Stories connect us. They inspire us. They provide glimpses of life-changing experiences that shape us.
Salem Mennonite (South) Church of rural Freeman, S.D., found all of this to be true last year as members shared their stories of service around the world.
Meeting remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Salem needed guest speakers during a time of transition between pastors. Since Mennonite Central Committee was marking its 100th anniversary, why not invite members to share their stories of serving with MCC?
So it came to be that the June 28 worship service, conducted by Zoom, featured stories by three Salem couples who’d served with MCC. David and Cynthia Graber shared of their service in Brazil. Keith and Sharon Waltner told of their years in Indonesia. Maynard and Barb Yoder reflected on their U.S.-based assignments with MCC’s meat-canning operation and in the Akron, Pa., office and Florida.
These presentations showcased stories of challenges and blessings that many in the congregation had not been aware of. It was apparent that these experiences had a profound and lasting impact.
The Grabers recounted learning, upon a return trip to Brazil more than 30 years later, that the water project initiated during their term of service continues to thrive.
The Waltners urged congregants to look carefully at the metrics we use to measure success and noted that we are all capable of being stretched.
The Yoders found that the challenges they faced helped them navigate the unexpected circumstances that came their way later in life due to a farm accident.
LaVerne Graber used the church newsletter to share his story of service with MCC as a young adult. He worked with MCC’s Pax program in Paraguay as an alternative form of service in response to the draft. He recounted details of his experiences, including the unexpected death of his sister between the time of his stateside training and departure for Paraguay.
What began as a two-year term in the 1950s has translated to a lifetime of service woven between the pieces of everyday life. Whether scooping homemade ice cream for a church fundraiser, interacting with a preschooler or completing a home-improvement project to make someone’s life easier, Graber has made service a priority. He and his wife, Janice, have tallied 21 winters with SOOP, a short-term service program of Mennonite Mission Network that facilitates opportunities for adults to serve others.
Fast forward to October, when the need for a different format for the annual Mission Sunday celebration spurred a trifecta of sorts: It was MCC’s centennial year. There had been an overwhelmingly positive response to the service stories in June. And there were many more stories to share.
Invitations were extended, photos submitted and video displays created with dozens of photos depicting members serving with mission organizations over a span of many years.
MCC’s anniversary theme verses from 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 include a call to be Christ’s ambassadors. Marilyn Brockmueller underscored this during the Mission Sunday worship service as she shared a message with insights gained from her terms of service with MCC in Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Representing the next generation of those who’ve served with MCC, Marilyn’s son, Ben Brockmueller, reflected on his recent experiences with the MCC program SALT (Serving and Learning Together) in Kenya. As a result of his time in Kenya, Brockmueller realized the need for humility and dependence on God. He experienced the importance of listening, learning and making ourselves available to others. He saw the significance of hospitality and the opportunity it provides to be blessed by guests. He learned the importance of communal culture, working for the benefit of the community and caring for those most vulnerable. He realized the value of simplicity, relationships and finding joy in the little things.
“The Kenyan people focus less on control and more on relationships,” he said. “It’s the small, simple things we do every day that make the biggest impact.”
Carol J. Eisenbeis is a member of Salem (South) Mennonite Church of Freeman, S.D. She and her husband, Chris, are parents of four grown children, one of whom recently completed a term of service with MCC’s SALT program in Nepal.