As we hear the story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, of Hagar and Ishmael, let us consider the ways this story of God’s grace and love is interwoven with human oppression and exploitation. What can we, today, learn from the characters of this story?
“Abraham and Sarah,” by Eugene Frost
Call to Worship (13th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Presbyterian Church USA)
We gather to worship God,
Who creates us and loves us;
Who gifts us with diversity and makes us for community;
Who gives Jesus Christ to show us how to live;
Who inspires children, youth, young adults, and people of all ages,
To seek justice, share power,
and live together in love and equality;
Who invites us to join the struggle for wholeness and wellbeing for all,
and whose presence, grace, and love
sustain us in our living.
We gather to worship God.
To God be all glory, honor, and praise!
Prayer (adapted from a prayer by the Anglican Church of Canada Indigenous Ministries)
from you every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
You have rooted and grounded us in your covenant love,
and empowered us by your Spirit
to speak the truth in love,
and to walk in your way towards justice and wholeness.
Mercifully grant that your people,
journeying together in partnership,
may be strengthened and guided
to help one another
to grow into the full stature of Christ,
who is our resurrection and our life.
Prayer for Fathers Day
(Kirk Loadman-Copeland, Ordinary Time blog, adapted)
"Our Lady of the Journey," by Kelly Latimore
Holy God, whom we call Father,
we give you thanks for the people who have been
our earthly fathers in this life,
and we pray for all sorts and conditions of fathers.
For fathers who have striven to balance the demands
of work, marriage, and children
with an honest awareness of both joy and sacrifice.
For fathers who, lacking a good model,
have worked to become a good father, and for those who have failed to become such.
For fathers who by their own account were not always there for their children,
but who continue to offer those children, now grown,
their love and support.
For fathers who have been wounded by the neglect and hostility of their children.
For fathers who, despite divorce, have remained in their children's lives.
For fathers whose children are adopted,
and whose love and support has offered healing.
For fathers who, as stepfathers,
freely choose the obligation of fatherhood
and earned their stepchildren's love and respect.
For fathers who have lost a child to death,
and continue to hold the child in their heart.
For men who are unable to have children and carry hurt because of infertility.
For those men who have no children,
but cherish the next generation as if they were their own.
For those men who have "fathered" us in their role as mentors and guides.
For those men who are about to become fathers;
may they openly delight in their children.
And for those fathers who have died,
but live on in our memory and in the communion of your Saints,
whose love continues to nurture us.
All this we ask in your name,
As you are both father and mother to us all.
Giver of every good and perfect gift,
You give us what we need;
Each day you feed and clothe and sustain us.
And now we, in turn, give.
We give to you and to your church;
We give to your people.
Take these offerings and bless them
That they might
May this offering be one more faithful step
Painting by Lucy D'Souza-Krone
Scripture - Genesis 21: 8-21 (NRSV)
This is God’s word to the people.
Thanks be to God.
Meditation by Judith Friesen Epp
When I was a child, I had a toy kaleidoscope. I remember being fascinated by the tiny coloured particles inside, and the very particular pattern they created. You can get digital kaleidoscopes now, but mine was a very simple mechanical toy, filled with coloured beads. When I looked through the tube, I would see an amazing colour pattern. But with a turn of my wrist, the particles would shift and coalesce into something new. Something different and unexpected.
I felt like the scripture text for this morning -- from Genesis 21 – kaleidoscoped before my eyes this week. I thought I knew the colour patterns of this text. I thought I understood the shape of this story of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac, of Hagar and Ishmael. But the whole text shifted on me this week, and I suddenly saw very different patterns emerging; patterns of coercion, systems of oppression, suddenly stood out in sharp relief. I want to share with you the way this text changed for me this week. I am indebted here to the writings of Jayme Reaves, a theologian from the United Kingdom.
In the chapters leading up to Genesis 21, God has promised Abraham and Sarah a son who will inherit the family wealth, and from whom God will make a great nation. But this seemed really far-fetched, even as divine plans go. For one thing, Sarah and Abram were really old already, and for another, God seemed pretty lethargic about putting this plan into action. So Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands. As one very well-known preacher put it, “Sarai couldn't have children, so she persuaded her husband, Abram, to have a child with her maid Hagar instead. Abram and Hagar both proved willing, and soon a child was on the way.”
