where their national insurance was woefully inadequate.

While MCC teams across the past century have almost always had some form of intercultural composition, the intercultural character of MCC teams has become more pronounced in recent years. The number of multi-year international service workers who come from the Majority World (i.e., not from Canada, the United States or Europe)
is steadily growing. The Young Adult Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN) program in which young adults from Majority World countries serve in other Majority World countries has rapidly expanded. MCC’s two-year Seed units for young adults are deliberately designed as intercultural teams that bring young adults from Seed countries like Bolivia and Colombia together with young adults from the broader region and from Canada and the United States. The growing intercultural character of MCC teams pushes MCC actively to grapple with the tensions involved in working towards greater equity within intercultural teams. If we don’t deliberately address such tensions, the implicit
biases in our actions and decisions will inevitably default to maintain the status quo, leaving colonial relationships unquestioned. At its best, MCC constantly operates in a dynamic tension, like the strings of piano or guitar, or human vocal cords, vibrating into harmonic music, ever changing, responsive and expressive.

Elizabeth Phelps works as a consultant and previously served as MCC co-representative for Colombia.

Learn more

Aid Worker Voices. Blog. Available at http://blogs.elon.edu/aidworkervoices/.

Houldey, Gemma. “Why a Commonly Held Idea of What Aid Workers Are Like Fails
to Tell the Whole Story.” The Conversation. November 6, 2017. Available at https://theconversation.com/why-acommonly-held-idea-of-whataid-workers-are-like-fails-to-tellthe-full-story-85365.

Roth, Silke. The Paradoxes of Aid Work: Passionate Professionals. London:
Routledge, 2016. “Secret Aid Worker: It’s One Standard for Local Staff and
Another for Expats.” The Guardian. June 16, 2015. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/globaldevelopment-professionalsnetwork/2015/jun/16/secret-aid-worker-local-staffexpats-ngo-medical-care.

Strengthening the impact of young adult exchange programs

Featured

[Individual articles from the Spring 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In August 2016, as part of its ongoing commitment to learn from and strengthen its program initiatives, MCC initiated a study of the impact of its three eleven-month programs for young adults: the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), in which young adults from around the world serve in Canada and the United States; the Serving and Learning Together program (SALT), in which young adults from Canada and the U.S. serve around the world; and the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network program (YAMEN), a shared program of MCC and Mennonite World Conference (MWC) in which young adults from outside Canada and the U.S. serve in other countries, primarily in the global South.

The study’s objectives were twofold. First, the study explored the effects of YAMEN, IVEP and SALT on sending churches, participants’ faith journeys, participants’ skills and passions and participants’ global citizenship. The study used an understanding of global citizenship based on a definition developed by Oxfam Canada as including awareness of
the wider world, respect for diversity, involvement in social justice causes, action to make the world more sustainable and contribution to local and global communities. Second, the study built on these findings to formulate recommendations for how best to improve the three programs.

For the IVEP and YAMEN parts of the study, the research team chose Colombia, Indonesia and Zambia for in-depth examination. In these three contexts, MCC has, or has had, extensive experience with its young adult programs, along with active engagement with Anabaptist churches. In each country, researchers organized focus groups and interviews of IVEP and YAMEN alumni. They also conducted interviews with Mennonite World Conference representatives, denominational representatives and pastors
and other leaders from congregations that have sent and received IVEPers and YAMENers.

For the SALT portion of the study, the research team emailed a confidential web-based survey to all SALT alumni with email addresses on file who served between 1981 and the 2015-16 program year, or approximately 78% of alumni. To assess how church leaders in Canada and the U.S. view SALT, researchers sent a short, web-based survey to pastors from a sample of Anabaptist sending churches, as well as to leaders of Anabaptist
denominations, conferences and mission programs with knowledge of SALT.

Capture

Through these surveys, interview and focus groups, the research team collected input from a total of 380 respondents. Through in-person interviews and focus groups in Indonesia, Zambia and Colombia, researchers heard from 86 IVEP and 11 YAMEN alumni, 35 pastors and MWC representatives, 45 lay leaders (other than pastors) and two
community leaders. The SALT surveys resulted in responses from 177 alumni, seven pastors and 17 Anabaptist denominational leaders.

