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Kriss: Connecting with refugees in France’s ‘jungle’

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Columns, Kriss: On the Way, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Last week, I traveled from the U.K. to Calais, France, to bear witness to the greatest human migration in Europe since World War II.

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

Last year, a refugee city emerged at Calais with an estimated 10,000 residents. It was a human and civil services nightmare. In the midst of an industrial area, thousands of refugees and migrants constructed a city out of plastic and pallets. Though it has now been reduced to rubble, the image of this place called “The Jungle” remains at this last stop on the continent. Here, ferries and tunnels connect the mainland to England. Calais’ population is only about 80,000.

There are hundreds of refugees in Calais again. We saw Pakistanis who spoke fluent English along with people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. They are a mix of Christian and Muslim. They told of overland journeys and sea crossings, bound for a perceived promised land.

There is an adversarial relationship between migrants stuck in Calais and French authorities who hope to prevent a recreation of “The Jungle.” The U.K. has invested heavily in fences and walls, barbed wire and electrification to try to keep refugees from the road that leads into the U.K.

Meanwhile, humanitarian efforts remain to provide food and basic care for refugees stuck at Calais. These efforts are staffed by volunteers, mostly under 30 years old from all over the world — the majority European. Some people in town open their homes to refugees needing showers or basic medical attention. A van provides internet, and an organization offers gynecological services to the small group of women.

When we stopped to visit for one meal, dozens streamed in from the woods. Their eyes were reddened by mace or pepper spray. The police presence is authoritative. A few days after our visit, police disrupted a midday food offering from local non-profits. Most volunteers were surprised to find that our small entourage of Americans were pastors. Few had ever heard of Mennonites.

I got into a conversation with a group of Pakistanis by asking one of them if the food was any good. He offered a sample from his bowl. We struggled to speak but settled into a mix of awkward Italian and English. They had spent enough time in Italy to learn some Italian. Some young men bragged that they could speak five languages and asked how many the volunteers could use. We were humbled.

As the designated time for providing food and services ended, police began to clear the area. The young men slipped away into the woods. It was surreal.

They were still real but now hiding in almost plain sight. They said nights are long and hard. Most are committed to not being in Calais too long, seeking safe passage across the fortified border. Many will try to find their way on a truck into England.

I wished them peace and safety. I still can’t shake the conversation, their openness and their hope, as well as wondering about all that they must have been trying to escape. I can’t forget listening to the Lord’s Prayer in Amharic as a group of young Ethiopians prayed over food and offered the Orthodox sign of the cross. I’m perplexed by the hard recognition that these young men with tattoos of the cross on their hands are also my brothers, that these few women sleeping fearfully in the woods and getting health services out of a van are also my sisters.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

We can do it, too

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

Thanks for the great article by Phyllis Lyndaker and Rosanna M. Moser on a comforter blitz in upstate New York, resulting in about 160 comforters for Mennonite Central Committee (“Joy of Giving Multiplies Again,” June 5). I love hearing how many individuals and groups of people are saying, “I can do this, too!”
I have been collecting stories of groups and individuals who have set goals of making large numbers of comforters for MCC. Just a few:

Mary Gilbert in Goshen, Ind., a member of Assembly Mennonite Church, is piecing 70 comforter tops in her 70th year. She donates the tops directly to the MCC center in Goshen.

Jeannette Stenvers of the Netherlands organized Mennonite women in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland to make and donate comforters when they gathered for Mennonite conferences this past winter and spring. I am not sure how many they made, but it was a sizable number they donated to MCC. She has a Facebook page dedicated to her project.

MWR is great at getting the word out!

Karen Kreider Yoder
San Francisco

Opinion: Talking ‘kimchi’ with North Koreans

By and on Jun 19, 2017 in Latest Issue, Opinion | 0 comments

WINNIPEG, Man. — I was grateful for the opportunity in early May to sit around the dinner table on a Manitoba farm and share a Mennonite feast with local friends, some Mennonite Central Committee colleagues and five guests from North Korea.

The delegation was here for a few days of meetings with MCC about our work in their country, some tour stops in southern Manitoba and some mutual learning about agriculture, development work and each other.