Abraham and Hagar both proved willing? Now this is the first thing that stopped me in my tracks. Was Hagar really a willing participant in Sarah’s schemings? Highly unlikely. Hagar was Sarah’s Egyptian slave. She would have had no power in the family system. Certainly, the text gives no agency to Hagar. We read that Sarah “took” Hagar and “gave” her to Abraham as his wife. Hagar had no choice in the matter. From the very beginning of the story, it’s quite clear that Hagar is a woman taken from her homeland (Egypt), held in forced, unpaid labour, and sexually exploited by her master and mistress.
Now the text in Genesis 16 goes on to tell us that when Hagar discovered she was pregnant with Abraham’s child, she “looked with contempt” on her mistress. The slave girl got a little uppity – maybe flouncing her pregnant belly in front of her long-barren mistress. So maybe she had it coming when Sarah treated her so harshly that the pregnant Hagar ran away and took refuge for a while in the wilderness. Abraham’s two wives became big time rivals.
But wait. Here the kaleidoscope shifts again. Maybe this is not a very truthful telling of the story. The Hebrew word qalal, which is translated as Hagar “looking with contempt” upon Sarah, is a bit of an ambiguous word. It may indeed mean something a little closer to “Sarah became small in Hagar’s eyes.” Or was it that Sarah herself felt small before the pregnant Hagar? Hard to say. But even if Hagar was guilty of some haughtiness, that hardly warranted treatment so abusive that Hagar ran off alone into the desert – a place of certain death for her and her unborn child. And one can hardly call these two women rivals – that would assume some measure of equality, which was clearly not the case. This was a story of anger, jealousy and power on Sarah’s part, and vulnerability, danger and survival on Hagar’s. In the end, Hagar knows she cannot survive in the desert, so has no option but to return to the household of her abusive mistress.
Painting by Lucy D'Souza-Krone
Years later, Sarah, wonder of wonders, finally has her own baby, a boy named Isaac. And at Isaac’s weaning party, Sarah sees Hagar’s son Ishmael “playing” with her son Isaac. Sarah is so upset that she demands that Abraham “cast out this slave woman with her son.” There’s all kinds of speculation in Biblical commentaries about what made Sarah so upset. What does it mean that Ishmael was “playing” with Isaac? Many commentators suggest that it may have been violent play, or sexual play, that Ishmael was in some way harming Isaac.
But once again the colours of the story shift, for once again we see this pattern of blaming the victim. Sarah’s extreme reaction must somehow be Ishmael’s fault. But Ishmael was simply playing. And that word “playing” in the Hebrew can also be translated as “laughing” – which also happens to be the meaning of Isaac’s name. So the narrator is making a word play here; Ishmael is “laughing” with “Laughter,” or with Isaac. There is no indication of anything sinister or harmful – only an image of delightful play. No, hard as we try, we cannot pin this on Ishmael; Sarah must actually bear responsibility for her own extreme, cruel behaviour. Refusing to use Hagar and Ishmael’s names, calling them only “the slave woman and her son,” Sarah callously sends them out into the desert to die.
Sarah is not a commendable character in this story. And Abraham does not fare much better. The text does tell us that this whole matter between Sarah and Hagar was “very distressing to Abraham.” And it’s true that he gave Hagar some bread and water before he sent them off. But Abraham was a powerful and wealthy man. As the patriarch of the family, the decision was his to make. And he would have had all the resources to protect and provide for Hagar and Ishmael, even apart from his own household. In giving water and bread, Abraham was simply offering a tiny, false pretense of kindness in a wildly unjust system, masking his own deep complicity in the injustice. Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael off to the desert, knowing that they have little chance of survival.
