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Powell: Elders help youth find their voice

By on Mar 12, 2018 in Columns, Latest Issue, Powell: A Voice from the Center | 0 comments

I asked a friend how he understood the current assault on civil and human rights. He replied, “Same song, different concert hall. Ghost of Colonialism in A Minor.”

John Powell


This began an interesting conversation about the times we live in. The societal climate is not new to marginalized people. The difference is that acts of vengeance are happening beyond the margins. The perceived superiority of white folks is being upended. They are feeling what it’s like to be oppressed.

Recently I talked with friends about retirement plans. One said he planned to deal with some “trumped up” charges. Then he winked. His statement confirmed we are encountering issues beyond partisan politics. It’s the politics of survival. We need workers for justice that move beyond left or right agendas.

My friend lamented that he didn’t have the energy for frontline work, but he planned to teach others how to be front-line workers. Retirement is a good time to reflect on the future and prepare others for the change yet to come.

If you’re retired, or drawing near to it, or simply have time available, what are your plans?

In a prior column, I said young people are ready to become midwives for a reborn society. But they need you. They want to access your knowledge, wisdom and skills. Retirement or leisure time offers an opportunity to engage in new, life-giving, creative actions.

Addressing her contemporary elders’ responsibility to young people, Bethune-Cookman College founder Mary McLeod Bethune said, “The world around us really belongs to youth, for youth will take over its future management.”

This was her hope, and others followed her — equipping youth to take their place of leadership for a better society. We are facing a fierce urgency now.

Are you called to be an elder for justice? You might feel ill-prepared or consider the task too hard. Being an elder for young justice seekers can be difficult if you are perceived as unwilling to relinquish unholy alliances and beliefs that are counter to God’s preferred future. But your faith in the radical call of Jesus will help you overcome negative thoughts.

The oak tree is a symbol of strength and perseverance. We are oaks of righteousness, a planting of God’s favor (Luke 4:19; Isaiah 61:2-4). An oak’s endurance emanates from its root system, nurtured and anchored in the depths. As elders, we have been rooted. We have been tried and found able. We have been granted the wisdom that can provide an anchor for front-line operatives working for an inclusive society. We are the root system for the humane and just community that young people are seeking.

Toward the end of our conversation, my friend said, “It’s time for us to find our voice. If we are afraid to speak up, help those who are willing.”

If you are an elder, I have a request and a challenge. Help young people find their voice. Join me in forming councils of elders in our communities. Gather likeminded wise people who can see new societies unhampered by hate and exclusion. Band together to share your wisdom and expertise with future leaders. Commit to support, in word and action, young folks who are ready to engage the powers of our communities.

Spread the news that God is in our land!

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

Showalter: God still tends roots

By on Mar 12, 2018 in Columns, Latest Issue, Showalter: World Neighbors | 0 comments

Fran Martin, a Mennonite woman in eastern Pennsylvania, accompanied a friend to India 10 years ago. She was certain she would never return to India. She was wrong.

Richard Showalter


While there, she met a young West Bengali Christian who had grown up begging on trains to assist his handicapped parents put a little food on the table. Jagannath Banerjee was orphaned in his teens and came back home from a South Indian school with nothing except a vision to reach his people for Christ. Martin became his “mother,” and during the next decade, God forged an east/west partnership in mission through them.

That is, we thought it was new until a few weeks ago. Last autumn my wife, Jewel, and I set out with him on a tour of new Bengali house fellowships.

Banerjee thought Mennonites had served in the western corner of West Bengal and asked if we’d like to visit.

“Why not?” we said. “Maybe it has something to do with the first Old Mennonite mission to India in 1899.”

Before we arrived in Balarampur, the pieces began falling into place. We learned that Banerjee, some of his earliest Christian mentors and other leaders in today’s house-church movement traced their spiritual lineages back to that spot.

There we saw the now-abandoned buildings of Bengali Bible Institute, the first such Bengali-language school in modern history, founded in 1963. Banerjee and others of his friends and mentors had been discipled through it. Together we learned to our surprise that it had self-identified as Mennonite.

“What kind of Mennonites?” we wondered. In one old campus building we met a former teacher who is now overseer for a group of Mennonite congregations. He didn’t know much about how they got there, but he knew that they are part of the United Missionary Church and that they are Mennonite.