Canadians and North Koreans enjoy a meal during the Korean delegation’s visit to Manitoba in May. At left, Kang II Choe, adviser to the Korea Canada Corporation Agency and the Korean American Private Exchange Society, expresses the delegation’s thanks. Next to him are Ernie and Char Wiens, who hosted the meal at their home. At right are Darryl Loewen, MCC Manitoba executive director; Un Hyok Ra, KCCA director; and Chol Hyok Kim, KAPES senior director. — Doug Hostetler/MCC

Canadians and North Koreans enjoy a meal during the Korean delegation’s visit to Manitoba in May. At left, Kang II Choe, adviser to the Korea Canada Corporation Agency and the Korean American Private Exchange Society, expresses the delegation’s thanks. Next to him are Ernie and Char Wiens, who hosted the meal at their home. At right are Darryl Loewen, MCC Manitoba executive director; Un Hyok Ra, KCCA director; and Chol Hyok Kim, KAPES senior director. — Doug Hostetler/MCC

But for me, it was something that happened at that meal that captures the real purpose of the visit and the heart of MCC’s work. We talked about kimchi.

As we chatted warmly, laughed and talked about our families, our guests shared their favourite recipes and family secrets for making kimchi, a traditional Korean dish.

In the old days, they said, the cabbage, radish and peppers went into a clay pot and were buried in the yard until they were ready.

You might have had a similar conversation. Maybe, like me, you’ve listened to Manitoba Mennonites reminisce about the old days of preserving veggies and fruit and butchering a winter’s supply of sausage.

During my orientation to MCC some time ago, I was shown a video of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking about “the danger of a single story.”

The premise is that we can’t reduce another person — or another culture — to a single, one-dimensional caricature. While many are most familiar with MCC’s humanitarian work, the message of that video gets at another aspect of our work that’s really central to who we are.

For decades, we’ve been working to build peace in the name of Christ and develop relationships across ethnic, religious and cultural lines. We’re convinced a just peace needs just laws and governments that serve the interests of their citizens. But peace also has to happen at an individual level, with small steps and face-to-face encounters leading toward reconciliation.

MCC has been working in North Korea for 22 years, and we know the political and humanitarian situation well.

We also know kimchi recipes won’t make the saber-rattling go away or change some disturbing news about the country. But for me, that family dinner was part of the ongoing work of peacebuilding and helped illustrate that there’s always more to the story, and more to the people, than what we might think.

Darryl Loewen is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee in Manitoba.

Root of the matter

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

A tree is known by its fruit. The same goes for churches. The apple industry is revolutionizing itself by getting to the root of a blight problem, and its tactic should be of interest to evangelically minded Mennonites.

Dan Charles (who attends Community House Church in Washington, D.C.) reported June 1 for National Public Radio that today’s micromanaged apple orchards look more like vineyards. It’s a shrinking process that began in the 1970s when new varieties were grafted on to smaller dwarf trees’ roots.

That rootstock was strong and dependable for quite some time, much like the closed genetic lines of relatively cloistered Anabaptist groups. But over the years, the roots’ weakness to fungus and insects was exposed.

“Any vulnerability to disease made much of the world’s apple production vulnerable as well,” Charles reported.

Decades of testing and breeding developed a new, more vibrant and resistant rootstock. Growers have embraced the slow and laborious process of grafting new trees for a harvest they have faith will come.

“If the root is holy, so are the branches” (Rom. 11:16b). Christians are to be known by their fruit, but too often Mennonites have viewed themselves as carrots and potatoes, directing more energy and focus than necessary to their roots.

Roots are important. The plant would die without a source of nourishment. But no one desires a tree based on what is underground.

A dynamic and fruitful faith requires all parts of God’s body: Anabaptists must be willing to incorporate not just new branches, but even new roots. Each part, new and old, must accept the other.

The growing pains don’t come solely from the stubborn old guard. Paul’s epistle to the Romans continues: “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. . . . You do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Rom. 11:17-18).

The world of commercial apple production has changed since the days of Johnny Appleseed.

In addition to the sun and the rain and the apple seed, the Lord’s been good enough to offer not just new branches, but even new roots, if we are willing to graft them on.

Born to sing for God

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

The song leader raised his hands to heaven. “Lift up this evening,” he implored. Or prayed? Fifty thousand voices responded with shouts of joy. An electric guitar chimed a prelude to a plea and a praise: “Digging up my soul now, going down, excavation. Lift me up out of these blues. Won’t you tell me something true? I believe in you. You make me feel like I can fly. El–e–va–tion!”

Was the song sacred or secular? It was sacred if you wanted it to be. The song leader was Bono of the band U2, and when Bono sings, “I was born to sing for you,” the “you” is God.

The “I” isn’t just Bono. Talented or tone deaf, each of us was born to sing for God.