It is, in fact, not long before Hagar leaves her child under a bush – she can’t bear to see him die. But then she encounters God, just as she did the first time she ran away into the wilderness. She meets God, sees God, hears God. God tells her that Ishmael will also become a great nation. And remarkably, Hagar names God – one of the few Biblical characters to actually do that. Clearly, Hagar and Ishmael are beloved children of God, and God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendants more numerous than the stars is fulfilled through two sons, not one. And somehow Hagar and Ishmael survive in the wilderness– an amazing feat of resilience and courage.
But then this remarkable mother and son disappear from the story. Because, after all, the story is supposed to be about Sarah and Abraham, not about Hagar. About Isaac as the legitimate heir, not Ishmael. Hagar and Ishmael, and their long line of descendants disappear from the story, and the Ishmaelites resurface only here and there throughout the Old Testament as foreigners and as enemies. As has been the case throughout history, the powerful get to write the story, and others become invisible in it, or labelled as outsiders and adversaries.
Hagar and Ishmael, by Jean-Charles Cazin
Wow. I used to really like this story. But this week it has kaleidoscoped into a very ugly tale. And much more about this story could yet be said. What in the world is this story of oppression, coercion, and exploitation doing in our Bible? I believe this story is an invitation. A call for us find ourselves in this story, to take a long, critical look at the systems of oppression in our own time, and our role in those systems. Now within our congregation, we are situated in different places in this story. Some of us will know well the oppression experienced by Hagar. And some of us will find ourselves in the shoes of Sarah and Abraham. For me, I must identify with Sarah. Like Sarah, I, as a woman, have known patriarchy and sexism. But I am also white, middle class, and straight, and I have tremendous power in this culture. I easily can, and do, remain oblivious to this power. Sometimes I get tiny glimpses into the privileges I take for granted every day. Like when I go to meet my Indigenous friends for coffee at McDonalds, and they are waiting outside in -30 degree weather. They explain, “We were told we couldn’t wait for you inside.” I have never been asked to wait outside. Or like my conversation with a woman from Cambodia, to whom I was teaching English: “Do you know what it is like,” she asked, “to never be taken seriously in stores? Store clerks look around me, over me, through me – I have no power.” Or like when I hear my African friend describe how her teenage son was kicked out of a store because he and his friend got a bit silly and started laughing in one of the aisles – that was seen as threatening behaviour. (What is it about laughter?) My black friend berated her son, “You’ve got to learn to be inconspicuous.” I have never had to tell my children that. And these just small times when the kaleidoscope shifts and I can begin to see. They are tiny glimpses I get into a vast system of privilege and discrimination from which I benefit everyday, and which has massive negative implications for black, indigenous and people of colour – from fewer employment possibilities, to higher rates of poverty, from school and workplace discrimination, to highly disproportionate incarceration rates, and the list goes on.
Where do you find yourself in this story? What can we learn from it? Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day. On Friday, there was a protest for Eishia Hudson, one of three Indigenous People shot by Winnipeg police within 10 days this past April. On June 5 there was a huge Black Lives Matter protest at the Legislature. We are being given many opportunities in these days to listen, to learn, to hear and support the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour among us and around us. To allow our vision to shift, to let the kaleidoscope turn, so that we see racism, name it, and actively work for change within our own lives, and in our structures. May the ancient story of Hagar and Ishmael, of Sarah and Abraham and Isaac, mingle with the voices of today and call us toward the justice which must belong to all of God’s many beloved peoples.
Confessing our Sin (“Repenting and Lamenting in Times like These,” by Carol Penner)
You are the God who hears:
hear our prayer today
for all who lament or repent.
For those among us who face
discrimination every day
because of their skin colour,
For those among us with white skin
who benefit from racist systems
sometimes even without realizing it,
For those among us who have
struggled and waited so long
for the Promised Land of freedom and equality,
For those among us who have acted in racist ways
and have hurt people of colour,
For those protesting injustice who face police brutality
and a justice system rigged against them,
For those who think racism is someone else’s problem,
and not a problem for humanity,
God of hope, show us how to work for justice together,
standing up for what is right,
stepping in when something's wrong,
shouldering each other’s burdens,
holding each other accountable,
righting the wrongs we’ve done,
speaking truth to power.
