Clothed with faith, humor

Youth pastor peddles T-shirts with messages of faith and identity for MCC

Sep 29, 2014 by and

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Jonathan Kornelsen’s teen-aged “Menno” T-shirt concept that made his father laugh out loud is taking root as a fundraiser around British Columbia and two other Canadian provinces.

Youth pastor and T-shirt visionary Jonathan Kornelsen, left, then-Central Community Church lead pastor Ron van Akker and volunteer Tyler Stobbe sell T-shirts to raise money for Mennonite Central Committee at the relief sale in Abbotsford, B.C. — Mennonite Brethren Herald

Youth pastor and T-shirt visionary Jonathan Kornelsen, left, then-Central Community Church lead pastor Ron van Akker and volunteer Tyler Stobbe sell T-shirts to raise money for Mennonite Central Committee at the relief sale in Abbotsford, B.C. — Mennonite Brethren Herald

Now youth pastor at Central Community Church in Chilliwack, Kornelsen thought it would be fun as a teen to wear a shirt that read, “Menno Simons is my homeboy.” As the annual Fraser Valley Mennonite Central Committee relief sale approached in 2011, the Bible college graduate remembered his T-shirt idea and had three shirts made to wear at the sale.

But his father Gordon’s laughter on seeing the shirt affirmed Kornelsen’s desire to do more with the idea. He ordered 90 shirts, snagged the last available table just three days before the start of the 2011 sale and picked up his shirts that morning. His youth group sold 70 shirts at $15, with all net proceeds to MCC.

They did even better in 2012, selling 200 shirts that read, “Make borscht, not bombs.” They missed the 2013 sale but were back this year with 300 shirts, including the newly designed “Rock and Rollkucken” and a sleeveless shirt saying “This is how Mennonites bare arms.”

“We have three goals,” Kornelsen said. “First, laugh. Second, help MCC. And third, create conversations — all things Mennonite — about who we are as a body of believers” while making some gentle fun with Mennonite stereotypes.

The shirts, he said, are amazing conversation starters. Kornelsen’s youth group knew they had started something good in the first year when they got questions like, “Who is Menno Simons?” and “What’s an Anabaptist?”

Kornelsen said he keeps his focus on Jesus in his youth group ministry. But in advance of each sale, he briefs his volunteer sales team, composed of about two dozen youth leaders, on what the shirts say.

The “Menno shirt” idea has caught on beyond the Fraser Valley. Mennonites from Alberta and Manitoba have made inquiries. Between Abbotsford and Calgary’s MCC sales, Kornelsen expects to sell 600 shirts this year and is talking with MCC about expanding to other sales.

A shirt reading “Mennonites put the oba in Manitoba” is another of the messages. Other examples can be found at facebook.com/mennoapparel.

Kornelsen said the project is not only fun, but he takes “great joy in knowing that all the proceeds from these shirts go to MCC and their amazing work.”

He calls it a labor of love.

“It’s one of the ways I can give back and say thank you to MCC, because if it weren’t for this organization, my family would not have been able to migrate to Canada in 1949,” he said.


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