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Bolivian children’s home builds stronger families

By and on Aug 14, 2017 in Feature, Latest Issue | 0 comments

WINNIPEG, Man. — When Rosinda Picon goes to work, she trusts the staff at Stansberry Children’s Home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to care for her children.

The children’s home, which is a Mennonite Central Committee partner, is about three miles outside downtown Santa Cruz — a short walk for Picon — in a rapidly growing city of almost 2 million people.

Students in the pre-kindergarten class attend their last week of classes at Guarderia Moisés, a daycare program of MCC partner Stansberry Children’s Home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. — Juliane Kozel/Stansberry Children’s Home

Students in the pre-kindergarten class attend their last week of classes at Guarderia Moisés, a daycare program of MCC partner Stansberry Children’s Home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. — Juliane Kozel/Stansberry Children’s Home

The home serves as a refuge for abandoned children or those seized by the state, but it also runs a day-care program, providing education and security children need while allowing their caregivers the opportunity to work.

Bolivia is a country of great economic disparity, with large portions of the population struggling to survive on a daily basis. MCC Bolivia representative Steve Plenert said many people have come from rural areas with hopes of finding work, including Picon.

“Bolivia has made some real strides in terms of reducing extreme poverty, however there are still many people who are in difficult circumstances,” he said. “Some of these people move to Santa Cruz where they may be quite vulnerable, particularly women.”

Picon has very few supports as she lives far away from family.

“I’ve lived in Santa Cruz for 10 years now. I was born and grew up in Sucre [several hundred miles away], but I moved here when I was 12,” she said. “My parents still live in Sucre, but they can’t support me much. I’m pretty much on my own with the three kids.”

Bolivian schools run for half days, leaving many children vulnerable while their parents are at work.

The day care provides snacks, play time and counseling to about 100 children from the children’s home and surrounding neighborhood during this time. Picon is grateful because the staff go above and beyond to assist her.

“It’s a really good place. The kids are happy here,” she said.

Her older son, Miguel Angel, 6, attended Stansberry, but is now in school. Her daughter Maria Fernanda, 4, currently attends, while baby Leonel Justin goes to work with her.

When Leonel was born, a Stansberry staff member visited Picon in the hospital and brought her food.

“We don’t have an easy life. I pay the monthly amount for them to be here, but it’s hard to make the money go far enough each month,” she said. “Sometimes we run out of oil and rice. I don’t really have enough money to pay for everything, but the school understands, and they try to be helpful.”

Miguel, Maria and Leonel live with Picon off-site, but many children live at Stansberry.

These children often arrive after several years in other temporary children’s shelters. Stansberry is a permanent home, where children can stay until they finish school. The organization owns four casitas, which house 10 to 14 people each, including foster parents. They eat, clean and go to church together and learn how healthy families function.

Stability is paramount in this situation. Sibling groups stay together, and there is a low turnover, so children can better bond with their caregivers.

On top of their programming for children, Stansberry offers workshops for parents on improving life in the home, and educational opportunities for those with little formal education.

“It’s a very good organization, and MCC believes in the mission of providing good care for vulnerable children,” Plenert said. “It’s a safe, loving and caring environment where the needs of the children are met. The proof is that many of them go on to live healthy and structured lives after they age out of the system.”

Book review: ‘Rebel Mother’

By on Aug 14, 2017 in Book Review, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

The Mennonite layer of Peter Andreas’ unconventional childhood story is at first glance rather thin. More than anything, Rebel Mother is a story of the 1960s and 1970s, when American culture was impacted by dramatic political and social changes that redrew its landscape permanently.

"Rebel Mother"

“Rebel Mother”

Peter was born into a marriage formed in 1951 by two Bethel College students in south central Kansas, a father with “hardwired 1950s sensibilities” and a mother who increasingly questioned the values and propriety of her upbringing. Like so many women of her generation, Carol would lose the nipped-in waist and coiffed hair of a “proper and conventional appearance” for a “cool and casual look” of straight hair, jeans and sandals. Like others of her time, she critiqued sexism and patriarchy.

But she pursued her ideas to radical conclusions, rejecting monogamy and the nuclear family as well as consumerism, capitalism and conformity to anything conventional. She became a Marxist revolutionary, traveling both geographically and intellectually in pursuit of a pure and idealistic life.