We pray for change, lasting change,
for protection for protesters,
for a de-escalation of violence
and for government leaders who listen.
Deliver us from evil, within and without,
in Jesus' name we pray, Amen
“The Promise,” by Renáta Fucíková, 1996
Now receive these words of assurance: (from enfleshed.com)
We gather in the presence of God to encounter Love that sets free.
We do not come seeking mere crumbs of justice but a way of life that liberates.
Together, we practice courage in resisting evil and
rejecting the temptations of complicity and complacency.
The Spirit leads us in power and truth.
Our faith is placed in Love Eternal that lifts broken spirits and brings new life from places of ruin.
With hope that is neither narrow nor fragile, we come to follow Christ.
(Maya Angelou, “Touched by an Angel”)
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
1863 engraving, artist unknown
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
Thank you to our worship participants:
Judith Friesen Epp- message
Marnie Klassen - worship leader
God calls us to a ministry of peace, justice, and reconciliation. For 100 years, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has created avenues for sharing this ministry around the world through relief, development and peacemaking. As we celebrate the centennial of MCC, may we “reaffirm our Christ-led commitment to compassionately serve and learn from vulnerable people around the world.”
We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, proclaiming through word and deed the good news that in Christ there is a new creation. Amid human brokenness; violence along ethnic, political and religious divisions; and environmental degradation; by God’s grace, we are called in our ministry to embody a foretaste of a restored creation and a reconciled humanity. (From the Principles and Practices of Mennonite Central Committee)
God’s Faithfulness through the Generations
Call to Worship (based on Psalm 100)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth,
for the Spirit of God moves among all people, in all places.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come with singing and praise.
Know that the Lord is God,
and that God cares deeply for all in need.
It is God who made us,
and we are all God’s people; the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and courts with praise,
for God works without ceasing for peace and justice,
Give thanks to God!
Bless God’s holy name!
For the Lord is good,
and longs for the well-being of all people.
God’s steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
God, for your steadfast love and faithfulness,
for Christ’s way of love and justice,
for your Spirit which empowers this ministry of hope,
we give you thanks.
Deepen your love within us,
Inspire your justice between us,
Enliven your power among us.
For your love endures forever,
and your faithfulness to all generations.
MCC’s Beginnings: (Information from “Tractors for Ukraine: The Origins of MCC”)
Between 1914 and 1923, millions of people in Russia died due to war, epidemics, revolution and starvation. Among those who suffered were Mennonites living along the Volga River and in southern Russia. Their pleas for help convinced Mennonite relief commissions in Canada and the U.S. to consolidate, forming Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 1920. MCC opened food programs in
Russia, shipped tractors for farmers, and provided loans for horses and cattle.
Farmers are harvesting grain with an American tractor near Khortitsa, Ukraine, in 1923. In 1922, MCC had sent two shipments of 25 tractors to Mennonite settlements in Russia that were devastated by famine. MCC photo
Later, many Mennonites from Russia emigrated in hopes of a more stable, secure life. When they crossed out of Russia, through the Red Gate, they broke into a song of gratitude: “Now thank we all our God.”
Song: Now thank we all our God (HWB 86)
God’s Call to Justice and Reconciliation
Scripture: Isaiah 58:6-9a
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread
with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor
into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself
from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and the Lord will say,
Here I am.
A Japanese family received this MCC blanket sometime around 1950. MCC and 12 other church agencies joined to provide rehabilitation assistance in Japan through a consortium called LARA (Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia). Working in partnership with other agencies in Asia was a new experience for MCC, said J.M. Klassen, the first director of MCC Canada. MCC's primary involvement in the 1940s was the resettlement of Mennonite refugees from Europe. Chinese newspaper photo
Prayer of Confession (written by Rev Susan Blain)
When we forget the fast you desire--
To do justice, to stand with the oppressed:
God, have mercy.
When we forget the prayer you love--
To show compassion, and care for those in need:
Christ, have mercy.
When we forget the rituals you require--
To create relationships of righteousness and peace:
Spirit, have mercy.
