This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The central purpose

Mennonite Central Committee wasn’t meant to last 100 years. In the beginning, it was, in fact, a committee, with a specific task — to save the lives of starving Mennonites in Ukraine.

It proved too good an idea to let end. MCC grew to be much more than a committee, but it’s still central — and not only because it brings scattered Mennonites and Brethren in Christ together. For many, MCC stands at the center of what it means to be Anabaptist: putting faith in action by serving others in the name of Christ.

MCC is about to turn 100. Let the celebration begin.

In fact, it already has. On June 23 in Khortitsa, Ukraine, local MCC staff and the U.S. and Canadian MCC boards gathered for a celebration in a “house of culture” where the first Mennonite church in Ukraine met from 1835 to 1935. As the board members sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” the hymn seemed to carry the weight of history’s joys and sorrows.

During a weeklong learning tour, the visitors recalled the awful events that brought MCC into being — the war, terrorism and famine that led the Mennonites of Ukraine to plead for help from North Americans in 1919.

They visited a memorial to the 82 Mennonites massacred by Nestor Makhno’s anarchists at Eichenfeld.

Some traced the paths of their ancestors in the Molotschna Colony, where remnants of a vanished Mennonite golden age, including the oldest Mennonite Brethren church building, still stand.

They remembered the courage of Clayton Kratz, a 24-year-old MCC worker who disappeared after being arrested in 1921 in Halbstadt, staying at his post as the Red Army advanced toward the city.

And they saw how God has shaped the tragic arc of Ukraine’s Mennonite history to bend toward hope and compassion.

They heard firsthand stories of MCC’s partners lifting up the poor and war sufferers, as the first MCC workers did 100 years ago.

They talked with peacemakers like Sergey Panasovich, a Mennonite Brethren pastor who works with youth in a ministry of reconciliation near the war front in the east.

They marveled at the resilience of material aid recipients like a woman who has lived for eight years with her husband and four children in an apartment the size of a college dorm room.

At the end of the week, they reflected on how MCC has shaped Mennonite identity and extended the kingdom of God. Mary Raber, a longtime MCC worker now serving with Mennonite Mission Network in Ukraine, spoke about MCC’s history and impact. She said that by forming MCC, Mennonites gained:

— A new understanding of generous giving. They discovered that a lot of small gifts amount to a great deal. People were amazed by what they could accomplish.

— Appreciation and trust among diverse Mennonite groups. People who previously didn’t have much to do with each other found it was good to work together. An urgent need compelled them to set aside their differences.

— Broader horizons. Mennonites proved they could do something about the world’s problems. Peacemakers could take risks and act decisively for a great cause, like soldiers, but nonviolently.

MCC’s founding holds lessons for today, Raber said. One is that success often comes through failure and persistence. Mennonites’ first two attempts to get aid into Ukraine failed. But Kratz, Orie Miller and other MCC founders did not give up.

By helping to bring positive change to people’s lives, MCC workers and supporters are themselves changed.

“Every story I heard this week is a story of transformation, and it is also a transformation for us,” said Gabriela Ochoa of Essex, Vt. “I am very grateful for MCC and for God allowing us to be part of bringing his kingdom and being part of this transformation.”

The human touch makes the difference. When the MCC visitors asked Ukrainians how MCC had helped them, the value of material things wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. MCC enables those who receive help to feel respected as people of worth. Its work in Ukraine is personal, lifting spirits and reshaping lives.

MCC provides more than food and shelter. It gives human relationships. A comforter made with love warms the soul. Small gifts do great things.

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