“You can learn more when you get to Kolkata,” he said.

“OK,” we thought, “these were from Fort Wayne, Ind. They no longer identify as Mennonite in the U.S., but they have Anabaptist roots, and here they are still Mennonite.”

But there were other missing pieces. Isaac Burkholder, a close friend of Banerjee’s from Chambersburg, Pa., had found an old letter written to his great-uncle from Amos Horst, newly arrived missionary in Balarampur in 1905, well before the Fort Wayne Mennonites had come in the 1920s. Horst had eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite roots. We wondered who he was and how he got to West Bengal.

When we arrived in Kolkata, the final pieces began to fall into place.

“There was a Hephzibah Faith Mission in those years,” said Joren Barumata, current Indian Mennonite leader and former member of the Mennonite World Conference executive committee. “Horst came with them. But I don’t know much about Hephzibah. It merged with the United Missionary Church in the 1940s.”

We were coming full circle. In 2007 Fran Martin from Chambersburg met Banerjee from West Bengal, and a “new” partnership was formed. Yet 100 years earlier, Anabaptists, some with roots in her own home town, had first come to West Bengal. Furthermore, it was through their initiatives that Ban­erjee and other leaders of the current house-church movement were first discipled.

Both Indians and Americans sat in awe, reflecting on God links neither had imagined. Two towns and two little groups of Christians, American and Indian, reconnected in mission after a century.

Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.

Yoder-Short: Stories rely on empathy

By on Mar 12, 2018 in Columns, Latest Issue, Yoder-Short: Living the Story | 0 comments

Have you ever wondered about her story, that woman caught in adultery? We know nothing about her situation. Contrast this with the Samaritan woman, where we know about her five husbands and her latest live-in partner. We meet the adulterous woman in the middle of her story. Was she a willing participant in a scheming male-dominated power play? Was a trap set to catch her? And how did her male partner escape public shaming?

Jane Yoder-Short


She enters the story as an object useful for trapping Jesus.

When it comes to the drama between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees, we enter early in the story. We watch the tension between the religious leaders and Jesus grow. We see them struggle to deal with Jesus. Is he trying to circumvent the teachings of Moses? By what authority is he acting? How big a threat does Jesus pose to the religious establishment?

A plan is formulated. Leviticus and Deuteronomy support the death penalty for adultery. The plotters just need a live, preferably female, adulterer. If Jesus doesn’t agree to her stoning, he is exposed as soft on Mosaic Law. If he does agree, he crosses Roman law, which does not allow Jews to carry out their own executions. It’s the perfect trap.

Jesus doesn’t fall for the setup. He shifts the story by flipping the question back to the posse of plotters. Jesus tells them that the one without sin should throw that first stone. Somewhat surprisingly, Jesus trusts his antagonists to be honest about their own sinfulness.

In the Journal of Biblical Literature, Gail O’Day observes that Jesus treats the woman and the scribes and Pharisees as equals. Jesus addresses words about sin to both. Both are invited to give up old ways and enter a new way of living. Jesus refuses to let sin define either the plotters or the woman. Instead, he points to new possibilities for both. Acquittal, freedom and transformation are for everyone.

Jesus diverts attention away from the woman and toward the wannabe stone-throwers. Do we prefer that the attention stays focused on the woman? Do we get uncomfortable when we realize how much we have in common with the judgmental group?

The plotters remind us how quickly we divide people into saints and sinners. They remind us that self-justification and superiority can feel good. We begin to see that the plotters are not super-villains but people like us.

The sin posse becomes more interested in control than in dialogue. They want to control the crowds and the religious institutions. In their rush to be seen as right, they lose empathy for the woman.

In our race to be right, we can lose empathy for those we see as the other. Too often, we make wrong assumptions about the stories of others. We enter in the middle of their story and think we understand the situation.

We begin to think we are above the fray. We miss the plotting, the moves to control, the planks in our eyes. We miss our biases. We fail to see beyond the fake news we have come to trust. We act without seeing the looming traps that dangle in the air. We slide into the comforting attraction of legalism. We drift into the inviting fog of mushy ethics. Either path can lead to snobbish, judgmental superiority.

Jesus manages to escape the traps. Jesus offers compassion, grace and transformation to all sides.