The study found that alumni link their participation in IVEP, YAMEN and SALT to growth in their faith, personal and vocational skills and engagement as global citizens. To maximize this growth, however, the study found that participants need more consistent emotional support during and after the program. Additionally, the results show that the
primary impact of these exchange programs occurs in the lives of individual participants, rather than in sending and receiving congregations. This finding suggests that MCC should pay closer attention to discerning with church partners what changes sending and receiving churches want to come about through these exchange programs.

Capture1

IVEP and YAMEN alumni across Indonesia, Zambia and Colombia noted that participation in these programs strengthened their commitment to service, increased their sense of independence or confidence, led to increased empathy and hospitality toward foreigners in their own country and contributed to the dismantling of stereotypes that participants held of others. The most cited effects for SALT alumni included: increased appreciation of diverse faith perspectives; new or improved language skills; new or increased interest in building bridges and/or community between people of different faiths, ethnicities and races; and new or increased interest in working on social justice causes such as poverty, inequality and racism.

While respondents generally reported largely positive effects from their participation in these exchange programs, they also identified negative outcomes, including spiritual struggles, stalling of careers, difficulty reconnecting with the church and depression. These negative impacts, in turn, were linked by participants to feelings of not having had either adequate emotional support during the service terms or emotional and vocational support upon reentry. Not having adequate support in place to help young people process and integrate their experiences can limit the ways in which the transformative experiences during their year of service can shape their lives.

IVEP and YAMEN alumni in Colombia, Indonesia and Zambia requested more emotional support after their year of service. In all three countries, alumni stated the importance of connections with other alumni to process their experiences and the challenges they faced upon re-entry, even decades later. Alumni affirmed the countries that organized IVEP and YAMEN alumni reunions and encouraged MCC to organize more such reunions
in the future, while also using social media to foster connections among alumni. Study participants also suggested that MCC and sending churches create mentorship opportunities, in which older alumni could serve as mentors for recently returned alumni, providing a listening ear and walking with them as they reintegrate into their home communities and look for work or return to school. Additionally, for alumni who desire confidential emotional support or who have had traumatic or challenging
experiences during their year of service or reentry, MCC needs to make confidential counseling resources more accessible to participants. These resources need to be presented in a way that lessens stigma and normalizes the use of professional counseling.

Unlike IVEP and YAMEN alumni, SALTers did not expect MCC to provide them with ongoing support during re-entry. SALTers did, however, note the need for more consistent accompaniment and emotional support during the program. While many noted that they experienced growth during challenges, functioning under ongoing stress and trauma is not ideal for growth and should not be normalized. MCC should continue
to provide in-country supervisors with clear expectations for supporting SALTers, including frequency and types of check-ins, and resources related to self-care, such as confidential counseling. All in-country supervisors should receive ongoing training on trauma and sexual violence so that they can better respond to SALTers who experience trauma and can also proactively create environments in which SALTers know that disclosing sexual violence or other traumatic experiences will result in a life-giving,
trauma-informed response.

Capture2

In her article, “The ‘Third World’ is Not Your Classroom,” Courtney Martin explores how learning happens during study and work abroad experiences. Martin argues that “the best learning happens not just when you’re thrown off a bit . . . but when you have the context of real, complex relationships within which you can find your footing again.” The study findings suggest that MCC needs to do more to facilitate opportunities for participants and alumni to find their footing during and after these exchange programs
within the context of complex relationships that provide them with the space to process and integrate their experiences into their lives.

At the level of the sending church, the pastors and congregations interviewed for this study voiced their affirmation for the positive impact IVEP and YAMEN have on participants, including increased leadership skills, strengthened commitment to service and an improved understanding of Anabaptism and the global church. The extent to which church leaders noted a pronounced effect at the level of the local church is variable, however, with many suggesting that the impact of these programs are
focused at the level of the individual.

