Introduction: How Did This Work of Answering Questions About Mennonites Begin?
Third Way Media, and its predecessor organizations Mennonite Media and earlier Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc., has by necessity answered questions from the general public about "Who are Mennonites?" almost from its beginning days. Having a radio program on the air with the name "The Mennonite Hour" starting in 1952 exposed people to the program name. Then when they wrote to the program they frequently misconstrued it as "Midianite Hour," "Man of the Knight Hour," "Moonlight Hour," "Minnow Night Hour" (according to Hubert R. Pellman’s early history of the organization Mennonite Broadcasts: The First 25 Years).
One can only imagine what went on in the minds of radio listeners when they heard the name Mennonite. Mix in massive confusion propagated by the media’s continual erroneous references to "Mennonite" when Amish, Old Order, or another group was meant. No wonder that major surveys done in 1989 and 1999 showed forty to sixty percent of people had major confusion about Mennonites.
Thus this organization, which I’ve been a part of since 1975, has long provided resources—such as the "About the Mennonite Church" brochure series that has probably gone through at least fifteen major revisions since it debuted in the mid-1980s. The pamphlet’s current incarnation from Mennonite Church USA is titled "Who are the Mennonites?" Along with such paper resources, we’ve attempted to provide personal handling of inquiries first by letter, later by 800 number and then e-mail.
Since 1998, we’ve provided the Third Way Café website at www.thirday.com as an online venue for fielding such questions and as a place to publish the most frequently asked questions. Over the years, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Publishing House/Network, Mennolink, and occasional other organizations have all forwarded questions they receive of this nature to Third Way Media for handling.
A remarkable list of people, who would have all described themselves as very ordinary Mennonites, have provided this personal answering service for the church. John L. Horst, Moses Slabaugh, Eva Stauffer, Paul Roth, Anna Marie Steckley, David D. Yoder, Marian Bauman, Sheri Hartzler, Minnette Hostetler, Erma Hess Brunk, Ruth Ann Miller Brunk, and currently Jodi Nisly Hertzler are representative of those who’ve provided this personal voice over the years. All of these correspondents enjoyed it—most of the time—seeing it as unique calling and ministry. They’ve been helped by their spouses, pastors, seminary professors (and some seminary presidents), retired missionaries (oh yeah, there should be no such thing).
For this book, Jodi was particularly indebted (at least in the beginning) to the files and records of correspondence of her predecessors and especially those kept by Erma Brunk who enjoyed this work from 1997 to 2001 until her too-early death of cancer. I have had the privilege of supervising this work since the mid 1980s, very happy that there have been people to turn to accomplish this time-consuming yet fascinating and rewarding work.
But now Jodi has established her own voice and her own inimitable style of responding that seems to fit our current times well: Her answers are straightforward, direct, informal, caring—yet always on the lookout for the occasional customer who is just out for a fight or pulling our collective leg. Enjoy.
Copyright © 2009 by Cascadia Publishing House LLC