As sinners, let’s accept the offer. Let’s find ways to move toward Jesus’ example of holding these three together. Let’s start offering them recklessly and indiscriminately.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

German church finds a different way to reach out

By and on Mar 12, 2018 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

Not far from the Czech and Austrian borders, a little Bavarian congregation has started doing church differently.

Last fall, members of Landau Mennonite Church in Germany began hosting Kirche Anders (Different Church) on a handful of Sunday evenings in the train station across the street from the church building, in addition to regular Sunday morning worship. The goal is to offer nudges toward God in a setting that feels safe for people uncomfortable with church.

Claudia Stangl leads a Kirche Anders event Jan. 21 in the Landau, Germany, train station. — Landau Mennonite Church

Claudia Stangl leads a Kirche Anders event Jan. 21 in the Landau, Germany, train station. — Landau Mennonite Church

Kirche Anders team leader Claudia Stangl said members of the church had been thinking for some time about reaching out to bring people into contact with God.

“We soon realized that classical worship — even if it is modern in design — usually only attracts Christians who are dissatisfied with their congregations,” she said by email in German.

The evening events, which Stangl refrains from describing as church services, lack prayer, preaching or overtly religious music.

“Of course, they are there, just not in their usual form,” she said. “We offer contemporary music from a variety of styles, often from the secular realm. But it is not a concert.

“It is important to us that the songs have meaningfulness and address people’s questions and problems. Between songs, we moderate a bit and offer brief impulses that silently and invitingly point toward God, but never in an offensive manner. We’d rather send people home with a good question than a hasty answer — and they come back! We have been very surprised by the response in the city.”

Landau Mennonite Church numbers only about 35 members. At the last Kirche Anders across the street in the train station, roughly 150 visitors came.

The evening services draw inspiration from Jesus, who was quite capable of having theological discussions with the pious Pharisees, but shared his life mostly with his followers, using everyday language that drew from examples in regular people’s lives.

“At Kirche Anders we do not want so much to speak about Jesus, but to speak like him,” Stangl said. “People’s questions at the end of the evening are often pastoral, not theological.

“Afterward, visitors can stay and chat at the bar. Above all, the church needs to be able to converse and relate.”

Beyond pious services

Several years ago, members of Landau Mennonite attended a South German Mennonite Federation gathering on the theme of doing outreach, with an emphasis on meeting people where they are, speaking as they speak, discussing things that matter to them.

The church tried a few special worship services, which still felt very “pious,” with little connection between music and message.

Since October, each event has been focused on one theme relating to everyday life. Two people from the four-person leadership team plan the theme and moderate, and the other two work with the music.

“Since it isn’t a ‘worship service,’ it also gives us the opportunity to involve local musicians in the band, some of whom aren’t believers but enjoy participating,” Stangl said.

Songs may come from German pop stars or artists like U2 and Michael Jackson. Words and graphics are projected on a screen. Some visitors stand, some sit.

“This winter we planned to do four events, and we’ve done three,” Stangl said in February. “. . . It takes a lot of effort in preparation. The band studies 10-12 new songs each time.”

Trading the liturgy and sermon for pop tunes in a train station wasn’t a slam-dunk proposition. Some church members felt the format wasn’t spiritual enough. Many attendees have no idea the Mennonite church is behind Kirche Anders, seemingly diminishing or hiding the congregation’s role.

But the people are coming, and other congregations are taking notice.

“It almost scares us a bit how much momentum we’ve generated,” Stangl said. “Not only here in Landau, but there has also been interest in the Mennonite conference.

“Above all, we realize that we ourselves have to change. We have to become linguistically and socially responsible.

“In the long run, people will not go where the best program is but where they are loved and not condemned and receive help for their needs.”

Illinois farmland gets a new mission

By and on Mar 12, 2018 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

A revitalized farm property is bringing new life to rural north-central Illinois.

Members of Willow Springs Mennonite Church in Tiskilwa began a project called Hungry World Farm toward the end of 2017. The farm will educate people about sustainable food production, nutrition and creation care with the intent to facilitate conversations about the kingdom of God.