Andreas’ first memory was his father abruptly picking him up from nursery school to thwart his mother’s plan to take him with her as she left his father. Carol was determined to raise Peter with her revolutionary imprint. Peter’s father, Carl, believed stability was the best for a young boy.

Before the divorce was final, Carol took Peter and his two brothers across state lines, defying a court order and then fleeing to Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Peru. When the divorce was final and Carl was granted legal custody of Peter, Carol kidnapped him, again fleeing the country. Carl would eventually stop fighting for Peter’s physical custody, in a sort of King Solomon-esque retreat.

The power of a good memoir is authenticity, the ability to convince the readers this is really happening in people’s lives. In a melodramatic family story, Andreas keeps our attention with the clear and consistent voice of a growing child.

Here is a young boy’s poignant perspective of his parents’ arguments, his mother’s restlessness, the dogs who were his pets, and the food and homes and roommates that change with each move. Through Peter’s eyes, we see an exasperating and often self-absorbed but charismatic mother.

He is also a child of divorce, who once told a judge he wanted to live with both parents. You will find yourself rooting for the societal changes that now favor shared custody and co-parenting.

Andreas says he wrote this book after finding a trove of diaries and journals written by his mother after she died in 2004. He relies heavily on her perspective, and their relationship is his primary subject.

For Peter’s mother, Mennonites were the staid something she rebelled against. “No longer a polite and proper Mennonite teenager, by her late thirties my mother had learned to thrive on conflict and action,” writes Andreas. Neither Carol nor her son recognizes her passion for social justice and fairness as similar to Mennonite values of peacemaking, community-building and global humanitarianism. Carol was early for her time, and definitely extreme in her interpretation, but certainly not the only Bethel graduate to wave a flag of radical change.

Produced by a major publisher, Rebel Mother is obviously written for a non-Mennonite audience, and Andreas’ introductory description of what “Mennonite” means is particularly flat. “As a pacifist Christian sect closely related to the Amish . . . Mennonites mostly intermarried, spent Sundays at church, and kept to themselves.”

In the same way, Peter’s portrayal of his Mennonite father as “frustratingly square and provincial” seems stereotypical and flat. Carl traveled to Cuba on a winter college break, worked on the railroad in Colorado after high school, spent four years living in Pakistan and married women who were both outspoken, attractive, youthful and very bright. Both of his wives earned Ph.D.s while married to Carl. It doesn’t add up to the “straitlaced, traditional American family man” Peter calls his father. Peter seems also to undervalue the steadfast presence Carl remained in his life, despite the family’s turmoil.

I confess my prejudice on the last point. I am acquainted with Carl Andreas, and his second wife, Rosalind. Mennonite readers may also find familiar faces, including Carol’s father, Willis Rich, longtime director of public relations at Bethel College.

Peter Andreas grew into an accomplished scholar and author. He holds a joint appointment between the department of political science and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. He has published a number of books and scholarly articles on global issues.

Rebel Mother is a fascinating and extremely well-written account of a mother and son plunging through the politics of their time. It includes some harrowing experiences in Chile when the Allende government was forcibly overthrown by a CIA-sponsored military coup.

It is also an honest book, which is not as easy as it sounds. Peter Andreas brings us along with him as he navigates his own family’s complexities and takes on the task of all adults, making peace with your parents.

Ardie S. Goering is a Christmas tree farmer and writer living in both central Kansas and Albuquerque, N.M.

Showalter: What makes a convert?

By on Aug 14, 2017 in Columns, Latest Issue, Showalter: World Neighbors | 0 comments

Why do evangelicals become Anabaptists? Why do Anabaptists become Orthodox or Catholic? Why do Orthodox or Catholics become evangelicals? Why do young people leave “the church,” of whatever variety? What is the power behind new Christian movements, such as Anabaptism in the 16th century, Pentecostalism in the 20th or the new monasticism of the 21st? And why do people of other major world religions choose Christianity?

Richard Showalter


For sure, we want a faith that matters. A few weeks ago as I sat among a group of new believers in the Middle East, we began talking about the teachings of Christianity — repentance, faith, obedience, love and the power of the Holy Spirit. Only a few months before, they had no knowledge of Jesus except that he was a “prophet.” Now they were committed followers of Jesus.

