For members of the Mennonite World Conference commissions, the Harrisburg, Pa., assembly began with a local tour — Grantham, Salunga, Ephrata, Akron, and dinner at the Amish farm of Sol Stoltzfus. Mennonite Central Committee leader Ken Sensenig told of native American history, the witness and service of Pennsylvania Mennonites and Brethren in Christ after World War II, and more.
Our imaginations were staggered by the huge bales of recycled paper prepared by volunteers at the MCC material resources center in Ephrata. We saw equally large containers of blankets sewn by Amish women for refugees around the globe.
One tour member asked, “Why would you locate a material resources center in an out-of-the-way place like Ephrata?”
The answer came quickly, “This is where the people live who do it. And we’re not so distant from ports in Philadelphia and Baltimore.”
We learned that the third-generation mobile meat canner is the only one like it. Traveling from community to community, it is used to can hundreds of tons of meat “in the name of Christ” for distribution to locations like the Middle East and North Korea.
“A new updated mobile meat canner will soon replace this one,” said our guide. “But one old piece of equipment will not change — the canner/sealer that sits in the center of the truck. Why do you think we won’t replace it?”
No one knew.
“It’s slow enough!” he said.
Hands-on volunteer mission may not be the speediest, but it’s often the most effective. Inside the center, a circle of Amish young women were cheerfully preparing the name tags more than 7,500 people would wear the following week for the 16th MWC assembly.
At the Amish farm, our bus parked with difficulty at the end of a lane designed for horses and buggies. Inside the barn, which doubles as a house church, we were served a simple meal of vegetables, potatoes and chicken with filling. We remembered that modern American megachurches still find their roots in simple gatherings of brothers and sisters — like those who meet in homes and under trees around the globe. We’ve done that since Pentecost.
In Harrisburg, the Global Mission Fellowship and the Global Anabaptist Service Network heard more “hands-on” stories. John Wambura from Tanzania told how God led him from a job with the American embassy to work as a pastor with a nongovernmental organization in church leadership community development at one-10th his salary. Still he felt too distant from the people he was called to serve. So he left even the NGO to walk with the poor, helping to start cooperatives with no funding outside the community.
One woman said, “I can’t save anything at all on my meager income.”
“What do you spend each week on charcoal to cook your meals?” he asked. “Is there an alternative?”
“Well, yes, my children could pick up sticks on the way back from school, and I could cook with sticks,” she answered.
She began saving her charcoal money, and life is changing for her and hundreds of others as they join circles of local entrepreneurial and spiritual fellowship that do not depend on external resources. There are now 100 such groups in 30 regions. Even the government of Tanzania is taking notice.
The most inspiring, life-giving mission is hands-on and sacrificial, whether in Pennsylvania or around the globe.
R. Showalter lives and travels in Asia, Africa, the United States and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.