How many in the vast congregation singing along at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 3 thought of their concert experience in that way? It’s impossible to say. But anyone who pays attention to songs that quote Psalm 40 or describe Jacob wrestling an angel or hail “the victory Jesus won” knows the Irish quartet still makes deeply spiritual music 30 years after attaining the pinnacle of success.

U2 songs lift the spirit as all good music can. How it happens is the mystery. Elevation occurs in the interplay of word and sound. But sound carries greater emotional power, reaching a deeper part of the soul. Lyrics may prove a song is spiritual, but a pianist offers no less praise than a singer. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” lifts hearts to God even without the words that make it a hymn.

If each of us was born to sing for God, some of us do it by making a violin sing. For most, though, our voice is the instrument. Singing is the best way to get everyone involved in the spiritual act of making music. When the members of U2 let their instruments fall silent while Bono urges the audience to sing his lines, a rock concert crowd can feel the power of unaccompanied singing as much as a church congregation.

A congregation’s voice is a treasure — and an endangered one. In our culture, we listen to music but don’t make it. Music goes into our ears, not out of our mouths.

But churchgoers are different. Or ought to be. In some settings, the congregation’s voice is lost. Worshipers become no more than an audience. A amplified band can turn worship into a performance, drowning out those who try to sing along. An organist might do that too, but bands especially have to guard against the congregation lapsing into passivity. The musicians on stage need to think of themselves as accompanists, respecting the congregation’s voice.

A band that enhances rather than replaces the voice of the people brings a valuable gift, expanding church music beyond traditional hymns. God’s people should be able to speak multiple musical languages. Yet someone who wouldn’t dream of denigrating someone else’s spoken language feels entitled to declare a musical language unfit for church. Both traditional and contemporary forms of music bless our worship. Failing to appreciate anything old is as bad as refusing to accept anything new.

Musical diversity continues to grow in Mennonite congregations and on larger stages. At its concerts this year, the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus featured a bluegrass band and a blues band along with traditional fare. A banjo, electric guitar, drums and trumpets expanded the range of musical styles alongside the 300-voice chorus. All were uplifting.

There are many musical gifts but one Spirit who elevates our souls when we sing.

Kennel-Shank: People over profits

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Columns, Kennel-Shank: Living Simply, Latest Issue | 0 comments

The other day I was talking to a colleague who, like me, admires the 20th-century Christian radical Dorothy Day and life in intentional community, but isn’t starry-eyed about either.

Celeste Kennel-Shank

Kennel-Shank

The conversation found its way to the discipline of voluntary poverty, which can be practiced in a number of ways but often involves earning and owning less than might be possible for a person. It pushes back at our get-everything-you-can-whatever-the-cost culture. But my colleague pointed out it begins with the idea of choice. It’s different from just being poor.

She contrasted voluntary poverty with simplicity.

Simplicity is countercultural in the same way yet does not require forgoing as much of what is not strictly a need — owning one’s own car or home, for example. I likewise feel good about it as an expression of Christian discipleship, one that can be worked out in varying levels of community living, not just in communal housing. But it also comes with its own moral quandaries — such as having to pay taxes to a government that uses much of that money to wage war and operate an unjust prison system.

There are additional ethical questions with middle-income wages. If your employer pays not only a reasonable salary but offers options for retirement savings, which funds and industries do you invest in? When socially responsible options are available, do they benefit from the financial success of companies that exploit their workers or harm the environment?

But there are also opportunities. In addition to socially responsible investing, faith-based groups engage in shareholder advocacy. In that approach, a group uses the collective value of their investment in a company to encourage changing policies.

Such leverage is also possible for individuals and households. In recent years there has been a movement to divest from fossil fuels. A striking instance of that strategy gained momentum among those who opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline. That project desecrated graves and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux people. It threatened their water supply, and is a pollution risk to people along the 1,172-mile route from North Dakota to Illinois. The company that built the pipeline and operates it, Energy Transfer Partners, received direct loans or lines of credit from banks such as Wells Fargo, SunTrust and Citibank.

Defund DAPL tracked more than $81 million that people withdrew when closing accounts from those banks and others financing the pipeline. Recently, U.S. Bank announced it had changed its Environmental Responsibility Policy and would no longer offer financing to build pipelines carrying oil or natural gas.