Hungry World Farm volunteers mulch strawberries in the fall to prepare for the next growing season. — Hungry World Farm

Hungry World Farm volunteers mulch strawberries in the fall to prepare for the next growing season. — Hungry World Farm

“There’s the recognition that as humans, all of us have hungers in our life — hunger for food, hunger for relationships, and a deep spiritual hunger as well,” said Cal Zehr, pastor of Willow Springs. “The workers and volunteers on the farm own that vision — that the deeper life is going to involve walking with the Lord and working for the kingdom.”

Zehr envisioned the idea as a way to continue the Christian witness already associated with the 175-acre property.

In 1971, members of Reba Place Fellowship, a Mennonite intentional community on the north side of Chicago, purchased the property and began a similar community called Plow Creek Fellowship. Plow Creek became famous for its produce, selling fruit and vegetables at farmers markets and welcoming visitors to pick their own strawberries and blueberries.

Plow Creek members formed their own congregation and sought to imitate the sharing of life and resources as described in Acts 2-4. Several members lived in fellowship-owned housing on the farm property and in town. Up to 100 people sometimes joined in worship and shared meals.

Fewer than 20 members remained in 2017. They decided to close Plow Creek and transfer the property to a Christian organization.

“It was only a year ago that this Hungry World Farm was just an idea,” Zehr said.

Together with others from Willow Springs, he formed a steering committee for Hungry World Farm and obtained not-for-profit status at the end of 2017.

Part of God’s work

As the new farm season begins, work has started to maintain the operation.

Stephan Rauh of Metamora, Ill., began work as lead produce farmer in February. Although he didn’t grow up on a farm, he gained an interest in food production and distribution as a biology student at Wheaton (Ill.) College and while volunteering at a food pantry in Elkhart, Ind., with Mennonite Voluntary Service. Since then, he has had experiences with various farms and related organizations.

Rauh said he resonated with Hungry World Farm’s mission.

“This is about wholeness, well-being, shalom, right relationship,” he said. “We’re wanting to invite others into the consideration of what it looks like to be participating in God’s work of redeeming, restoring, reconciling, making relationships right.”

Plans for produce include “you pick” times during peak berry seasons, sales at the local farmers market, a small community-supported agriculture produce subscription program and sales to restaurants in the Peoria, Ill., area, about an hour south of the farm.

“I’m trying to start the production recognizing the broader work that needs to be done with Hungry World Farm,” Rauh said. “We’re trying to be conservative in what we do our first year.”

While produce will be grown using standards above and beyond those required for organic certification, the farm is not currently pursuing the status but may do so in the future.

Some of the members of Plow Creek who had worked on the farm are continuing to volunteer with produce, gardening and small livestock.

Those who have remained in the area have integrated themselves into the Willow Springs church community, which sees around 50 people on a Sunday.

“Willow Springs has been enhanced because of Plow Creek people engaging in worship,” Zehr said, acknowledging the difficulty experienced by Plow Creek members who lost their congregation. “Out of that struggle, there’s definitely some newness for Willow Springs, and newness for Hungry World Farm coming together.”

The farm project has attracted the attention of people in the agriculture-dominated area, including people who might not usually be drawn to a church. Although he has been pastor at Willow Springs for more than 26 years and has built many relationships in the town of fewer than 800 people, Zehr said that because of Hungry World Farm he’s had conversations with people he had never met before.

“There’s not a new church being formed, . . . [but] it’s a witness as a mission outpost of the kingdom,” he said.

Hungry World Farm is 55 percent self-supporting and seeks the remaining support from grants and donations. Donations can be sent to Hungry World Farm, P.O. Box 386, Tis­kilwa, IL 61368 or made online at

Rachel Stella was a member of Plow Creek Fellowship.

Reconciliation comes to Congo after betrayal, remorse

By , and on Mar 12, 2018 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

The community lined the sides of the road to welcome six vehicles rolling in from an arduous 500-mile journey from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than 30 Congolese Mennonite leaders and mission representatives had accepted the Kandale congregation’s invitation to attend a reconciliation ceremony.

A local dignitary shakes Rod Hollinger-Janzen’s hand during the ceremony of confession and reconciliation in Kandale, Congo. Overseeing the greeting is Mennonite Church elder André Ndjoko, one of the event organizers. — Charles Buller/MMN

A local dignitary shakes Rod Hollinger-Janzen’s hand during the ceremony of confession and reconciliation in Kandale, Congo. Overseeing the greeting is Mennonite Church elder André Ndjoko, one of the event organizers. — Charles Buller/MMN

The four-day event, which began Oct. 12, brought closure to more than a half-century of unresolved remorse for betrayal and strained relationships between mission workers and Kandale’s residents.

