One hundred years ago, in 1920, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) began in response to drought, hunger and violence. Canadians were quick to answer the pleas of their global neighbours, although they themselves were recovering from a deadly flu pandemic at the time.
Now we are marking our centennial at a time when the globe is on the brink of a food shortage, induced by COVID-19, and facing another pandemic.
I say “marking” because to say “celebrate” would ring rather hollow in a year where “postponed due to COVID-19” is a more-common refrain in the MCC lexicon than “centennial party.” Who could have known that our centenary celebrations would be squelched by quarantine and cancellations brought about by the world’s worst pandemic since the one at MCC’s founding?
As we examine the similarities between these two centuries, I’m struck by the fact that the world continues to be haunted by grotesque disparity. Certain groups are more vulnerable to disease and hunger than others. And yet, thanks be to God, there are generous, compassionate Canadians who care. MCC’s vital Jesus-following ministry continues into another century by sharing God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ.
When the COVID-19 shutdown began in Canada, MCC was within days of approving a multi-year strategic plan. At first, there were chuckles and smiles at the sheer audacity of believing we could see so far ahead, and around so many corners, as to plan five years into the unknown future.
But as the weeks passed and we dug deeper into our plan, we found that it stood up rather well, even under the test of COVID-19. Our daring plan calls for us to:
- Deepen our spiritual grounding as Jesus-following communities, sharing our maker’s love with the world.
- Strengthen the capacity of partners, especially Anabaptist church partners, with an emphasis on those working with displaced and uprooted people.
- Improve communication with churches and constituents.
- Respond to the impact of climate change on vulnerable people. And address our own operations and the ways we contribute to the harming of a good creation.
And then there is peace
Our plans call us to do more peacebuilding, and we will integrate peace into more and more of our work. It hasn’t always been so clear, but in recent decades we have learned how core biblical peace is to MCC’s work. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Following Jesus leads on paths of peace. There is no need to choose between faith-grounded peace, on the one hand, and rigorous standards of professional peacebuilding, on the other. We can embrace both. In the many forms it takes, we know peacebuilding will be the foundation of what we do. For MCC, peace isn’t just a wish for a better future. It’s our work.
This is the MCC I see moving into our next century:
- Deepening our gospel roots.
- Strengthening Anabaptist communities.
- Communicating with supporters with excellence and transparency.
- Helping the uprooted.
- Combatting climate change.
- Pressing for the peace of Jesus Christ.
Would this MCC be recognizable to our founders, like Anna Janzen Funk, director of the first MCC relief kitchen in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine), who was forced to cook gophers and bake with thistles before MCC’s help arrived?
In some ways, the MCC of the next century may look unfamiliar to her. MCC will be found online and on multiple platforms as we embrace new ways of truly being with partners and supporters—even when we need to do it from a distance.
And she probably wouldn’t recognize many of the names or faces of MCC. There are Reimers and Martens, to be sure. However, there are increasing numbers of Ciptadis and Ebombolos and Mayasandras who provide leadership and vision.
Yet I believe she would still recognize the heart of the MCC she knew. She would recognize us as a person-centred ministry, a thin membrane through which supporters can touch and be touched by the needs in the world. She would recognize an MCC rooted in the ever-changing, radical Anabaptist Christian community, even with arms wide and welcoming to other compassionate Canadians who share the values of MCC.
And I know she would recognize you, heirs of the faithful, generous Jesus followers a century ago who said “yes” when asked to share with their cousins and aunts and uncles starving in Ukraine.
We are grateful for your generous support over the last century! And we hope you will feel invited into a second century of MCC ministry, rooted in the peace Jesus gave us.
Louie Vivra, left, Melise Michaline and Karin Florvil plant a breadfruit tree in a demonstration garden in Wopisa, Haiti, in 2016. The children participated in a kids club supported by MCC and Canadian Foodgrains Bank that focused on environmental conservation and sustainable agriculture. (MCC photo by Paul Shetler Fast)
Issa Ebombolo, MCC’s peacebuilding coordinator for Zambia and Malawi, unloads cooking oil in the village of Tomali as part of MCC’s Cyclone Idai flood relief project in Malawi in 2019.(MCC photo by Amanda Talstra)
In 1994, bean seeds helped Burundians displaced by ethnic conflict toward a more hopeful future. MCC, with local Mennonites and others, assisted people (such as the unnamed woman and her child) affected by the genocide against the Tutsis by providing food, seeds, blankets and clothing, and by organizing peace and reconciliation seminars. (MCC photo by Dave Klassen)