Several pastors in Colombia, Indonesia and Zambia, however, believed that connecting local churches to the global church is an important objective of these programs, although they thought that more could be done through the programs to strengthen those connections. While not an explicit objective of YAMEN or IVEP, strengthening church-to-church connections is certainly a complementary objective to current program objectives to “build the church together” (YAMEN), “share gifts between churches”
(YAMEN) and “strengthen bonds of Christian fellowship” (IVEP). Connecting participants’ receiving and sending churches intentionally and systematically may be a way to strengthen these programs’ overall ability to strengthen the church, break down barriers, bring people of a common faith together despite diverse expressions of that faith and further support the work of Mennonite World Conference. If MCC desires IVEP, YAMEN and SALT to effect change at the level of the church, MCC should work with MWC and its church partners to determine what local churches want to achieve through church-to-church connections and then intentionally administer these three young adult exchange programs in such a way that better facilitates connections between sending and receiving churches.

IVEP, YAMEN and SALT have led to transformative effects in the lives of participants in the areas of faith, personal growth, skill development and global citizenship. Providing more consistent emotional support to participants and intentionally connecting sending and receiving churches will allow MCC to strengthen program effects for participants and their churches.

Meara Dietrick Kwee is an MCC learning and evaluation coordinator.

Learn more

Clark, Janet and Simon Lewis. “Impact Beyond Volunteering: A Realist Evaluation of the Complex and Long-Term Pathways of Volunteer Impact.” Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), United Kingdom, March 2017. Available at https://www.vsointernational.org/fightingpoverty/our-research-andevaluations/impact-beyondvolunteering.

Martin, Courtney. “The ‘Third World’ is Not Your Classroom.” Bright. March 7, 2016. Available at https://brightthemag.com/the-third-world-is-not-yourclassroom-9eee1546f565.

Brigham, Margaret. “Creating a Global Citizen and Assessing Outcomes.” Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, 1/1 (2011): 15-43. Available at http://journals.sfu.ca/jgcee/index.php/jgcee/article/view/27.

Building unity within diversity in cross-cultural exchange work in Indonesia

Featured

[Individual articles from the Spring 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Young adult exchange programs in Indonesia offer a good case study of the relevance of investing in cross-cultural skills needed to navigate life in multicultural settings. For young adults from Indonesia, and I suspect many other countries, the development of these skills is helpful to their ability to navigate their identities and interactions both at home and abroad. In the Indonesian context, young adult cross-cultural exchange
programs help to promote unity within the vibrant diversity of Indonesian society.

MCC’s work in Indonesia has taken place in many different parts of the country. In the past, MCC has worked in multiple parts of Indonesia, including Borneo, Sumatra and Java, all parts of the Indonesian archipelago with distinctive cultures, languages and ethnicities. Over the years, the MCC team brought together people not only from Canada,
the United States and Indonesia, but also from many other countries and cultures. At its best, MCC was a vibrant site of multicultural, or intercultural, service in Indonesia. The team’s multicultural character in turn reflected the fundamentally multicultural character of Indonesia itself.

People from the multicultural societies of the United States and Canada, in my experience, often tend to view other nations as monocultures. Many MCC workers who came to Indonesia from Canada and the U.S. to serve were surprised to realize that Indonesian Christians generally and Indonesian Mennonites specifically are already engaged in intercultural service.”

People from the multicultural societies of the United States and Canada, in my experience, often tend to view other nations as monocultures. Perhaps rooted in colonial assumptions about what constitutes a nation, this unreflective assumption of “one country one people” means that many MCC workers who came to Indonesia from Canada and the U.S. to serve were surprised to realize that Indonesian Christians generally and Indonesian Mennonites specifically are already engaged in intercultural service. Indonesia, after all, is made up not only of scores of islands, but is also marked by many different languages and ethnicities. Javanese culture, for example, is very different from the culture of East Indonesia. Even within Java itself, culture varies markedly between eastern, western and central Java, while more than ten languages are spoken on the island.

Today, MCC is not implementing any of its own program in Indonesia, but instead supports the work of Indomenno, a church-based association begun by the three Mennonite synods in Java. At present, Indomenno encourages youth to participate in both international and more localized exchange programs. Through the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN), a shared program of MCC and Mennonite World Conference, and MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), churches from the three Indonesian Mennonite synods send their young adults to Canada, the United States and other countries around the world. When the young people who participate in these eleven-month MCC exchange programs return to Indonesia, they have gained many skills related to cross-cultural work. They have immersed themselves in new cultures in their placement countries and have learned how to accept and adapt to new cultural patterns, mixing those new patterns with cultural practices from their home communities. When they return to Indonesia, they have re-adapt to their home culture, while discerning how to use their newly-developed skills in cross-cultural exchange.