Kandale was one of eight original stations of Congo Inland Mission, a predecessor agency of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.

The need for reconciliation stemmed from events that began Jan. 20, 1964. On that evening, missionary children were listening to bedtime stories when Jeu­nesse rebels attacked. This movement of Congolese youth accused North Americans of collaborating with the corrupt national government and of destroying African culture with Western education and values.

“We could see flames leaping skyward and, against the red backdrop of burning homes, the running figures of the attackers brandishing bows and arrows,” wrote Jim Bertsche in CIM/AIMM: A Story of Vision, Commitment and Grace.

Mission workers were beaten and threatened with death. Gas was poured in a circle around the families, who huddled together. But no spark ignited into flame.

“And yet, during the hours of greatest confusion, tension and danger, there was a quiet reality of God’s presence. . . . Ours was an inner calm of spirit that we shall never forget,” Bertsche wrote.

As the mission families were led to the rebel camp to stand trial, two Congolese nurses stepped out of the shadows. At the risk of their own lives, the nurses negotiated for the mission families to spend the night in the dispensary instead of the forest.

Four days later, the mission workers were evacuated by United Nations helicopters. The Congolese who protected them were left behind to bear the consequences of not being loyal to the rebel cause. In the chaos, all parties inflicted pain on others, intentionally or unintentionally.

“These events divided the Kandale community and created distance between the community and the mission,” said Rod Hol­linger-Janzen, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission executive coordinator and part of the delegation participating in the reconciliation ceremony.

Reconciliation ceremony

Macaire Kilambo, a lay leader of Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Church in Congo), the largest of the DRC’s Anabaptist denominations, recognized the negative consequences of violence and unconfessed shame on his homeland. For several years, he worked with Kandale church and community leaders and mission representatives to organize the reconciliation ceremony.

Several traditional chiefs were present, including a descendant of the chief who had given the land on which the mission was built. Four North Americans who had been missionary children in Congo were also in attendance.

André Ndjoko, a Kandale Mennonite Church elder, knelt before the Congolese and North American Mennonite delegation to ask forgiveness on behalf of his community for how it mistreated missionaries.

“We acted against our doctrine, against our community [in 1964],” Ndjoko said. “We destroyed houses that you built. What we have done is against our ancestors, against our parents, and our God.”

Then, Hollinger-Janzen knelt before the Kandale leaders, accepted their apology and extended forgiveness on behalf of AIMM workers. He asked for forgiveness for the mission’s failings and neglect of the Kandale community following the rebellion.

A village chief offered gifts — ceremonial hatchets, horsehair fly-whisks and a tiny braided-grass rope that symbolized a cow.

More than 1,000 people praised God for the renewed relationships in a six-hour worship service.

Brad and Stan Graber, part of the delegation, shared a letter written by their mother, Gladys, who had been in Kandale with her husband, Harold, during the rebellion: “As God alone can do, he turned this experience into blessing. . . . May the Spirit of God assure you today that we are one in Christ who offers forgiveness to each one of us.”

Ecumenical evangelist

By on Mar 12, 2018 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Gospel “crusades” have passed into history, but the era of mass evangelism still inspires. The death of Billy Graham on Feb. 21 at the age of 99 caused Christians to look back on the legacy of itinerant preachers, consider the strengths and weaknesses of their methods, and ask: Will there ever be another Billy Graham?

Almost certainly not. The media landscape is too fragmented, the culture too secular. Throngs of spiritual searchers don’t gather at the feet of a famous man on a big stage.

Different generations clothe the gospel in different attire — like Mennonite evangelist Myron Augsburger in the 1970s trading his plain coat for one with lapels, as Graham had advised him to do more than 20 years earlier.

One thing that doesn’t change is the need for excellent preaching. But today’s most convicting sermon and heart-wrenching altar call probably won’t match the soul harvest of a mid-20th-century revival meeting.

