Tabor College celebrates Carson Center
by Grant Overstake for Tabor Communications
Such was the world view of the Carson MB Church—a small, rural congregation in Delft, Minn., known for sending far more than its share of great missionaries and servant leaders into the world—that even in the process of closing its doors, the congregation made one more mission-minded decision, assuring that the church’s work would go on after the church was no more.
In a final selfless act, in 2006 the congregation gave a third of the proceeds from the closing of the church to Tabor College. This led to the creation of the Carson Center for Mission, Service and Global Education, providing opportunities for students to participate in mission and service projects around the world.
Several past members of the former Carson MB Church, including a number of gifted leaders from a single family, the Ewerts, visited the campus for a full schedule of Carson Week activities held from March 13-18, in Hillsboro.
Merrill Ewert, president of Fresno Pacific University, a Tabor College graduate who grew up in the Carson church, was the keynote speaker at a fund-raising banquet for the Carson Center held March 14 at Hillsboro MB Church.
Ewert was joined by his brothers, Lowell Ewert, director of Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University, and Norm Ewert, associate professor of economics at Wheaton College, and their sister, Elaine (Ewert) Kroeker, a driving force behind the creation of the Carson Center and a member of the Tabor board of directors. Also in attendance were Bob Ewert, from Mountain Lake, Minn., and sister Phyllis (Ewert) Stucky of Lancaster, Penn.
“Tonight we celebrate the legacy of this little church in Delft, Minnesota,” Merrill Ewert said. “We honor and we thank those who have shaped our lives. We dedicate the Carson Center here at Tabor College to service in the kingdom, and we commit ourselves to support this college and the Center.
“As president of Fresno Pacific I ask you to join me in supporting Tabor College and the Carson Center, that it may be a place that calls people to lives of missions and service,” said Ewert.
Ewert has led Fresno Pacific University since 2002 and was awarded the Tabor College Alumni Merit Award in 1978 and 2007. He earned his bachelor’s in Social Science from Tabor College in 1967.
Ewert said growing up in a mission-minded church and attending a mission-minded college has had a profound impact on his life. He talked about his own call to the mission field, a call which came during his last semester at Tabor in the form of a note written on a paper he’d turned in for a class on contemporary world religions taught by longtime professor Clarence Hiebert.
“On the paper were just two comments: one said ‘A’ and that was a good thing; the second one was, ‘Come see me,’ and I wasn’t so sure,” Ewert said. “But I did go to see him, and at the end of that conversation, I found myself not on the way to the University of Minnesota for graduate school as I had expected and planned, but on the way to the Congo to be part of the Tabor Congo program, circa 1967.”
Ewert went on to spend seven years in Africa working in the areas of relief and community development with the Mennonite Brethren Church, the Mennonite Central Committee and MAP International.
Kroeker, a 1972 Tabor graduate, spoke about the history of the Carson MB Church, which she attended her entire life until it closed Nov. 27, 2005.
“We were not a perfect church, but somehow despite all of our weaknesses, we made a team that ended up giving Carson the reputation for having sent out a lot of missionaries around the world,” Kroeker said. “A large percentage of the money received in the church offerings was sent away to support missions and without this giving spirit, the list of missionaries serving from the church would be far smaller.”
The creation of the Carson Center assures that the missional legacy of the church will continue, she added.
“Elder Heinrich Voth set the tone for the church,” Kroeker said. “I wonder if he had any idea of the large number of young men and women who would leave from this congregation in a steady flow to remote areas. Or, if he could have possibly imagined the impact yet to be made with the birth of the Carson Center for Mission, Service and Global Education.”
The goal of the banquet was to increase awareness of the Carson Center Endowment, which provides ongoing resources for the Carson Center and provides funds for operations and student scholarships.
Students Brandon Voth, a senior from Lynden, Wash., and Tasheena Ruzinsky, a junior from Hillsboro, spoke about their transformative experiences on Carson Center trips.
“We have other stories we could share with you, from Japan, from poor neighborhoods in New Orleans, from India, and from Europe,” said Carson Center coordinator Max Cox. “They are stories of lives transformed, touched through service. For us that’s the real end goal of the Carson Center. Not miles, not more trips.”
Cox added, “What we offer is a chance to be transformed, to be enriched, to return with a heart and mind that has been challenged and changed by participating in Christ’s global kingdom.”
More than 200 Tabor students have participated in Carson Center trips since 2007. During the January Interterm, 59 students and 22 guests traveled to five locales: the U.S. Gulf Coast, Belize, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
The Carson Center received a boost in June 2006 with a donation of $100,000. Combining the original gift from the Carson Church and the second donation, the Carson Center is poised to begin to carry out its work of promoting mission, service and global education.
“There is much be to done for the Carson Center to fully realize its potential, but the momentum that has emerged far surpasses that of those who just two years ago planted the seeds of what has become a grand vision for Tabor College and the church,” said Tabor Provost Lawrence Ressler.
“The Carson Center is not breaking new ground,” Ressler added. “The Carson Center is taking passions that lie deep within the soul of the denomination and college and breathing new life into them for our time and in ways that incorporate the changes that are taking place in the world.”
Current Carson Center efforts include:
- Tabor College’s growing connections within India, including the Mennonite Brethren Church of India, the Centenary Bible College in Shamshabad, and relationships within medical, education, and business sectors.
- Tabor College’s third student trip to India, scheduled for January 2010.
- Spring Serve: a week long service experience over spring vacation.
- Four student-led, faculty/staff advised teams are scheduled for 2009. They will serve at Mennonite Disaster Services locations and in urban ministry sites.