Clawing our way out of the morass together

This ‘freedom’ graffiti carries significance and irony for South Africans. It is emblazoned on a bridge connecting Soweto to the informal settlement of Kliptown, an area of extreme poverty.

Elmer Courchene is an Anishinabe elder who carries himself with dignity but offers carefully chosen words that reflect the uncertainty within: ‘I’m 77 years old and, without a word of a lie, I’m still trying to find love.’

Mpho Putu, left, grew up in the midst of apartheid and took part in the 1976 Soweto Uprising as a 13-year-old student. A member of the steering committee of the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA) since its inception, Putu sees hope and guidance in Anabaptism for the country as it recovers from apartheid’s ravages. He is pictured with Cobus van Wyngaard, an ANiSA steering committee member.

Even after the fall of apartheid, extreme poverty continues. The informal settlement of Kliptown, South Africa, is predominantly comprised of people living in shacks.

Deborah Froese

Elmer Courchene introduced himself as an Anishinabe elder whose home is Turtle Island. He carried himself with dignity, but his carefully chosen words reflected the uncertainty within: “I’m 77 years old and, without a word of a lie, I’m still trying to find love.”

For discussion

1. What have been your experiences with the Roman Catholic Church? Do Mennonites today still have the same suspicions about Catholic theology that Will Braun says he grew up with? What do you appreciate about Catholic worship? What are your questions about it?

Holy contradictions

The San Francesco Basilica in Assisi, Italy, attracts both the faithful and interested tourists to its doors.

St. Peter’s Basilica pictured in the early morning.

The Sedia Gestatoria (litter) of Pope Pius VII (1800-23), part of an exhibition of various thrones in the Galerie des Glaces of Château de Versailles.

Garry Wills

Despite gaping holes in the biblical basis for its elaborate hierarchy, and despite relatively widespread pedophilia among its priests, the Roman Catholic Church holds on to roughly twice as many official adherents—1.2 billion—as all Protestant denominations put together.

For Discussion

1. What is a story from your life or from the history of your congregation that has had an impact on you? What stories from the past are important to pass on to future generations? What is the best way to share these stories so that they are not forgotten?

Hindsight foresight insight

The ability to see clearly is an important sense to us as Christians and as Mennonites: our theology, The Anabaptist Vision; our music, “Be Thou My Vision”; our scripture, “Without a vision, the people perish.” Mennonite education at its best gives our church a special kind of seeing—akin to high definition or 3D. I call that hindsight, foresight and insight.

For discussion

1. What motivates you to give? Where did you learn to be generous? When you give to the church or to other charities, how much of it is carefully planned and how much of it is free-spirited? Is it important to you to analyze charities and to carefully plan your giving?

For discussion

1. Mennonite schools had been designed to keep students separate from the “modernizing secular world” while Conrad Grebel College was deliberately set within a large public university. What are the advantages and challenges of this approach? How has the Mennonite Church changed as it has participated more closely with the world since the 1960s?

The Grebel vision at 50 years

In 1963, Milton Good, the first board chair of Conrad Grebel College, looked out across Laurel Creek at the College building site.

Susan Schultz Huxman stands in front of the atrium and the residential wing of Conrad Grebel University College.

The Conrad Grebel College Board of Governors from 1964 (from left): J. Winfield Fretz, Earle Snyder, David Bergey, Mahlon Leis, Hugo Harms, Jacob Fransen, Orland Gingerich, Harvey Taves, Milton Good, Henry H. Epp, Roy G. Snyder, Douglas Millar, John Snyder, Norman High, John Sawatsky, Kenneth Bender (not in photo: Elven Shantz, Ernest J. Swalm).

The leaders of the Church colleges on the University of Waterloo campus met together in 1965 (from left): J. Winfield Fretz, Alan McLachlin (St. Paul’s), Sister M. Leon (Notre Dame), A. Wyn Rees (Renison), Father John R. Finn (St. Jerome’s)

By the time the Mennonites were ready to build, this was the only church college spot left on campus. Once the University’s landscape plan enhanced Laurel Lake and its banks, the setting became idyllic.

An innovative experiment in higher education

By Susan Schultz Huxman
President, Conrad Grebel University College

For discussion

1. How has your church changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Have there been major changes in the church structures and programs? Do congregational leaders feel hopeful or anxious about the future? Are the structures and programs sustainable or does it feel as though it is time for a major shake-up?

The economy and my new pair of shoes

Shoemaker Jacinto Perez works on a pair of shoes in his Guatemalan shop. (Photo by Tobias Roberts)

Tobias Roberts models his refurbished Dockers. (Photo courtesy of Tobias Roberts)

The other morning, after dreaming to the tune of the constant patter of rain on the tin roof of my house, I woke early to enjoy a morning stroll through the mountains of northern Guatemala. After an hour or so of watching the mystical dance of clouds caressing the valleys and peaks of the green hills, I began to notice that my right foot was soaking wet.

For discussion

1. What have been your experiences of suffering, either personally or by people around you? What are the biggest challenges of dealing with long-term suffering? Have you seen someone’s identity or personality change as a result of suffering? How have relationships been affected?

For discussion

1. How big is the problem of poverty in your community? What local initiatives have tried to reduce poverty? Have they been successful? What circumstances lead to high levels of poverty? Do you have a sense of hope that the problems of poverty can be overcome?

The ART of hope

Our society is very good at dividing us into categories. We talk about the poor as though they are a separate species.

"The poor will be with you always.” That is the message that seems to have been so frequently taken away from the gospel when we talk about poverty. That’s not a very encouraging message to someone who has been tasked with coming up with a way to end it.

For discussion

1. How important is the Bible in your life? Do you think the church has lost its commitment to the Bible? Is your church presently wrestling with any passages of Scripture? Which ones have you wrestled with in the past? Are there passages that the church simply ignores?

For discussion

1. What powerful stories have you heard in your congregation? Who did the telling? What was the setting? What made the story powerful? How did it influence the teller or the listeners? Was it important that the teller was physically present and not recorded on a video clip?


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