“Relationships with clients in the oil and gas pipeline industries are subject to the bank’s enhanced due diligence processes,” the company wrote. It remains to be seen how that will change the bank’s relationships with companies such as Energy Transfer Partners. But it’s hopeful for those who pressured the bank because of their concern for protecting people and creation.

Re-examining how we spend, save and invest our money is one way to live out our values. It’s not possible for any of us to be fully separate from the financial system, though it often goes against the core beliefs of those of us who live simply — putting people over profits, for one.

Yet it’s one more place in which we can be intentional in recognizing how our choices affect our neighbors: poor, rich and everywhere in-between.

Celeste Kennel-Shank, a former MWR assistant editor, is an editor and community gardener in Chicago.

Longhurst: Faith begets giving

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Columns, Latest Issue, Longhurst: North of the 49th | 0 comments

A new survey is out about Canadians and religion, and it reveals some interesting things.

John Longhurst

Longhurst

The survey by Canadian pollster Angus Reid found that 21 percent of Canadians identify as religiously committed; 30 percent are privately faithful; and 31 percent are spiritually uncertain. Only 19 percent consider themselves nonbelievers.

The survey also found that 67 percent of Canadians believe God or a higher power exists; 60 percent believe in life after death; 53 percent believe God is active in the world; 57 percent believe there is a heaven; 41 percent believe there is a hell.

One thing that struck me from the survey is the difference between how religiously committed Canadians and those for whom religion isn’t important engage the world around them.

The survey found the more religious someone is, the more they give to charity, volunteer and are involved in the community. Nonbelievers, by contrast, were the most likely to say they are “not at all involved” in the community.

When it comes to giving, religiously committed Canadians were also almost twice as likely as any other group to say they “try to donate to whatever charities they can.”

The findings confirm previous research by Statistics Canada, which found that people who attend religious meetings or services at least once a week are more inclined to donate, also to make larger donations, and don’t only donate to religious organizations.

Why does being religious correlate with giving to charity, volunteering and engagement?

One reason, the survey suggests, is that being part of a worshiping community provides people with more opportunities to help. The regular passing of the offering plate also helps, I’m sure.

But attending a worship service also promotes charitable giving in other ways. Through announcements, sharing, sermons and prayer requests, people get a window on the wider world around them, and what they can do to help.

But it also goes deeper: Religious people give and volunteer because their faith motivates them.

The religiously committed were twice as likely as any other group to say “concern for others” is one of the most important things for them. They also indicated they are less concerned with success and having a comfortable life than nonbelievers.

This is all great news for faith groups. Faith makes a difference in society. But there is also cause for concern.

Since one of the top indicators of religious commitment is regular attendance at worship services, the growing trend of falling attendance in Canada means fewer people are at places of worship to hear about world needs and then make a donation.

Coupled with an aging donor base — the best givers are literally dying off —this could spell trouble for charities of all kinds, church and nonchurch alike.

Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe those people who are less committed but still open to religion will find ways to give and be engaged with their communities. Maybe nonbelievers will see a new light.

Maybe. But evidence suggests it will be an uphill battle. Other studies show fewer people in Canada are giving to charity. And younger people, the demographic less likely to be religiously committed, don’t give as much as seniors.

In my increasingly secular country, it could be that many don’t care if all places of worship closed tomorrow. But when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering, I would tell them: “You’ll miss us when we’re gone.”

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Program restores sex offenders

By and on Jun 19, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

The Canadian government will provide nearly $7.5 million over five years to a Mennonite-supported program that helps convicted sex offenders reintegrate into the community.

Circles of Support and Accountability is a national restorative justice organization for women and men who have committed serious sexual offenses.

A sex offender who was part of an MCC-supported Circle of Support and Accountability wishes to remain anonymous so that he can reintegrate into society without the stigma of his crime. — Shane Yuhas/MCC

A sex offender who was part of an MCC-supported Circle of Support and Accountability wishes to remain anonymous so that he can reintegrate into society without the stigma of his crime. — Shane Yuhas/MCC

CoSA allows the community to play a direct role in the restoration, reintegration and risk management of people who are often regarded with fear and anger.

CoSA emerged from a 1994 experiment in which a group of Mennonites in Ontario, with the backing of Mennonite Central Committee, brought together a circle of volunteers to work with a sex offender upon his release.

The experiment caught the attention of others, and there were soon similar circles across the country. MCC played a pivotal role in their development.

CoSA supports newly released and often repeat offenders who find themselves ostracized because of the nature of their crime.