One of them remarked, “I became a Christian because it makes sense; it is true. As I began to read the Bible, I was amazed that it talks about humanity as it really is. It is not framed in some super-religious, self-righteous pretense. I would have hidden the sins of the kings of Israel. Certainly I would hide the sins of prophets like Moses and David. But in the Bible, it’s all there.”

He went on. “Some things about Christianity are easy to embrace — the love of God, forgiveness of sins and ‘God with us’ through the Holy Spirit.

“But other things are really hard. The hardest thing is when I’m asked to love my enemies. That seems impossible. Sure, I can accept God’s forgiveness of me. But when I pray the prayer of Jesus, I am asking God to forgive my sins like I forgive those of others against me. Can I actually do that?”

We continued talking. I watched those young believers face the core of the gospel without watering it down and softening its message. They pondered and prayed. They embraced it. All the distinctions within the global Christian community were foreign to them. But they were face to face with Jesus, and they believed.
It had not been an easy choice. They face ostra­cism from friends and families. Their whole culture stands against them. Every day is a new adventure, a new series of tests, in walking with Jesus. It is a faith that matters. Joy, suffering, hope, faith, new life — it is all there.

Running like a subtext through my mind was a complementary set of questions from inside Christianity. An Anabaptist friend who became Catholic. Another who became Orthodox. A Pentecostal friend who became Anabaptist, an Anabaptist who became Pentecostal, and on and on. Why? And what difference does that make to these new believers?

All these friends had responded to a God who broke through particular traditions that had shaped their existence since childhood. Deep inside, they longed for reality, and when God did an end run around their traditions, they said yes.

No, not all religious change happens when God breaks through. Often these changes are simply the product of relentless social pressure or of restless minds in search of personal power and peace. Much of religion, as well as anti-religion, results from humanity enthroned as god.

But when the living God breaks through, mere religious tradition in any form loses its power and place. Not only do non-Christian religions often insulate people from encountering the living Christ. Sadly, it’s also possible to be Mennonite, Catholic, Orthodox or Pentecostal without really knowing Jesus.

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

Opting to be humanist

By on Aug 14, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 2 comments

The subjects of contention in MWR’s Letters & Comments section leave me in a quandary. Having been a Mennonite Church member for 60 years, and on its payroll for 15, I treasure the love that emanates from within the Mennonite family. But letters indicating the great divide as to the church’s focus and ethics are wide of the target. It is time to reassess the church’s essence and issues.

When one is constantly faced with the horrors of innocent suffering and death from natural disasters (landslides, tsunamis, famine, starvation, Ebola, kidnappings, militarism) it is evident that the God of the Bible is not involved in mercy missions and that the religious communities, including Mennonites, don’t prioritize it either.

From my perspective, it is clear God is not in the prayer answering or rescuing business. There is no indisputable evidence whatsoever — from personal observation or science — that the biblical God is involved with anything done on Earth. The Bible is too contradictory to be believed, and its God is too “ungodly” to be worshiped.

Devoid of any expectation of supernatural intervention, I have opted to be a humanist, committed to a philosophy of and responsibility toward a life of mutual good, relying on critical thinking and evidence to direct me toward that end.

B. Harry Dyck
Elkhart, Ind.

Powell: Passing the torch to a new set of midwives

By on Aug 14, 2017 in Columns, Latest Issue, Powell: A Voice from the Center | 0 comments

After the election of President Obama in 2008, civil rights leader and Mennonite theologian Vincent Harding used the image of midwifery to describe an emerging America.

John Powell


A midwife encourages the mother and child through the pain and ecstasy of childbirth. While helping the mother bear the pain, she talks to the child. She tells the child that he or she can, and must, make it through. Harding suggested we are midwives of a new America.

“Perhaps,” he said, “we are the ones who will walk through the great dangers into the marvelous opportunities for helping our nation begin in a new way to realize its best possibilities — to be born again.”

Many people embraced the newness of the idea and assumed their role as midwives for a new society. Doors were opened for an inclusive community to emerge. But opportunities began to quickly dissipate.