The Mennonite synods of Indonesia offer Indonesian Mennonite youth ways to further develop their cross-cultural skills. One Mennonite synod has a youth program called Youth for Peace, in which young adults work together to identify creative ways to promote peace within Indonesian society. IVEP and YAMEN alumni have found the Youth for Peace program to be one outlet for using their new cross-cultural skills.

Other Indonesian Mennonite churches have developed a “live in” program aimed at equipping Indonesian Mennonite young adults with a deeper understanding of cultural diversity within Indonesia and with the skills to form friendships across cultural divides. The program sends participants to rural parts of the country to live with local families for a brief stay, ranging from a couple days to up to three weeks. During this time, young
adult participants learn skills such as wood craft from their host families. Participants also serve in their placement community’s local church and carry out community service. Usually the participants come from big cities and have never experienced the culture of rural Indonesian life. Through this program, Indonesian Mennonite young adults develop an appreciation for the diversity of Indonesian society and the goodness of different ways of life.

Intercultural service in the form of cross-cultural exchange equips participants for a peacebuilding mission of building unity amidst diversity.”

The cross-cultural youth movement supported by MCC through Indomenno does not only happen in church, but also between religions. Because Indonesia is so diverse, Indonesia has many communities with adherents of different faiths. Learning to be a Christian peacemaker in Indonesia means learning the value of tolerance and the ability to live in peace and harmony with people who are different, including people of different religions. Indonesian Mennonite churches, with support from MCC, provide young adults with opportunities to learn the importance of tolerance and good relations between members of different faiths. Through conversation with people of other religions, stereotypes of those religions can begin to break down: Indonesian Mennonite youth gain a deeper understanding about what other religions believe and practice, while also helping non-Christians gain a deeper understanding of what Christians believe and practice. By breaking down stereotypes, this program, which brings together young
adults from Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia, builds bridges of peace and helps create unity amidst diversity.

Intercultural service in the form of cross-cultural exchange equips participants for a peacebuilding mission of building unity amidst diversity. Through participation in a variety of exchange programs, Indonesian Mennonite youth contribute to this peacebuilding mission.

Anielle Santoso is the Indomenno connecting peoples coordinator.

Serving “with” and not “for” in the United States

Featured

[Individual articles from the Spring 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Oppressive missional models of service that only want to do to or for others have been labeled the White Savior complex, reductive seduction or poverty tourism. These outdated service models tend to exploit and seek to control and retain power over others, in the process devaluing the leadership gifts within local communities. Many within MCC are aware of the challenges that need to be navigated when conducting short-term missions. Awareness of theory, however, does not automatically provide immunity from inadvertently participating in cycles that further oppression: deliberate action and ongoing reflection are needed. When it comes to the topic of short-term missions, with is a key word. MCC’s Summer Service program in the United States has been designed out of a conviction that true transformation occurs when individuals and communities are able to exercise their own agency, with MCC simply playing a supporting, or accompanying, role.

The primary focus of MCC U.S.’s Summer
Service program is on empowering local leadership, on equipping young adults from within communities of color to identify and work for the changes that are needed within their own communities.”

What I find powerful about the MCC Summer Service program in the U.S. is that it is specifically for people of color to serve in their own communities. Its primary focus is on empowering local leadership and building up young adults of color. The program is not about sending young adults to disadvantaged communities for the summer to make a change, but rather about raising up local leadership from within communities of color to identify and work for the changes that are needed within their own communities. MCC’s role in this program is to partner with churches of color. MCC does not impose a uniform model of ministry or seek to control the service projects of young adults of color in their communities. MCC works with leaders from the contexts in which Summer Service
participants work, trusting that these communities have the solutions and resources to accomplish their goals.