There are two circles of support for these core members of CoSA. The inner circle involves several trained volunteers who work with the core member to address practical needs while also serving as an emotional support system. The outer circle is made up of professionals who can offer training and advice to volunteers.

According to a 2014 report by the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, only 2 percent of CoSA-involved offenders sexually reoffended within three years of leaving jail, compared to almost 28 percent of offenders who did not have CoSA — a reduction of more than 92 percent. That rate dropped to about 75 percent over five years and 67 percent over a decade.

Over the years the Canadian government provided some financial assistance to CoSA programs, but initial funding ended a number of years ago.

‘Not a piece of trash’

Daniel, whose last name isn’t being used for security reasons, has been a core member of a CoSA circle in Alberta for seven years. He credits the program with keeping him out of prison and helping him build healthy relationships.

After experiencing years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of family members, Daniel began abusing girls himself. He was sentenced to more than six years in a federal penitentiary in 2005.

Moira Brownlee, the CoSA program coordinator for MCC Alberta, visited Daniel in prison for several months prior to his release. For seven years she has been a part of Daniel’s circle.

“Moira talked to me like I was a person, not a piece of trash from jail,” Daniel said.

“I have my struggles. I suffer from depression and anxiety issues and borderline multiple personality disorder. It’s a constant struggle for me, day by day. But I always know I can pick up the phone, send a text message, and I’ll always have someone on the other end who will talk to me.”

Randy Klassen, MCC’s national restorative justice coordinator, said CoSA creates a vision for “shalom with those who seem furthest from it and seem the least deserving.”

For people like Daniel, it makes all the difference.

“I’d still be in prison without CoSA,” he said. “I’d be lost.”

Bluffton University president announces retirement plans

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

BLUFFTON, Ohio — Bluffton University President James M. Harder will retire June 30, 2018, after serving 12 years.

James Harder

Harder

Kent Yoder, chair of the university’s board of trustees, announced Harder’s plans at the board’s June meeting.

“President Harder is a servant leader who faithfully continues to carry Bluffton University into the 21st century during a time of significant change in higher education,” Yoder said. “His steady leadership has positioned the university to move forward with new academic programs, global relationships, major campus facility enhancements and to achieve the largest fundraising campaign success in the university’s history.”

Yoder noted that Harder guided the university community through its baseball team’s deadly bus accident in 2007 and provided leadership to respond to the Great Recession of 2008-09.

Harder became president in 2006. Since that time, Bluffton has launched 14 new academic programs, including the most recent majors in nursing and in speech-language pathology and audiology, and has made significant enhancements to existing academic, athletic and other co-curricular programs.

In 2012, the university completed the “Extending Our Reach” campaign, the largest in Bluffton’s history, which raised more than $32 million and funded construction of the 60,000- square-foot Sommer Center for Health and Fitness Education.

Campus improvements

Bluffton’s campus has experienced additional significant improvements during Harder’s 12-year tenure, including $3 million in student residence hall renovations and the building of the first on-campus student apartments. Other completed projects included an accessibility addition to College Hall that extended the functionality of the campus’ original building, along with accessibility upgrades to Musselman Library.

Multiple upgrades to Bluff­ton’s outdoor athletic facilities have occurred as well, including the all-turf Alumni Field in Salzman Stadium and the Circle of Remembrance permanent campus memorial following the 2007 baseball team’s tragedy. The charter bus accident in Atlanta claimed the lives of five student-athletes, in addition to the bus driver and his wife.

Currently, Bluffton’s “Simply Innovate” campaign is more than half way to its $26 million goal, which will build the Austin E. Knowlton Science Center and provide funds to the endowment.

Harder worked to expand Bluffton’s global education linkages by supporting May term cross-cultural experiences. In addition, Harder has worked to build new relationships in China, including faculty and student exchanges with China West Normal University.

“I am grateful for the wonderful support of the board of trustees, the Bluffton faculty and staff and the many generous supporters of the university as together we have carried out our work to extend Bluffton’s enduring educational mission,” Harder said. “It has also been a privilege as Bluffton’s president to regularly meet Bluffton alumni who are serving and leading in their communities all over the world.”

17 years at Bluffton

Harder’s retirement will conclude a 32-year career in Mennonite higher education. This includes 17 years at Bluffton University, where he served five years as professor of economics and as vice president for institutional planning before being invited to the presidency. Prior to that, he taught in and chaired the economics and business department at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., his alma mater, for 12 years.

Throughout his presidency, Harder shared his leadership, organizational and financial management expertise in many settings, including eight years as a member of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and 12 years as a board member of Mennonite World Review.