Even at the height of Mennonite tent crusades’ popularity in the 1950s, evangelists recognized the tenuous nature of some penitents’ decisions. In a memoir, Dear God, I’m Only a Boy, journalist Menno Duerksen described the pressure he felt to answer an altar call in 1930s Oklahoma — and the anguish of doubting his own public claim of salvation because he didn’t feel saved. Crusade-style conversion wasn’t for everyone. Countless others found assurance of salvation.

The success that Graham and other evangelists achieved reminds us that the journey of faith may begin with a moment of decision, perhaps a public one. The heart of Graham’s message — the promise of salvation and a changed life that begins with repentance — was timeless. In 1954, at a press conference in London, Graham explained how he would proclaim the Good News there: “I am going to preach a gospel not of despair but of hope — hope for the individual, for society and for the world.” We who have found our hope in Christ can draw inspiration from Graham’s boldness to proclaim the source of this hope.

Graham’s life also presents a cautionary example of the risks of casting one’s lot with political power. His friendship with Richard Nixon caused embarrassment; he said things behind closed doors that he regretted. He denounced communism and antiwar demonstrators but was less politically focused and partisan than the combative evangelical leaders who came after him.

Graham reached across the lines that separated Protestant from Catholic, fundamentalist from mainline, white from black. Today, as new versions of political and theological differences divide churches and communities, Graham’s ability to unify Christians around the core of their faith sets a model of inclusion and charity.

Religious bridge-building now extends beyond Christian denominations to other faiths. How does Graham’s ecumenism apply to Christian-Muslim relationships? Can we discover new ways to communicate the gospel without compromising the uniqueness of Christ? This is a question that Myron Augsburger — whose calling as a Mennonite evangelist paralleled Graham’s career — raised as he reflected on Graham’s legacy.

There will never be another Billy Graham. Which makes it all the more important that each of us, on the smaller stages we occupy, should follow his example of sharing the hope of Christ.

Going nuts with guns

By on Mar 12, 2018 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

Our country is going nuts with guns, and the rest of the world is laughing at us. After every mass shooting, we hide behind the Second Amendment, mental illness, vigils and prayers. This has not worked. I don’t believe America has more mentally ill people than the rest of the world. There are no known links between mental illness and mass shootings. People kill because they have access to guns, and killers are not always under 21.

The Second Amendment refers to a well-regulated militia. Mass shootings have not been committed by members of regulated militias. In the name of the right to bear arms, our country has become a culture of guns, and we are killing each other mercilessly.

President Trump suggested adding 600,000 more guns by arming 20 percent of the nation’s teachers. The best solution we can come up with is more guns?

The time has come to fix the country’s sickness by following the lead of our youth and joining their “never again” movement. For the movement to gain thrust, we need to understand the right to bear arms as the Second Amendment defines it. “Never again” is not achievable until we have a national conversation about reinterpreting or, better yet, repealing the Second Amendment.

Arming teachers is not the answer. Assault weapons need to be limited to law enforcement and the military. We should start calling out politicians to consider public safety first as they plan their re-election campaigns.

Zenebe Abebe

The foolish voices of God

By on Mar 12, 2018 in The World Together | 0 comments

For love of the world, God did foolish things. As you can imagine, I have thought a lot about this over the past couple of weeks and I find myself asking some challenging questions as a result. Who are the witnesses whom our “foolish God” (1 Cor. 1:25) has sent to proclaim the message of good news?

Slaves become chosen people

First I think of the slaves that became a chosen people, and I wonder who are the slaves today who are God’s chosen ones. Are they those enslaved in the sex trade? Are they the children enslaved to grow coffee and tea or mine diamonds and gold? It’s easy to get irate at these forms of slavery and imagine that God wants to create chosen people of these marginalized ones.

Then, however, I think of those who are enslaved in poverty because of our desire for cheap goods and services — the farmers who often get only a pittance for their produce, the minimum wage earners who do not earn a living wage without working two or sometimes three jobs, the factory workers in China who often work in even worse conditions. I wonder, how long will their cries for freedom rise as prayers before God until they are set free? I wonder, too, what I can do to help them break out of their slavery. As I walk through Lent this year, I wonder: Are there ways that I can become a spokesperson for people on the margins whose poverty I contribute to by my consumer choices?