People of color can sometimes replicate patterns of colonialism as we work at leadership development and missions. As a person of color leading the Summer Service program, I need to be aware of when I’m operating out of the dominant culture and not working with churches and young adults. I want to avoid dominant culture patterns that emphasize perfectionism, quantity over quality, paternalism and power hoarding.

I learned the value of working with others during my first year as an urban youth pastor. On sunny, warm days, local pastors would go the community park and carry out activities with the neighborhood kids. One young boy would always be there. He loved playing outside and working in our community garden. After a few weeks, I noticed a pattern. Even though he was eight years old and could physically swing by himself, he would always ask to be pushed on the swing by an adult. Or when tying shoes, he would often ask an adult to do it. I began to wonder: Is he doing it for attention? Does he lack the skills? Is it easier for him not to learn, knowing others will do it for him? Peter Block, an author about community building, claims that “Every time you help someone, you’ve colonized them.” This is strong language, but I think it is true. When we do things for or to people, we take away their agency. If you do that for long enough, people begin to believe they can only receive and never give, that they lack the ability or skills to make change and in turn they lose their sense of dignity and worth. The boy in the park had things done to or for him for far too long. As pastors, we didn’t want to fall into the trap so many other churches have of perpetuating oppression. We had to think critically
about what it meant to form lasting relationships and work with others inour community. We wanted to learn the role of the church in addressing trauma and to avoid perpetuating a cycle of oppression.

MCC needs to be aware of when it is acting out the dominant culture and not living out the kingdom of God. I believe if MCC creates space for more people of color in leadership, we can break away from the old models of short-term missions and dominant culture patterns. By including people of color in leadership and at the planning stages within MCC, we avoid perpetuating oppression, we share power and we recognize that there is not one right way to lead. As MCC provides mission and service opportunities, may we remember the incarnational model of Jesus Christ who walked with us, proclaimed good news to the marginalized and restored right relationships between us and God and with one another.

Danilo Sanchez is MCC U.S. Summer Service national coordinator.

Learn more

Banister, Doug. Seek the Peace of the City: Ten Ways to Bless the Place Where You Live. Knoxville, TN: All Souls, 2013. Available at https://allsoulsknoxville.com/seekthe-peace-ebook/.

Block, Peter. Community: The Structure of Belonging. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.

Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor or Yourself. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

Martin, Courtney. “The ReductiveSeduction of Other People’s Problems.” Bright. January 11, 2016. Available at https://brightthemag.com/the-reductive-seductionof-other-people-s-problems-3c07b307732d.

Navigating gender dynamics in service

Featured

[Individual articles from the Spring 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Women from Canada and the United States working in international assignments live with one foot in two worlds. Aware of and impacted by the cultural realities and gender dynamics of their country of service and their sending country, they navigate implementing a programmatic lens rooted in a North American perspective and a daily reality shaped by their country of service. This past year, with long-overdue attention paid to questions of sexual violence and gender discrimination in the United States
and elsewhere, women from the U.S. and Canada serving globally with MCC arguably felt these tensions more acutely than ever.

Women from Canada and the United States working in international assignments live with one foot in two worlds.

In the U.S., Canada, Europe and beyond, a groundswell of activism has brought renewed attention to sexual harassment and discrimination, unequal pay and lack of equal respect for women in the work place. #MeToo has become synonymous with a new movement of women’s empowerment. Yet many MCC workers live in contexts in which the concept of a hashtag is just as unfamiliar as the sentiment behind it. How can women serving with MCC globally who care deeply about the importance of working for greater gender equity in the United States and Canada appropriately address these issues in the societies in which they work?

Over the past decade, MCC has worked to improve how MCC and its partners incorporate gender analysis into planning and implementing projects. When partners plan a new food security, education, peacebuilding, disaster response or health project, MCC staff work with them to ask how women and girls are considered in the process and how
gender dynamics more broadly are accounted for. During the design phase of a recent education project in Mozambique, project planners asked: How is the quality of education in this context different for boys and girls? By asking that question, they found that

Children, as well as teachers and administrators, bring their own early socialization into the education process. Frequently, girls are raised not to value themselves highly, and without a sense of the basic human rights to which they are entitled. Boys may not question traditional gender roles that reinforce notions of male dominance and which may influence gender relations throughout the life cycle. Discrimination against girls during adolescence can reduce their readiness and ability to participate and learn, and results in fewer opportunities for them to develop to their full potential.