Our communities are embracing exclusion, isolation and violence. The center of justice is reeling from the dismantling of many things that created an environment for a new America. Rather than encouraging a rebirth of hope that has evaded many, we are observing abortion of justice.

What has happened to the vision of new birth? Have we lost our moral compass? Has morality gone silent? Are we squandering the opportunity to be beacons of hope for the world? We can’t follow the existing compass because it leads to destruction.

Repairers of the Breach founder William J. Barber II wrote Dec. 15 at that we are witnessing the birth pangs of a Third Reconstruction. The First and Second Reconstructions occurred after the Civil War and during the civil rights era. He advocates for a moral movement that will revive the hearts of American democracy. He is encouraging the mid­wifing of a renewed society.

Who and where are the moral midwives who will bring about this new birth?

There are many, particularly young adults, who aren’t ready to follow the current trajectory. They believe the current state of affairs cannot continue. They are from many cultures, racial groups and socio-economic classes. They see the error of isolationism and injustice. They mourn the senseless violence and poverty of soul and spirit among us.

A recent conversation at Goshen (Ind.) College among justice movement leaders in the Mennonite Church during the late 1960s and young leaders of today provided a glimmer of hope. The young leaders conversed with their elders about what it means to be a midwife for justice. As they experience pushback and negative responses for their advocacy, they desire support. They demonstrated a readiness to make rebirth happen.

There are many others emerging in our communities who know we have come too far to turn back. They are midwives for an inclusive justice, waiting to take their place in the resistance.

As I begin my second retirement, my days seems to be fairly empty of agenda.

But no! It’s not empty! We who are retiring have wisdom to help the emerging corps of justice midwives be skillful in tending the painful birth of a renewed society. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, has said, “This is much more than partisan politics. This is a moral moment of integrity, a test of conscience for the nation.”

Our young justice midwives need you. Are you an equipper?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

Mennonite editor charged with sedition

By on Aug 14, 2017 in The World Together | 2 comments

In the middle of World War I, on June 15, 1917, the highly controversial Espionage Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

The Act provided for a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for anyone convicted of interfering with military recruitment, and it imposed a penalty of up to $10,000 (more than $166,000 in today’s dollars) for anyone convicted of doing so. It also gave additional powers to the Postmaster General to confiscate any mail that could be considered “seditious or treasonable.”

As a part of a senior history project years ago, I did some research on how this dramatically impacted the Mennonite publisher of a weekly newspaper, The Budget, published from Sugercreek, Ohio, and still widely circulated in Amish and Mennonite communities across the U.S. At the time, editor Samuel H. Miller, who was also a preacher heavily involved in church work, was delegating a lot of the responsibility for his paper to his linotype operator, A. A. Middaugh.

While Miller was in Pennsylvania for meetings, Middaugh printed a rather lengthy letter in the May 15, 1918, issue of The Budget that was written by M. E. Bontrager of Dodge City, Kan. It was just one of scores of newsy letters from readers published regularly in the paper each week, and it read as follows:

How are we meeting the great problems confronting us? Shall we weaken under the test or are we willing to put all our trust in our dear Savior? ….Our young brethren in camp were tested first. Let us take a lesson from their faithfulness. They sought exemption [from military service] on the grounds that they belonged to a church which forbids its members the bearing of arms or participating in war in any form. Now we are asked to buy Liberty Bonds, the form in which the government has to carry on the war. Sorry to learn that some of the Mennonites have yielded and bought the bonds. What would happen to the nonresistant faith if our young brethren in camp would yield? From letters I received from brethren in camp I believe they would be willing to die for Jesus rather than betray Him. Let us profit by their example they have set for us so far, and pray God may strengthen them in the future. Many people can’t understand why we don’t want to defend our country… [by taking up arms].

As a result of this exercise of free speech and freedom of the press, editor Miller was charged with “inciting and attempting to incite insubordination, disloyalty and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States, in publishing in the newspaper known as the Weekly Budget, which was distributed to certain people, among them were A. A. Kauffman and others…” The result was his having to pay fines and court costs totaling $900, which would be the equivalent of nearly $15,000 today.

So much for the First Amendment. Miller, a traumatized man, soon sold his paper and got out of the publishing business for good.

While the Espionage Act of 1917 is no longer applied in the same manner it was when first enacted, it has never been repealed, and so technically remains in effect today.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.