Words of Assurance
Friends, the love of God,
the peace of Christ,
is always healing and transforming,
calling us to rebuild, restore,
to raise up foundations for new generations.
Humbled by grace,
called by love
let us travel together
the path towards peace.
In 1982 Linda Wiens examines a child in a health clinic in an Oromo settlement in Tubecha, Ethiopia. On the left, Hasson, the village health worker, helps with translation from Orono to Amharic. MCC Photo
For the Children: A story about how North American children sent MCC school kits to Cambodia.
Offering Prayer (adapted from jesuitresource.org)
Grant us, God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
We offer these gifts towards this vision of the world;
give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through the power of your Spirit.
Offertory: My Alleluia Westgate Concert Choir
As you listen, you are invited to prepare a cheque or send an e-transfer to email@example.com. We understand that some of you are experiencing reduced income during this pandemic time; we invite you to support each other and the church as you are able.
God’s Spirit Transforming us in Relationship
Scripture: Isaiah 58:9b-12
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger,
the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
This is God’s word to the people.
Thanks be to God.
Pedro Torres is the head of a community cooperative in Walata Grande village in Bolivia in 1999. The cooperative makes flutes which are sold by Ten Thousand Villages. In this photo, he plays a Zamponia (pan flute) out in the country side. MCC Photo.
From August 2018 to July 2019 I volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together SALT program. For eleven months I lived in Vietnam and worked as an English teacher. There are a lot of words that I could use to describe my time; good, hard, tiring, life-giving, hilarious, sad and the list goes on. One phrase that I keep coming back to, is CMU’s chapel theme from a few years ago: More than we can ask or imagine. My year was filled with a wonder of being more than I could ever have asked for or imagined. This phrase is prefixed with Paul describing to the Ephesians how deep, wide, long and high is the love of Christ. This love and full acceptance is something that I felt and experienced every day.
During my eleven months I did not learn a lot of Vietnamese, but that didn’t matter to my teachers. Co Thuy, a teacher of Vietnamese literature paid for a traditional dress to be made for me so that I could fit in when we went on our countless photo shoots. Or at least fit in as much as possible. She wanted me to feel welcome and included. When my parents came to visit me, she invited us to her house. When there was a field trip for her grade 9’s she invited me to join her class. We share no common language, except for the language of love, which she spoke and gave in multitudes.
I did not ask to be invited out to meals and yet… Once a week or more I was invited into people’s home for supper.
I do not practice Taoism, Buddhism or Confuciasm, and yet… I was invited to witness how they practice their religion. Throughout my eleven months I visited many different pagoda’s and I was always torn and conflicted on how to act. Whether you agree with me or not, I decided that God was not to be found in the statues, but that I could still honor and respect my teachers by joining in with them in their sacred moments. There was one temple where we went as a group of teachers, and I found myself waiting in line outside of a small wooden door. As we waited, it was explained to me that we are about to go behind the statues, an opportunity that none of the teachers had experienced before. As I stood past the door with my shoes off, waiting to go up behind the statues, I felt a moment of sacredness that can only be described as a Kingdom glimpse. No God was not to be found in the statues, at least the way I understand God, but rather the Holy Spirit was in the joint trust and comfortable silence between people who know and respect each other, no matter our differences.
My teachers and students loved celebrating any and all holidays. A few days before International Woman’s day on March 8th, two of my grade six students approached me in the staff room and invited me to their class’s celebration they were going to have. The day of the celebration I showed up to school and before I could walk across the courtyard, the boys from one of my classes all ran up to give me flowers, even though I didn’t teach them that day. Taking my flowers I walked into the staff room only for one of the male teachers to give me flowers. I went to my grade 6 class and two boys presented flowers to me in front of their whole class. At the end of the day I went to 6H’s celebration where they had included pictures of me in their slideshow, and translated their entire program so that I could understand it. That evening after I got someone to drive all my flowers home for me because they wouldn’t fit in my bike basket, I got a call from a teacher I didn’t know. Turns out I taught her young daughter once and she wanted to come wish me a happy international woman’s day. And so at the end of the day I ran out and received yet another bouquet of flowers and was wished a year of much happiness, success and health. I knew maybe twenty students names, and yet, they all knew me and wanted me to be included. A pattern with countless stories and moments I could talk about.
