One hundred years ago, calls for help came from Mennonites in southern Russia where war, disease and famine had left them in desperation. “Brethren! Help us, we are perishing!” wrote one man to Mennonites in the United States. “The famine is raging more and more and suffering is increasing daily, yes, hourly.”
U.S. Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren groups formed a “central committee” in July 1920 to coordinate their responses to this crisis. The five men who made up the committee gathered in Hillsboro, Kansas, at P.C. Hiebert’s home, which stood where Tabor College is today, to work at finding a way to ease the suffering of their friends and family in Russia. Each of the men was representing a different Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren group. Their various differences were set aside for the greater good and they quickly organized with folks in Elkhart, Ind., were MCC was officially born later that month.
Over the next several years, the committee, which took on the name Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), provided food for as many as 25,000 people at times, as well as shipping in tractors and seeds to plant for the future.
One century later, MCC is celebrating the ministry that grew from that first endeavor. Throughout 2020, the public is invited to explore MCC’s history by participating in commemoration events, comforter making, giving opportunities, storytelling and more.
Today MCC serves in more than 50 countries, including Canada and the U.S., providing humanitarian relief, encouraging sustainable development and strengthening peacebuilding initiatives.
“MCC’s work, then and now, is motivated by a desire to share God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ,” says J Ron Byler, executive director for MCC U.S. “We hope you celebrate with us and give thanks as you see how God has worked in the lives of people impacted by MCC.”
The Great Winter Warm-up
One of the ways MCC and its supporters show their compassion for people in crisis is to send comforters made or donated by volunteers.
On Jan. 18, 2020, the public was invited to be a part of The Great Winter Warm-up, a comforter-making event held across the U.S., Canada and Europe. Volunteers attempted to complete 6,500 comforters in one day.
“People who get these comforters realize they are getting something personal,” says Byler. “Someone has chosen the fabric and crafted the comforter with their hands. They understand this is a gift of love.”
Volunteers across two continents completed 9,504 comforters that will provide a jump-start for the estimated 50,000-plus comforters that MCC will send this year to people in crisis around the world. Nine hundred comforters were shipped to Puerto Rico on Jan. 29, 2020, where MCC is working with Mennonite Disaster Service to help people affected by earthquakes in January.
As part of the centennial celebrations, MCC will return to the Tabor College campus February 29, 2020, for “We’ve Come This Far by Faith,” a celebration open to the public to celebrate the past 100 years but to also look ahead toward the next 100 years. The celebration will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Shari Flaming Center for the Arts on the campus of Tabor College.
The centennial celebration will feature a reflection by MCC Central States executive director Michelle Armster based on adaptations from Hebrews 11. Armster says, “The history of MCC is about how human people felt that they were responding to God’s call to feed hungry people. Could/Would they ever have imagined that, 100 years later, MCC continues to respond to people in need in the name of Christ?”
Money raised at the event will support MCC’s New Hope in the Name of Christ campaign that is raising money for special international and domestic projects.
As guests arrive, they are welcome to bid on a variety of silent auction items. A reproduction Mennonite Feeding Station sign from MCC’s post-World War II feeding programs in Germany will be available for a suggested donation, also.
“Turning 100 is a big deal and we’re looking forward to kicking off this centennial year with this celebration,” Armster says. “There are countless people who have given their time and money over the past 100 years to support MCC and for that we are thankful! We’re excited to see what the next 100 years bring!”
MCC will host Celebration 2020, the U.S. national celebration of MCC’s history and ministry, June 19-21. Held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the weekend events will be a time of thanksgiving to God; and for the supporters, partners and workers who have made MCC’s ministry possible.
In addition to a Saturday evening celebration, participants can enjoy food, music, demonstrations, children’s activities and storytelling at Friday events in Akron and Saturday events in Ephrata and Mountville.
Registration for the Century for a Century bike tour, Pax Ultimate Frisbee® tournament and an MCC Thrift shops bus tour will open closer to the event. Those who want to express their interest now may email email@example.com.
Leonard Dow, a stewardship and development specialist, former longtime pastor and MCC board leader, will be the keynote speaker at the livestreamed Saturday evening celebration at Manor Church, Mountville.
On Sunday, MCC representatives will worship and share in local churches and a children’s musical based on the book “Swords to Plowshares” will be performed.
For details about Celebration 2020, visit mcc.org/celebration-2020.
100 stories for 100 years
No anniversary is complete without stories, photos and videos. MCC’s “100 stories for 100 years” online collection provides glimpses of the people and ministry of MCC over the years.
The collection shares stories about remarkable people, such as Lois Gunden, who protected Jewish children from death camps, and Issa Ebombolo, who started hundreds of peace clubs in schools all over Africa.
They describe how simple resources like canned meat and tarps give vital support to vulnerable people facing the devastation of disaster and how MCC and partner organizations have worked together, for example, developing new farming techniques over time, right up to today’s initiatives that help farmers cope with climate change.
Stories will be added throughout the year at mcc.org/100-stories, where you can also sign up for monthly email alerts about the collection.
Your stories and gifts
Thousands of people have served with MCC at home or in other countries; contributed to vital efforts such as meat canning, relief sales, thrift shops and material resources centers; supported MCC with gifts of money, kits and comforters; and in other ways experienced MCC’s work firsthand.
They have stories to tell, too. Anyone who wants to share a photo, video or a short vignette about their MCC experience can do so on the “Share your story” web page at mcc.org/share-your-story.
Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. immigration education coordinator, shares on the web page how he arrived in Calgary, Alberta, in 1986 as an immigrant from Guatemala and the son of a political refugee. Later, he signed up for an MCC skills training, which he called “a window to self-awareness and a path to new life opportunities.”
“As I work with immigrant communities in the U.S, I am reminded of how new opportunities can heal past trauma and provide life-giving opportunities. I am eternally grateful for the people at MCC who offer recent immigrants an opportunity to have a new hope.”
To continue MCC’s work and to expand it beyond this centennial year, MCC is encouraging people to give an extra financial gift through the New Hope in the Name of Christ centennial fundraising campaign.
To donate, visit mcc.org/new-hope or call 888-563-4676.
“In the midst of reminiscing and celebrating the work God has done through MCC in the last 100 years, we are grateful for every single person who has supported our ministry,” Byler says.
“With each gift of money, of time, of prayer, you are reaching out your hands of love to people at home and across oceans and continents. Thank you.”
by Linda Espenshade for MCC