The project in Mozambique will work to address some of these discrepancies in education that begin in childhood when girls are taught to undervalue themselves. Designing project activities in a way that incorporates rigorous gender analysis presses MCC and its partners to look more closely at how a society’s gender norms shape daily realities for women and girls as well as men and boys.

While MCC has prioritized the incorporation of gender analysis into project planning, women in intercultural service with MCC do not have a clear-cut guide for how to navigate gender discrimination they may face during their terms of service. To be sure, women in the United States and Canada face specific forms of discrimination and navigate patriarchal systems every day. When these women enter new cultural contexts for service, they in turn must navigate different patriarchal systems with their own specific forms of discrimination.

“Women in MCC service often hold dual identities, carrying with themselves concern and passion for renewed movements against sexist discrimination in the United States and Canada, while also navigating new forms of
sexism in their contexts of service.”

In Burkina Faso, the country in which I serve, women arguably enjoy a relative degree of empowerment in comparison to women in many other African contexts. Women serve in the police and top governmental positions, while gender equality is protected under the country’s constitution. Day-to-day life, however, tells a different story. Women farmers, for example, are expected to work in the field all day and then return home to fulfill their other obligations of child rearing, wood gathering and water collecting. Men, on the other hand, can typically relax when not at work.

As MCC’s co-representative for Burkina Faso (together with my husband), I routinely encounter paternalistic attitudes and discriminatory assumptions about my abilities, though obviously to a lesser degree than Burkinabe women working in the fields. While my husband was granted immediate respect from our male project partners, I had to work to earn it. [Of course, women working in the United States and Canada can also face discriminatory expectations in the workplace!] In the beginning, partners would address all questions and concerns to my spouse, assuming he was the ultimate decision maker. Partners expressed surprise that I had the strength and endurance of a man to drive long distances over rough roads to visit them in their villages. After the birth of our third daughter during our term, many friends and colleagues in partner organizations assumed that we would continue to have children until we got a son. No MCC gender tool exists that helps women in intercultural service within MCC to navigate cultural assumptions around gender and the corresponding expectations and challenges women in service face.

Recently our office helped to facilitate a training for farmers about conservation agriculture. Because MCC is working to integrate gender analysis across programming, we dedicated a session to addressing how gender roles and expectations in Burkinabe society shape how an effective conservation agriculture project should be constructed. Together with MCC’s conservation agriculture technical officer, I facilitated the session.
We divided the men and women farmers into two groups to allow for candid conversation before coming back together. The women immediately bonded over discussing their extra responsibilities beyond working in the fields. “Why do our husbands get to come home and relax?” “They have no idea what it’s like to work with a baby strapped to their backs.” They said they had never discussed these topics with their husbands because challenging these expectations is not a realistic option. Men are the
traditional “chiefs” of the home.

Back in the plenary session, the women shared with the mixed group what we had discussed. Empowered by their collective voice, they led the conversation about the unfairness they experience. It was a lively discussion handled well by the men. So much so that the women felt comfortable enough to bring up the topic of their social obligation of plowing the fields while wearing dresses and coiffed hair, while men are allowed more comfortable and practical attire. Men acknowledged the major roles women play in a successful harvest and in managing the home. Participants discussed how women could potentially be given a more equitable share of decision making power in household and farming decisions, given the significant roles they play.

Women in intercultural service with MCC encounter many of the same patriarchal and discriminatory attitudes that women where they serve experience. At the same time, the #MeToo movement reminds us that women in the countries of the global North experience other forms of patriarchal discrimination. Women in MCC service often hold dual identities, carrying with themselves concern and passion for renewed movements against sexist discrimination in the United States and Canada, while also navigating new forms of sexism in their contexts of service. In holding these dual identities together, women in intercultural service have opportunities to make connections between different forms of sexist discrimination and to work for a future of empowerment and equality for women everywhere.

Sarah Sensamaust is MCC Burkina Faso co-representative.