For 90 years, relief agency has shaped Mennonite identity, witnessed to world
To mark Mennonite Central Committee’s 90th anniversary, some 130 people gathered June 13–14 at a “Table of Sharing” conference. Presenters showed how MCC has shaped Mennonite identity as it fostered cooperation among Anabaptist groups. They described how MCC has been at the forefront of work against racism and sexism, even as it has at times also embodied inequalities.
Herman Bontrager, binational board chair, attributes MCC’s ability to get the often divided Mennonite groups to work together to “the biblical imperative to give a cup of cold water in the name of Christ and, secondly, because there is a place for everyone.”
“There’s always justice before peace. That is what MCC has learned from our partners,” said Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, a former member of the MCC binational board and one of the first MCC workers in Colombia. “There is a lot to repent of, but also a lot to celebrate as we move forward.” Despite constituency support, the groups participating in MCC do not always have consensus on issues of relief and advocacy.
“MCC has never represented all Mennonites,” said John A. Lapp, former executive director of MCC. “I think we should be modest about [MCC’s authority] and not expect everybody to fall in line.”
MCC has been involved in creating new entities, including Ten Thousand Villages, the World Community Cookbooks, and Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Peace is priority
During a panel giving views of MCC from work on the ground, Johnson Gakumba, Anglican bishop in the diocese of northern Uganda, said peacebuilding should remain a priority for MCC.
“There is no development without peace,” Gakumba said. “You can build bridges, you can build schools, you can pay school fees, but if tomorrow they are going to be wiped out, you are wasting your time.”
Zemedkun Baykeda, former director of the Meserete Kristos Church relief and development association in Ethiopia, would like to see MCC model a “more holistic approach” to meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs, which many church leaders currently separate, he said.
“That dichotomy between the development program and spiritual program is increasing,” Baykeda said.