This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Coming to a gathering space at assembly

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Roland Yoder presided over what he called “an innocent form of community graffiti” as he watched the hub of activity around the three-dimensional sculpture of the Mennonite World Conference logo he designed for the Global Church Village.

Priyanka R. Bagh of India applies henna body art to Abigail Beiler July 24 in the Global Church Village. — Jonathan Charles
Visitors to the Global Church Village leave their thumbprints on a three-dimensional wooden sculpture depicting the Mennonite World Conference logo. — Jonathan Charles

Village visitors were invited to put their thumb­prints on the wooden sculpture in the village square. By July 25, the last day of the assembly, the white spokes were covered with colorful prints left by people from around the globe.

Yoder, who spent almost 12 hours onsite each day, observed the transformation in silence. A note pinned to his shirt read, “My voice is on vacation through July.”

Yoder is quiet by nature, said his wife, Dottie. But his silence was not by choice. Yoder was recently diagnosed with polyps on his vocal chords, and his doctor prescribed six weeks of silence. This was week five.

“Not a convenient time,” wrote Yoder on the note pad he kept in easy reach. “Thank God for email. When my wife and I made phone calls, we needed two phones. She would talk, and I would write answers when necessary, which she would relay.”

The sculpture of the MWC logo was intended to be a focal point in the large equine arena that housed the village. Originally, Yoder was asked to design something that could be hung from the ceiling. But he wanted people to be able to touch the sculpture and interact in a way that would encourage them to identify with MWC. He put the sculpture on a simple pedestal to be decorated with thumbprints.

“A thumbprint is a personal thing,” Yoder said.

Designing the sculpture was only part of Yoder’s assignment. Creating an indoor gathering space for the Global Church Village that evoked the outdoors was his other task. Yoder, a retired art and biology teacher, worked with Wes Neuswanger, a high school shop teacher, and Lowell Jantzi, a builder. The three communicated regularly with Vikal Rao of India, the overall Global Church Village coordinator.

Priyanka R. Bagh of India applies henna body art to Abigail Beiler July 24 in the Global Church Village. — Dale D. Gehman for Meeetinghouse
Priyanka R. Bagh of India applies henna body art to Abigail Beiler July 24 in the Global Church Village. — Dale D. Gehman for Meeetinghouse

The result was a gathering place at the front of the arena that reminded some visitors of a Spanish village square and others of an African market. Carpets covering the dirt floor followed a color scheme created by Yoder. Area greenhouses provided trees, flowering plants, ornamental grasses and bushes arranged on the edges of the center green. Benches and wooden lawn chairs offered visitors a place to visit or rest. Empty floor space gave some the chance to lie down for a nap.

Yoder and his crew added touches of Pennsylvania rural life. Visitors entered via Irishtown Bridge, a covered bridge constructed for MWC by a Lancaster County Amish farmer and builder. An Amish buggy and a pulley clothesline hung with “plain” clothes were located nearby. A 50-year-old John Deere L tractor was parked beside one of the display tents.

Sharing cultures

Tents housing displays from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, as well as the Storytelling Tent and MWC Global Tent, circled the village green. Displays included photographs, banners, posters, artifacts, videos and recorded music that informed visitors about the culture and church life of the different continents.

The Asia Tent was one of the busier exhibits, thanks to crafts and other activities that changed daily. People frequently waited in line for henna body art. Visitors could pose with a colorful bicycle taxi from Bangladesh, and children could crawl inside a grass roof hut.

The North America Tent took advantage of the spacious village green for fast-paced games of Dutch Blitz played with giant cards.

The Global Church Village Stage at the back of the arena also benefited from Yoder’s creativity. He painted cityscapes on several Styrofoam panels that served as the backdrop for musicians, dancers and other performers. Volunteers, including residents at Landis Homes where the Yoders live, shared their artistic talents by painting triangular cardboard columns — no two alike — that stood along the sides of the seating area.

Yoder’s voice was out of commission, but not his eyes or his ears.

“I experienced a lot of joy in seeing people from around the world enjoying the natural environment that we had the privilege to be a part of creating,” he said.

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