Much of Mennonite Central Committee’s work takes place around tables. Around the world, in homes in varied locations ranging from Appalachia, Kinshasa, Jerusalem, Port au Prince, Kolkata, and First Nations communities in Canada, MCC workers have been graciously hosted around tables (or sometimes on floors) for meals by partners, neighbors, and the so-called “beneficiaries” whom we had come to serve—but who instead gave us the gracious gift of welcome. Country representatives and program officers gather around tables with church leaders from countries like Ethiopia, Indonesia, Syria, and Bolivia and with staff from MCC’s partner organizations to discuss projects and to discern future directions. MCC governance boards bring together the wide diversity of Anabaptist-Mennonite reality in Canada and the United States, from Old Order Amish to Conservative Mennonites to “granola” Mennonites, around board tables to do the business of the inter-Mennonite experiment that is MCC.
At annual relief sales people sit down at tables to indulge in all-you-can-eat pancake-and-sausage breakfasts and feasts of traditional ethnic foods, all with the justification that money is being raised for the good cause that is MCC. Around these tables, Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, and Amish from diverse theological and ethnic backgrounds have joined together to share gifts in the name of Christ with persons in need in scores of countries around the globe; through this sharing they have in turn received the fruits of bounteous sharing from inter-Mennonite, ecumenical, and interfaith partnerships. This mutual sharing, flowing not unilaterally from “donor” to “beneficiary” but instead circulating in the economy of God’s overflowing love, is rooted, moreover, in the excessive grace received and shared in thanksgiving at God’s table, the table around which MCCers have routinely gathered with one another and with Mennonites and other Christians around the world.
Through participation in this Eucharistic communion, MCCers have also taken part in the ongoing expansion of Mennonite identity, the construction of what might be called the imagined Mennonite community. In his account of the rise of European nationalism, historian Benedict Anderson describes nations as “imagined communities,” created through specific practices and media. In a similar way MCC has been a key, and perhaps the primary, vehicle for the construction of broader Mennonite identities. From its inception in 1920, MCC has brought together groups in the United States and Canada that otherwise had minimal interaction with one another; in the process, a sense of being part of a larger Mennonite community was fostered. Over the decades MCC contributed to the further expansion of Anabaptist-Mennonite identity through partnerships with churches in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and Zimbabwe.
MCC has also helped expand Mennonite identity beyond Mennonite circles. While MCC’s constituent denominations in Canada and the United States typically have shied away from joining ecumenical coalitions and umbrella organizations, MCC became an active partner of ecumenical groupings such as the Middle East Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches and has hired Christians of various denominations, from Baptists to Anglicans to Coptic Orthodox; hundreds if not thousands of MCC service workers have come from non-Mennonite denominations. Service workers have worshiped in Pentecostal, Lutheran, Catholic, and Syrian Orthodox churches. And through MCC non-Christian institutions and individuals have become part of the Mennonite story: the universities behind the Iron Curtain at which MCC students and professors were placed during the Cold War; government councils in countries like Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia; Shi’a religious scholars in Qom, Iran; Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Muslim peace activists; and the scores of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who have worked for MCC.
The essays in this book all describe different ways how MCC has contributed to expanding networks of Mennonite identity. The chapters in the first section examine aspects of how MCC has served as a means of inter-Mennonite collaboration. John A. Lapp looks at how MCC, dependent on an inter-Mennonite ecclesial mandate, has moved out into a wide array of global partnerships. In distinctive yet complementary ways, Esther Epp-Tiessen and James Juhnke contest standard narrations of MCC’s beginnings. Through an account of MCC Canada’s origins, Epp-Tiessen describes how MCC has served for ninety years as an institutional space through which the efforts of different Canadian Mennonite communities and organizations came together. Juhnke, for his part, counters what he describes as a Swiss/South German bias in MCC origin accounts centered on Orie Miller, arguing that such accounts leave out or underplay Dutch-Russian-Low German narratives of MCC’s beginnings. Ron Mathies then proceeds to analyze the intertwined histories of MCC and Mennonite World Conference, arguably the two major institutional players in the construction of a global Anabaptist-Mennonite identity.