‘Lead Your Way’

By on Aug 14, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Imagine a Mennonite college admissions counselor, for whom the national youth convention is harvest time. Thousands of her best prospects will pass through the exhibit hall where she’s set up shop. Everything is perfect. Except the competition has staked its claim right next door. And they’ve got cooler T-shirts.

There’s no getting around the competitive nature of college recruiting. But there is a way to tamp down the rivalry when five schools contend for attention in the same room for a few days every other summer: Show a united front. Join forces. Cooperate.

That’s what the Mennonite Church USA colleges and universities did at the denomination’s convention July 4-8 in Orlando, Fla. The five — Bethel, Bluffton, Eastern Mennonite, Goshen and Hesston — launched a campaign, “Lead Your Way,” in a shared booth space. Their staff people wore identical T-shirts featuring a new logo with three symbols: a dove and olive branch for faith, a globe for global perspective and a torch for high-quality academics.

The campaign turns competitors into collaborators, united by a common interest in strengthening Mennonite higher education. It highlights four strengths Mennonite colleges offer: academic excellence, affordability, successful outcomes after graduation and a Christian environment with Anabaptist values.

Announcing the “Lead Your Way” campaign, college officials admitted they haven’t always done a good job of communicating their institutions’ ability to deliver on the qualities Mennonite students and families are looking for. They believe they’ll get the word out more effectively together than separately.

Affordability is one message to herald. Private-college sticker prices are daunting, but the average financial aid package for a first-year student at an MC USA school is $25,928. No family should assume a Mennonite college is out of reach without asking how much aid their student would get.

A second message to emphasize: Anabaptist values set the Mennonite colleges apart from other Christian and secular liberal arts institutions. These principles include faith formation, service, social justice, peacemaking and community-building. For Anabaptist values to remain strong in Mennonite congregations, a substantial number of our young people need to receive a Mennonite college education.

This doesn’t happen only at the MC USA colleges. At Fresno Pacific and Tabor for the Mennonite Brethren, Rosedale Bible College for Conservative Mennonite Conference and Canadian Mennonite University and Conrad Grebel University College in Canada, options abound for diverse constituencies. Like the MC USA colleges, all enroll many non-Mennonite students, fulfilling a mission to share Anabaptist Christian values beyond our own people.

Mennonite college cooperation is a welcome trend. In 2014, Bluffton, EMU and Goshen announced a collaborative master of business administration degree program. This summer, Goshen and EMU announced a doctor of nursing practice program, the first doctoral offering among MC USA colleges.

Many colleges and universities with religious roots long ago abandoned their church affiliation and faith identity. Mennonite colleges have remained loyal to their churches and faithful to their values. That’s not an easy path, especially when the supporting denomination is small. But a church that wants to be theologically distinct needs a unique brand of higher education. We’re in this together, and it’s good to hear the colleges say this with one voice.

Switch to ‘Rosedale Network’ narrowly fails

By and on Aug 14, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 3 comments

KIDRON, Ohio — Conservative Mennonite Conference is keeping its name for now, but leaders will continue to look at possibilities for change.

CMC’s delegate body of 98 ministers needed a two-thirds majority July 28 to change the denomination’s name to Rose­dale Network of Churches. The proposal narrowly failed, with 63 percent supporting it.

Delegate ministers pray before voting on a new name for Conservative Mennonite Conference during the denomination’s annual conference July 28 in Kidron, Ohio. — Rachel Stella/MWR

Delegate ministers pray before voting on a new name for Conservative Mennonite Conference during the denomination’s annual conference July 28 in Kidron, Ohio. — Rachel Stella/MWR

The Executive Board will continue to formulate an alternative new name. Another vote could take place as early as the next ministers’ business meeting, scheduled for Feb. 19-22 in Belleville, Pa.

A 2016 survey of CMC members indicated a desire for a denominational name change, renewing a discussion that has occurred over the past 20 years. In February, the name Rosedale Network was proposed. Feedback from ministers influenced the change to Rosedale Network of Churches.

“Is this name change part of a grander scheme to water down our theology?” asked moderator Joe Byler, rephrasing a question he said he often heard. “I would like to say with boldness that that has not ever come up. Our statement of theology is firm. I don’t envision that even coming up for discussion.”