It makes no sense that I was accepted by the people I met in Vietnam, and that I felt the holy spirit and fruits of the spirit through them even though they have never heard of the holy spirit. And yet… that is exactly what happened. Day after day I was invited, sought after and accepted. I made a lot of mistakes when I was out there, and am not a trained teacher, and yet… I was shown a love that is deeper, higher and wider than I ever could have ever asked or imagined.
Thank you for this opportunity to reflect on our experiences with MCC as MCC celebrates 100 years. Between Linda and I, we have 12 years of experience with MCC both in Manitoba and internationally. Linda spent 1 year in Bolivia with SALT working in literacy and promoting kitchen gardens with Indigenous women. She also filled in one year in HR at the Winnipeg office.
My first experience with MCC came in my first year out of high school right here in Winnipeg’s North End where I was part of the first ever SALT unit. I worked with housing renovations for low income people, and supervision of persons with intellectual disabilities. In the mid-80’s I spent the better part of a year with MCC in India reporting on Food-for-Work projects. In the early ‘90s Linda and I spent four years in the Middle East as Country Representatives in Lebanon, and teaching English at the Coptic Evangelical Seminary in Cairo.
I like to think that I was able to offer some benefit to others through my work with MCC, but I know that I certainly received much more than I gave. One of the biggest gifts I received was simply getting to know people of different backgrounds. That has given me a clearer vision, and a wider perspective about ecumenical and inter-faith cooperation.
As an English teacher at the Coptic Evangelical Seminary in Cairo I got a front row seat to view the workings of a prominent Egyptian Christian denomination. My students were hard working young seminarians, proud of their church, and committed to their faith. Almost all of them were eager to serve as pastors in churches across Upper Egypt.
Now, when I think of Egypt, I remember that strong and vibrant Christian community of Coptic Evangelical and Coptic Orthodox Christians. I think of my students; Suleman, Ashraf, George and others… I expect they are now serving as leaders in their church. I wonder how helpful my English lessons were for them. More importantly, I pray that they may have wisdom to deal with many challenges that they face in Egypt today – challenges like being a minority community in a Muslim country, dealing with chronic poverty, and now as COVID-19 is hitting Egypt quite hard.
Among our students was a young couple from South Sudan. Paul and Rebecca were part of the large community of Sudanese refugees in Egypt that had to flee the civil war in their homeland. From them I learned about the trauma they experienced in their home villages because of years of civil war. Paul & Rebecca had plans to go back to South Sudan to work as church leaders there. Now, when I think of South Sudan, I think of leaders like Paul & Rebecca.
In Lebanon, our closest relationship was with two devout Muslim men, Hussein and Bassam. They were the main staff persons who ran MCC’s program. It was from them that I learned an appreciation for inter-faith cooperation. I recall working with them during Ramadan when they would fast the whole day long. And when it came to the appointed hour for prayer, they would stop to pray, whether we were travelling on the road, or at the office. The dedication of their faith gave me a new perspective about inter-faith cooperation. It also encouraged me to express my faith more openly.
Through MCC I have been introduced to a tremendous “cloud of witnesses” participating in the work of God’s Kingdom in Manitoba and around the world. My hope is that MCC will continue to be a connecting point, where we meet people of different backgrounds from our own.
Mary's Story (shared by Marnie):
The phrase “MCC term” has always made me think of a two-year stint in a far away place and unfamiliar culture. But imagine being so dedicated to your job right in Winnipeg that you would move into the neighbourhood in order to better serve your community and workplace.
That’s exactly what Mary and her late husband Jake did in the mid 1990s when they became the custodians of MCC Manitoba Plaza Drive location. Their term started with a two-week orientation in Akron, Pennsylvania. When I spoke to Mary earlier this week, she talked about how important it was for her to learn so much in that time about MCC’s broader work. Through their 2 and a half years as custodians at Plaza Drive, Mary and Jake were continually impressed with the careful research and integrity that went into MCC’s work, as well as MCC’s low administrative costs.