The second section pays attention to how MCC has helped to shape and has been shaped by Mennonite and other Anabaptist communities in Canada and the United States. Analyzing statistical data gathered from opinion surveys, sociologist Donald Kraybill explores the phenomenon of what he terms the “mystery” of the broad-based support for MCC on the part of Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in the United States. Historian Steve Nolt, meanwhile, narrates and analyzes Old Order Amish and Mennonite interactions and engagements with MCC. Nancy Heisey in turn brings critical theory about travel to bear on a discussion of how MCC travel has shaped Mennonite identities as world-travelers, whether such travel is framed as tourism, work, or pilgrimage. Missiologists Stanley Green and James Krabill proceed to consider how MCC has been an inter-Mennonite means of sharing the good news, assessing the multiple missiologies animating MCC’s work.
The essays in section three underscore that the expansion of Mennonite identity has never been a straightforward, uncontested process, but that such expanding identity has also been accompanied by exclusions of different sorts, exclusions that have only been faced when challenged by those who have been marginalized. Historian Tobin Miller Shearer draws on whiteness theory to describe how black and white racial experience within MCC has often been rendered invisible, arguing that the regime of whiteness at play in the organization only becomes visible to the beneficiaries of white privilege through conflict, i.e. through the challenges to the whiteness regime by people of color. Beth Graybill next undertakes the task of writing women back into MCC’s narrative, offering an account of the polity and politics of MCC’s gender history.
MCC has been a key player in and a catalyst for the creation and establishment of numerous other inter-Mennonite institutions and ventures which have helped to shape Mennonite identity, including Mennonite Economic Development Associates, Menno Travel Service, Mennonite Mutual Aid, and much more. Section four focuses on three such examples. Jennifer Keahey, Douglas Murray, and Mary Littrell, all of Colorado State University’s Center for Fair and Alternative Trade Studies, place the MCC-initiated SELFHELP Crafts/Ten Thousand Villages venture within the broader history, tensions, and challenges of the fair trade movement. Theologian Malinda Berry offers a theological analysis of the MCC-sponsored World Community Cookbooks series; perhaps more than any other twentieth-century publication, these cookbooks, in particular the More-with-Less Cookbook, have “extended the table” of Mennonite identity and community. Historian Perry Bush next examines the intertwined histories of MCC and Christian Peacemaker Teams, probing their points of convergence and tension.
In the book’s final section authors consider MCC within the framework of the broader humanitarian world. Robb Davis describes the multiple development paradigms at play within MCC. Willie Reimer and Bruce Guenther examine the integrated character of MCC’s “relief” responses over the past nine decades, noting the essential place of relationships in those efforts. Theologian Ted Koontz offers a critique of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine which has become increasingly influential in policy circles in Canada, the United States, and the United Nations. Through an analysis of MCC’s work in two Bolivian villages, sociologist Terry Jantzi offers a theoretical framework for understanding how MCC’s emphasis on relationships arguably helps to build social capital and social density.
Executive Director Arli Klassen concludes this volume with a reflection
on MCC’s future. In 2009 the MCCs in Canada and the United States
adopted a shared mission and priority document, known popularly as the
“New Wine” document, which provides a common basis for all MCC work.
Over the coming years MCC will be engaged in a process of structural
reorganization designed in part to strengthen MCC’s engagement with and
accountability to the global Anabaptist-Mennonite church. These
structural changes, begun in MCC’s ninetieth anniversary year, will,
God willing, carry MCC forward to its hundredth anniversary in 2020 and
beyond. May these changes leave MCC well-positioned to continue
expanding the networks of Mennonite identity.
Copyright © 2010 by Cascadia Publishing House LLC