Despised are the best advocates

Next I think of the shepherds, the despised in their society whose testimony was not admissible in court, and I wonder who are the despised today whose voices we do not listen to. Are they the homeless living in increasing numbers on our streets? Or possibly the indigenous people whose voices have been silenced in so many of our countries. Or are they the children crying out against yet another gun massacre here in the U.S.? What can I do to make sure I listen to the possibly exciting news about God they are wanting to proclaim?

Foreigners welcome

Not surprisingly, my next set of witnesses that our “foolish God” sends are the wise men, foreigners from a distant land. They too challenge me to expand my vision— Who are the foreigners? Immigrants, those of other faiths or other races. Who are the foreigners kept out by walls — maybe not a physical wall like the one being built between the U.S. and Mexico, or excluded by the walls in my mind that tell me these foreigners are not worth listening to? How can I educate myself more effectively about their viewpoints and build bridges, not walls?

Forgotten ones come first

Next I am reminded of the women who were the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. We so easily forget them or disparage them, especially Mary Magdalene. She has been so maligned over the centuries. Instead of the awe due to the one who was the first witness to the risen Lord, we condemn her as a prostitute. Whom do we misjudge today? Are they people of other sexual orientations whose viewpoints we are closed to, on whom we heap condemnation? Are they the poor whom we condemn by fallaciously saying “they don’t work hard enough”? Or are they those in prison, gang members, drug addicts? We all have our lists of “condemned” people, those we want to keep hidden in our society. How can we make sure their stories are listened to with acceptance and love?

Unlikely leaders

“Can any good come out of Galilee?” the religious leaders say when Jesus comes on the scene. I am sure they kept saying it when Galilean fishermen became the leaders of this new movement too. Our “foolish God” has always chosen unlikely leaders, people that most of the world would reject as uneducated, irreligious, unworthy. God takes such people and molds them into a new community. How, too, can I be open to God’s unlikely leaders and look not to the rich and powerful but to the marginalized and the poor who are God’s primary spokespeople?

As I continue to walk through Lent, I am asking myself what new practices I should take on in order to be open to the “foolishness of God” in choosing people like me and you, the poor and the marginalized, the forgotten and the foreigners. I am looking for new ways to engage the unlikely people of God all around me.

Christine Sine is co-founder, along with her husband, Tom Sine, of Mustard Seed Associates, a small organization to assist churches and Christian organizations to engage the challenges of the 21st century. She writes at Godspace, where this post originally appeared.

A name worth keeping

By on Mar 12, 2018 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

What’s in a name? For Tim Unruh of Hillsboro, Kan., it’s more than a hill of beans. His decision to name his Menno Beans coffee roasting venture after Menno Simons is an ode to his faith heritage and an ice-breaker to conversations with people who don’t know Mennonite from macchiato.

Unruh’s choice is countercultural, both in secular terms and the Anabaptist realm. As names go, Mennonite identity is in a perilous state.

Mennonite World Conference is evaluating a switch to embrace the broader umbrella of Anabaptism, which makes sense due to membership of Brethren in Christ groups. Other changes seem more designed to put distance between a group and the M-word.

Since at least 2016, Conservative Mennonite Conference has debated a name change. A switch to “Rosedale Network” was introduced last summer, when CMC executive director Brian Hershberger said “Mennonite” creates confusion by being associated with plain Anabaptists or progressive theology.

The large and influential Weaverland Mennonite Church in East Earl, Pa., made the switch last year to Weaverland Anabaptist Faith Community.

When it rolled its seminary into Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University less than a decade ago, the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Breth­ren Churches changed the name from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary to Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. Many MB congregations don’t have a reference to Mennonite or Anabaptist in the name, and the multisite network of congregations in Utah has USMB blessing to claim on its website to be nondenominational.

It seems every group that shifts away from using the word does so to escape the specter of strangeness. Do Christ’s followers — called to lives of nonconformity, citizens of a kingdom not of this world — just want to blend in?

There is nothing wrong with a church being weird. We’re called to it. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ gave Christians a road map for being considered strange by the rest of the world. Compromises made by the church to gain contemporary acceptance and power — be they in the time of Constantine or Trump — prove the admission isn’t worth the price.

Talking about passions isn’t tricky. But for some reason, it’s easier to evangelize on Facebook about a favorite caramel-swirl mocha frappuccino than to rave about where we go on Sunday morning that starts with an M. Unruh’s beans show us a way to have our coffee and drink it, too.