One hundred years ago, calls for help came from Mennonites in southern Russia, where war, disease and famine had left them in desperate straits.
“Brethren! Help us, we are perishing!” wrote one man to Mennonites in the United States. “The famine is raging more and more, and suffering is increasing daily, yes, hourly.”
Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren groups formed a “central committee” in July 1920 to coordinate their responses to this crisis. Together, they pledged to help hungry people, including those who were suffering in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine).
Over the next several years, the committee, which took on the name Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), provided food for as many as 25,000 people at times, as well as shipped in tractors and seeds to plant for the future.
A century later, MCC is celebrating the ministry that grew from that first endeavour. Throughout 2020, the public is invited to explore MCC’s history by participating in commemoration events, comforter-making, giving opportunities, storytelling and more.
Today, MCC serves in more than 50 countries, including Canada and the United States, providing humanitarian relief, encouraging sustainable development and strengthening peacebuilding initiatives.
“The origins of MCC are rooted in a desire to see God’s justice and peace brought to those being oppressed or harmed,” says Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Canada. “It is a privilege to celebrate all those who began this work and all those who supported it.”
The Great Winter Warm-up
One of the ways MCC and its supporters showed their compassion for people in crisis was to send comforters.
On Jan. 18, the public took part in The Great Winter Warm-up, a comforter-making event held across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. (See below for photos of some of the Warm-up events.) Volunteers attempted to complete 6,500 comforters in one day. “Comforters are an excellent metaphor for the nature of our work around the world at MCC,” says Cober Bauman. “One square of fabric alone cannot keep the cold away, but many pieces connected together produce warmth against the cold. When our volunteers and supporters came together to create comforters for The Great Winter Warm-up, they made a difference in the lives of people affected by conflict and disaster.”
Last year, MCC shipped more than 53,000 comforters around the world.
Buckets of thanks
On Thanksgiving, Canadians and Americans take the time to recognize what they are thankful for. During MCC’s centennial year, it invites supporters to fill a Bucket of Thanks with valuable relief and hygiene supplies and provide something for a family experiencing hardship to be thankful for.
Last year, MCC shipped more than 22,000 buckets (or relief kits) to families experiencing conflict or disaster all around the world.
The Great Winter Warm-up and Buckets of Thanks are just some of the exciting events MCC is holding to celebrate our 100 years of service. (For information on all the other events happening this year, visit mcccanada.ca/centennial/events.)
100 stories for 100 years
No anniversary is complete without stories, photos and videos. MCC’s 100 stories for 100 years online collection provides glimpses of the people and ministry of MCC over the years.
The collection shares stories about remarkable people such as Lois Gunden, who protected Jewish children from Nazi death camps, and Issa Ebombolo, who started hundreds of peace clubs in schools all over Africa.
They describe how simple resources like canned meat and tarps give vital support to vulnerable people facing the devastation of disaster, and how MCC and partner organizations have developed new farming techniques over time, right up to today’s initiatives that help farmers cope with climate change.
Stories will be added throughout the year at mcccanada.ca/100-stories, where people can also sign up for monthly email alerts about the collection.
Your stories and gifts
Thousands of people have served with MCC at home or in other countries; contributed to vital efforts such as meat canning, relief sales, thrift shops and material resources centres; supported MCC with gifts of money, kits and comforters; and in other ways experienced MCC’s work firsthand.
They have stories to tell, too. Anyone who wants to share a photo, video or a short vignette about their MCC experience can do so on the “Share your story” web page at mcccanada.ca/centennial/share-your-story.
Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. immigration education coordinator, shares how he arrived in Calgary in 1986 as an immigrant from Guatemala and the son of a political refugee. Later, he signed up for an MCC skills training session, which he called “a window to self-awareness and a path to new life opportunities.”
“As I work with immigrant communities in the U.S., I am reminded of how new opportunities can heal past trauma and provide life-giving opportunities. I am eternally grateful for the people at MCC, who offer recent immigrants an opportunity to have a new hope.”
Looking to the future
To continue MCC’s work and to expand it beyond this centennial year, MCC is encouraging people to give an extra financial gift through the Our Faith, Our Future centennial fundraising campaign.
MCC was called into being to help people who had been forced to leave their homes. Supporting displaced people has been a central part of its work for a century. To donate, visit mcccanada.ca/centennial/our-faith-our-future or call toll-free 1-888-622-6337.
“There would be no MCC without each person who has supported us in any number of ways these last hundred years,” says Cober Bauman. “Every prayer, every dollar, every minute offered, has been absolutely essential to the continued success of MCC’s mission.”
This feeding centre in Trans-Volga, Russia, circa 1922, was one of 140 MCC-supported centres in southern Russia that distributed 38,600 rations daily at the peak of the relief effort in 1922. This kitchen excelled most other kitchens in cleanliness and orderliness. (MCC photo)
A Spanish child benefits from an MCC feeding program in Lyon, France, in 1941. MCC began work with Spanish refugees who had fled to France in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. This relief work continued into the early years of the Second World War. Throughout 2020 MCC is celebrating 100 years of global service. (Photo: Mennonite Central Committee)
Marlene Epp, left, Shirley Froese, Katie Harder and Betty Brown tie a comforter at Bergthal Mennonite Church in Didsbury, Alta. (Photo by Veronica Morales)
Comforter knotters at First Mennonite Church in Edmonton were joined by members of the Islamic Family and Social Services Agency. Pictured from left to right: Joan Perrott, left, Dolly Jeffares, Marah Rafih, and Sana Almotlak. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)
Sharlene Christie, Jeanette Thiessen and Barb Goosen work on a comforter at Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary. Twenty-eight people worked together to complete eight comforters. Three men made lunch for the 25 women and one child who worked on the comforters. (Photo by Linda Dickinson.)
MCC’s Great Winter Warm-up in B.C. drew several generations of volunteers to work together on blanket-making at Ross Road Community Church in Abbotsford. The youngest were Brielle, 5, and Hannah Balzer, 8, who helped their parents and grandparents tie comforters . Peace Mennonite Church in Richmond held its own event the same day. Altogether, B.C. stitchers completed 615 blankets. (Photo by Amy Rinner Waddell)
Many hands came together to pin, stitch and fold material into comforters and blankets for MCC’s Great Winter Warm-up Jan. 18 at Ross Road Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C. (Photo by Amy Rinner Waddell)
Volunteers at the MCC Christian Benefit Thrift Shop in St. Catherines, Ont., show customers how to knot comforters. (Photo by John Himes)
Tim Albrecht, general manager of the Christian Benefit Thrift Store in St. Catharines, Ont., third from left, helps volunteers knotting comforters for MCC’s Great Winter Warm-up event. Over three days, 18 comforters were created with the help of 21 volunteers. (Photo by John Himes / Text by Maria H. Klassen)
Clockwise from left, Tracy Wright, Rebecca Janzen, Daniela Stahl, Isaac Wright and Lena Regier tie a comforter together at North Kildonan Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, where 350 participants and volunteers made 210 comforters. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)
Participants learned each step of the comforter making process, from cutting squares to sewing edges to proper knot-tying etiquette, with this sample comforter. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)
During a break from the annual meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada on Jan. 18 at Camp Peniel, north of Montreal, Alain Després and Richard Lougheed take time to tie a few knots in a comforter for Mennonite Central Committee. (Photo by Barb Draper)