Byler said the desire was for the denomination to have a name that unified it with its agencies, Rosedale Bible College and Rosedale Mennonite Missions.

“We welcome the name Rosedale being associated with local churches,” said RBC board chair Laban Miller. “There’s a name that pulls us all together.”

Miller also mentioned the distinction “Rosedale” has in the Mennonite world.

“Rosedale is associated with the words ‘Anabaptism’ and ‘Mennonites,’ ” he said. “It also distinguishes us from all other Anabaptist and Mennonite groups . . . in terms of how we interpret Scripture.”

RMM board chair David Kochsmeier talked about the accessibility the name “Rosedale” provided.

“The Rosedale name is very well-known,” he said. “It goes before all of our agencies, and we’re recognized.”

Kochsmeier said “Rosedale” opened more doors in the global mission field.

“We’re finding at RMM that as we go into countries that are closed, having the name ‘Mennonite’ and ‘Missions’ is not a positive thing,” he said. “We’re discussing what that means for us.”

No more ‘Mennonite?’

Delegates’ responses comparing “Rosedale Network of Churches” with “Conservative Mennonite Conference” were mixed.

One delegate said he was not ashamed of his Mennonite spiritual heritage but had concerns about how others perceived it.

“One of my coworkers has mentioned interacting with Mennonites of a more conservative brand, and how they’re cold and unfriendly to be around,” he said. “Sometimes I’m embarrassed to be called Mennonite. We’re representing Christ.”

Another delegate said: “The area that I come from, neither word — ‘conservative’ nor ‘Mennonite’ — has been a problem. If anything, it’s been an asset for us.”

Others were concerned about how the name “Mennonite” associated them with Mennonite Church USA.

Shawn Otto of Sarasota, Fla., referred to the resolution on Israel-Palestine approved a few weeks earlier at MC USA’s convention in Orlando. He said he got a message on the church’s Facebook page from a Jew who wrote, “Because of what you’ve done, I will never go to one of your churches or shop at your businesses.”

Al Longenecker of Lewisburg, Pa., said he related to that situation.

“Some of us are aware of what’s happened in the past couple of weeks in Mennonite Church USA,” he said. “I want to distance myself as far as I can from that whole scene.”

Dave Maurer of Pigeon, Mich., asked what the name “Rosedale” meant to non-Mennonites.

“Inside Mennonite circles, ‘Rosedale’ means a lot, but outside of those circles, it doesn’t mean much of anything,” he said. “Who are we trying to reach the most? Does it connect with those outside of the circles?”

Kehrberg: Hospitality more than a clean house

By on Aug 14, 2017 in Columns, Kehrberg: Cramer Avenue, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Having people over. Getting together. Fellowshipping around the table.

Sarah Kehrberg


Regardless of the phrase you use, hospitality is a difficult thing. It involves time, effort and vulnerability.

The statistical data and anecdotal evidence consistently prove that eating together as families and communities enriches life and happiness. Yet, we tend to avoid it.

It’s like telling us to exercise: We know and agree. We just don’t do it.

It is tempting to blame electronic screens and social media. They are the perfect scapegoat for all societal maladies, are they not? But I believe the culprit is more practical.

We don’t host because we aren’t home. Either we’re at work, commuting to or from work, ferrying children and grandchildren, or running errands. We probably spend more time in our vehicles than our house.

Oddly enough, I hosted more when my two daughters were preschoolers than I do now. I was plenty busy with the intense demands of young children, but I was also trapped in the house much of the time. So, I had people over to keep me company.

Now, when I’m able to be at home I want to lock the door against the world and all its demands.

The other reason we shy away from hosting is the vulnerability. When we allow people into our personal space, we open up another layer of our lives that they can judge.

And yet, since most of us believe that offering and receiving hospitality is valuable, even important, I offer some tips for making it less painful.

1. My house doesn’t belong in Better Homes and Gardens, and neither does yours. We’ve agreed and can now move on.

2. It doesn’t really matter what food you serve. Your guests are so thrilled to not have to make (or find) dinner themselves that it doesn’t truly matter if they’re consuming something from the deli, microwave or “made from scratch.”