The board has appointed incoming vice chair, Cheryl Hacker, a 1981 Bluffton alumna who serves on the fiscal affairs committee and the “Simply Innovate” campaign committee, to chair a search committee with the goal of achieving a presidential transition in the summer of 2018.

Book review: ‘Unexpected Invitations’

By on Jun 19, 2017 in Book Review, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

In Unexpected Invitations, Angela and Erwin Rempel tell of serving together in Mennonite ministries for four decades. From Brazil to Botswa­na and Pennsylvania to Kansas, they heeded God’s calls with a spiritual ease born of trust, akin to the farmer in Mark 4 who sowed the seed and rested while God produced a crop. The farmer then harvested the produce with his sickle.

'Unexpected Invitations'

‘Unexpected Invitations’

Their discernment of life’s invitations shows they knew when to rest and when to act. Angela writes: “We didn’t set out with clearly defined goals. We simply sought to follow the Lord’s leading, one step at a time.”

Step by unexpected step, they partnered with God in the pastorate, on the mission field and in denominational mission leadership.

A pastor’s daughter, Angela Albrecht grew up in Fortuna, Mo., and Bloomfield, Mont. Erwin Rempel spent his teenage years with an uncle and aunt in Lustre, Mont., after both parents died of cancer. Angela and Erwin met at Grace Bible Institute in Omaha, Neb., and married on the day after graduation in 1966.

The newlyweds’ first unexpected invitation came when Erwin was asked to serve as a summer pastoral intern at Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale, Pa. He accepted, and that fall began preparing for further ministry by enrolling in a four-year master’s degree program at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Two years into his studies came unexpected invitation No. 2: Would he serve as pastor of Indian Valley Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pa.? He said yes, finishing seminary in Pennsylvania while serving that congregation for seven years.

After two invitations to Pennsylvania, the next call led much farther afield: In 1975 the Commission on Overseas Mission of the General Conference Mennonite Church sent the Rempels, now with two small children, to Brazil, where they served as COM’s first mission workers to the Portuguese-speaking people.

One day in 1982, Angela was pondering the present and future: “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I feel settled and satisfied here? Why do I keep wanting to go back to the U.S.? . . . A bit later that day, Erwin brought in the mail — and everything changed!” COM wanted him to become its executive secretary.

Stunned at first, after much prayer they discerned it was God’s will and moved to Newton, Kan., now with three children.

As executive secretary in the mid-1980s, Erwin guided COM through a struggling economy and declining contributions. Angela worked in communication roles with COM, The Mennonite and Mennonite Weekly Review.

Believing it was better to leave when things were going well than to stay too long, the Rempels transitioned again after 12 years with COM. Times were changing. Momentum was building to merge the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church. They found a new niche with Mennonite Central Committee and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission in Botswana, beginning in 1994.

In 2000 they moved back to Newton so Erwin could serve with COM in development work. He became transition director for the merger of the MC and GC mission agencies. Angela and he both worked for six years in administration for the new Mennonite Mission Network.

“The mission transition process was one of the most politicized projects I have experienced,” he wrote. He navigated the waters until June 1, 2008, when they both retired. They continued to serve at their congregation, First Mennonite Church of Newton, and experienced the growth of their family.

One of the biggest surprises of their ministry was still to unfold. In 2008 MMN invited them to go to Afghanistan after mission worker Al Geiser was kidnapped. They were assigned to record all actions and details of the situation. They went, and Geiser was rescued (he was killed in Afghanistan four years later).

Today the Rempels live in Harrisonburg, Va., close to two of their three children and their families. From this vantage point, Angela reflects: “Having attained age 70 . . . there is more of life to look back upon than there is life to anticipate. We’ve seen tremendous changes in technologies and lifestyles. We cling to the basic beliefs of our Christian faith and the Mennonite perspective, even though at times there are more questions than answers.

“Amazing is the word that best describes the cascading chapters that opened throughout the years. Had I set out to design my ideal life, I couldn’t have imagined anything better.”

The Rempels’ story mirrors God’s unexpected invitations in the wider Anabaptist community from the 1960s to the early years of the 21st century. With steady hands, the Rempels applied the sickle of focus needed for God’s harvest during years of growth and change for their denomination and its missions. Their story parallels the story of God’s faithfulness to the wider church.

The book can be ordered at unexpectedinvitations.com.

Laurie Oswald Robinson is a freelance writer in Newton, Kan.