Now please don’t think that custodian is synonymous with janitor. Mary listed for me the kinds of things that they did in this shared role, and the list was long: Before the office staff arrived each day, the cleaning and snow clearing had to be done - then Mary and Jake would have breakfast. After that was grounds and building maintenance, and work in the Material resources centre. Mary molded and cut soap and sorted mountains of fabric, which Jake would then bale by hand to ship overseas for various projects. Some of the fabric, of course, Mary would cut into appropriate dimensions to be used in kit bags, quilts, baby blankets, and the like. Jake and Mary were also responsible for hosting guests for conferences, and keeping conference spaces clean and full of snacks.
Mary looks back on this time with a sense of purpose - her days were meaningful, and while the role was busy and exhausting, she says that she would often look back on a day of hard work and say, “this has been a good day.” And in that, she met God. See, the meaningful work provided a sense of God’s active presence in her own work and in the broader work of MCC, and on days that were just hard, she was aware of God’s presence guiding and sustaining her. Mary said to me: Without God, I just couldn’t have done it.
Praise God for good work, for sustaining and enlivening us to walk in paths of justice for his name’s sake.
Dorothy Story (shared by Judith):
Have any of you ever packaged school kits or health kits for MCC? You take a cloth bag, like this one, fill it with school supplies or health supplies, and then MCC ships these kits to people around the world who are in need -- who have experienced a natural disaster or who have been forced to flee their homes.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I always wondered where all these nifty cloth bags with the double drawstring come from? Well, over the years, many of them came from Dorothy, a long-time member of Home Street. Dorothy has not been able to attend church for many years, so some of you may not know her, but she was quietly at work over many decades making these bags for MCC.
When Dorothy moved to Winnipeg, she was 65 years old, and she happened to attend a meeting where she heard that MCC needed people to sew these bags. She replied, “If there is a need, then I will sew.” She gathered some material and began, setting a goal to sew 100 bags each month. People started collecting material and delivering it to Dorothy. She found donated thread in the sewing room at Bethel Place, and her children scoured thrift stores looking for ties and cords that could be used as drawstrings. Dorothy became very proficient at creating these bags: she would cut a bunch of material, and then sew about 10 bags at once. When she had a collection of bags ready, a number of women at Bethel Place helped thread the drawstrings, and then one of her children would pick up the bags and deliver them to MCC.
Now Dorothy sewed bags like this for more than 25 years. At a rate of 100 bags a month, that means she sewed around 30,000 bags. This sewing ministry earned Dorothy the title of “The Bag Lady.”
Dorothy’s homemade bags have found their way all over the world. She always wanted to use strong fabric so that the bags would last. She said, “I thought a lot of children would then have bags that belonged to them and they could put their things in them. I wanted to make the bags strong enough that children could use them for years.”
Earlier in her life Dorothy volunteered at the MCC Thrift Store. She was also an avid quilter, making quilts for her children and grandchildren, and also for immigrant families who needed bedding. She says simply, “If there is a need, you fill it.”
Dorothy models for us years of quiet, faithful service, offering her gifts to Mennonite Central Committee’s work around the world.
Song Longing for light STJ 54
Milade Thalgieh (pictured in 2001) lights a candle in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, West Bank, Palestine weeks after his brother Johnny, 17, who wanted to be a priest, was shot and killed while returning from afternoon prayers. MCC photo/Matthew Lester.
Benediction (Franciscan Benediction, adapted)
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed with those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
So that you may walk alongside, join hands
And together turn pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that a world of peace and love is possible,
and to act with courageous hope in the power of the Spirit.
Fildred Mudenda at the Spence Street Thrift Store, part of the Pregnancy and Family Support Services group of services where she worked as part of MCC's International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) in 2015. Originally from Ndola, Zambia, Fildred split her time between the Pregnancy and Family Support Services, offering emergency food supplies for infants, parenting classes and other support, as well as the thrift store and a day care. In Zambia, Fildred trained as a social worker, which made this opportunity with IVEP a perfect fit. MCC photo/Alison Ralph