Photo: Rainbow Mennonite Church, Kansas City, Kansas, youth pastor, Renee Reimer, brought donuts for Eastern Mennonite High School staff and students on June 9.
During the month of June, I traveled through 21 states and over 8,300 miles on the Eastern Mennonite High School Discovery bus, a classroom on wheels. It was the hospitality, however, at several churches that I will remember the longest.
During our 25 days on the road, we investigated critical social and science issues on our educational journey. We camped in state and national parks most nights, but on five occasions we were able to sleep on the floors of five Mennonite churches.
Our first church was the St. Louis (Missouri) Mennonite Fellowship. Our hosts simply opened the doors and gave us 33 travelers full run of their meetinghouse. The sign out front told us the church was a member of Mennonite Church USA. Inside, I was able to wander into the pastor’s office and look around, as doors weren’t locked. The pastor’s desk had a copy of the Martyrs Mirror perched front and center, and a Believers Church commentary set on study shelves. In the room where I slept on the floor I noticed copies of the Mennonite Hymnal, along with an assortment of blue, green, and purple songbooks—it appeared to be a music resource room. The Mennonite Encyclopedia and the green, blue, and orange “welcome” sign out front made St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship feel like home.
A couple of days later the Rainbow Mennonite Church, Kansas City, Kansas, allowed us to use their facility. I liked that the sign in front of the church stated “Seeking the Peace of the City.” From everything I could see and hear, they are. Several of us sat on the floor in the empty sanctuary and played music with a guitar, mandolin and ukulele. It felt like home. Others played basketball on their community playground and worked off some energy. Their youth pastor, Renee Reimer, opened the doors for us and told us to use the place for the night and for our breakfast the next morning. I saw her again at the Future Church Summit at Orlando a few weeks later. The next morning, we worked in Rainbow Church’s community garden, weeding, mowing and laying plastic.
Three more MC USA churches allowed us to sleep on their floors and cook in their kitchens: Pasadena (California) Mennonite Church, Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church and Lombard (Illinois) Mennonite Church. At one church the administrator explained about folks squatting in their parking lot, and gave me the number of the local police in case I needed it because we had so many students. We didn’t need to call anyone, but our group did notice the attempts by the church to reach out in a difficult situation to show hospitality to their community. At another church the pastor who greeted us at the front doors also served as a delegate to Orlando Mennonite Convention a few weeks later—I saw her at the Future Church Summit.
These churches demonstrated hospitality to 33 Virginia travelers, unreserved, free and without strings attached. I found their open doors inspiring and contagious. These acts of kindness to distant travelers are part of the gospel glue that makes MC USA a hospitable church home. At EMHS and at my home church, I’ll be a voice to pass the generosity on to others. Thanks for the open doors!
Elwood Yoder teaches history in Harrisonburg, Virginia, at Eastern Mennonite High School.