3. That said, avoid trying new recipes when you have people over. This tip comes from my husband, and he wishes I would heed it more.

4. If guests ask if they can bring something, say “yes!” The potluck concept is genius on so many levels.

5. Do not ask your guests if they have food restrictions. You are only asking for a headache. If they have a real allergy, they’ll volunteer that information.

6. Adopt the Closed-Door Strategy. It isn’t time consuming to prepare your home for visitors: simply transfer all clutter to a room that won’t be used. Be sure this room has a door that firmly shuts. Locking is optional.

7. You do need to clean your bathroom. Sorry. While guests remember surprisingly little about the food, they will take home the memory of your toothpaste spit dotting the sink. It doesn’t take long to swish out the toilet and wipe down your sink and counter. Do this minutes before the guests arrive.

8. Your kids can (and should) help. The small, last-minute tasks like setting the table or vacuuming the entry rug are quite suited for them.

9. The resulting mess of hosting is unavoidable and best accepted at the outset. Before your guests arrive, particularly if children will be among them, chant quietly to yourself, “My house is going to be trashed. The sun will come up tomorrow.”

Hospitality requires a posture, at least in part, of humility and servanthood — the same posture Jesus modeled in the upper room when he washed his disciples’ feet. And that’s the upside-down truth about hospitality: The difficult parts are precisely what make it essential to the kingdom of God.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

Yoder-Short: A decluttered church

By on Aug 14, 2017 in Columns, Latest Issue, Yoder-Short: Living the Story | 0 comments

A freeing feeling results when we donate unneeded clutter to the local rummage sale. Old books go, making room for new ones. Useless kitchen gadgets leave, creating room for useful basics. Uncomfortable shoes disappear, enabling us to discover the beauty of less.

Jane Yoder-Short


In The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle noted Mark Dyer’s insight “that about every 500 years the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.” Institutionalized Christianity becomes an “intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur.”

Jesus understood the need for decluttering. Outside purity protocols go, making space for inward cleansing. The don’t-talk-to-Samaritan-women rule is out, opening a door for new social norms. Retaliation scores are tossed aside, creating room for a love-your-enemy package. Out with the old stiff wineskins; enter fresh wineskins for new wine.

The early church had its own rummage sale. Circumcision is set aside, making space for a Gentile welcome mat. God’s temple residence is replaced with a vision of presence among people. The Chosen ethnic group is discarded, making space for God’s global family.

The Anabaptists had their rummage sale. They cast off large state-connected institutions, making room for a priesthood of all believers. They discarded selling indulgences, enabling forgiveness to be freely given. They rejected infant baptism, making room for choosing faith.

Some of us are ready for a new rummage sale. We’re tired of an over-organized church that focuses on ourselves more than a mission of being Jesus in the world. We’re tired of inflexibility in worship, high expectations for paid staff and low expectation of lay members.

We need order and structure, but when does order stifle the Holy Spirit? When does order push gifts aside? When does order smother fresh ministries?

Let’s do a little dreaming. What bureaucratic futility are we ready to discard?

What if we let go of the need to be perfect? We could replace it with eager humility. When we are willing to fail, we are more open to trying new ideas. Would it ruin our church if we tried some crazy idea for just six months?

What if we let go of committees? Some are vital; others are stuck. What if more of us started to have task groups, as some churches are doing? How would it reshape church if task groups were open to anyone? How would it reshape church if task groups were short-lived? We might have to reinstate some committees, but not without making sure they are needed.

What if we let go of solo preaching? This isn’t a call to get rid of paid staff but an invitation to be intentional about hearing multiple voices. Stuart Murray in The Power of All makes a case for empowering more people to be heard. Are we using the gifts of all of our members?

What if we replaced the annual business meeting with a dream session to imagine new ministries? Nothing would be off the table. No saying, “But we never did it that way. But we don’t have money. But it won’t work.” What if we started a New Wine Fund to provide short-term funding for fresh ideas?

In our society, where institutions are suspect, we need to find less bureaucratic ways to do church. We need to do church in ways that involve everyone.

Does the future of the Mennonite church include a rummage sale? What decluttering could free us to create new ministries, new spaces of hope, new expressions of love? How are our congregations making space for New Wine?

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