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