Canadian Mennonite
Volume 8, Number 05
March 8, 2004

Committee plans future of voluntary service

Hamilton, Ont.

Photo: Current and former members of Maison Menno, from left: Julia Hogue, Emily Schaming, Johanna Rempel-Petkau, Jennifer Moyer and Katherine Pettit.

Five representatives from Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) units in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal met here February 13-14 to set a course for the future of the MVS and Service Adventure programs.

The meeting grew out of a task force on the future of service programs in Mennonite Church Canada. When the MC Canada General Board decided in November to end financial support for MVS and Service Adventure, the task force reorganized itself as an informal association to restructure the programs to function at a grassroots level.

Congregations that continue to sponsor units will have to work together to tap into the commitment to voluntary service that remains within the MC Canada constituency.

The February meeting began with sharing. Marilyn Zehr and Bill Bryson told how Danforth Mennonite Church in Toronto opened a unit last September, despite the termination of MVS. Carolyn Minor from Montreal Mennonite Fellowship related the struggles of a young unit that is unable to remain open now but hopes to reopen in September 2005.

Karen Shiel from Hamilton Mennonite Church related the 38-year history of a unit that started a church and has remained active even when there were no volunteers. Louie Sawatzky from Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg told about a unit that started in 1984 and in recent years has become a magnet for German volunteers.

Ernie Engbrecht from the Service Adventure unit in Lethbridge, Alberta, shared his contribution via e-mail.

Factors that motivate congregations to host a unit include: the needs of agencies where volunteers work, the contribution volunteers make to host congregations, and the growth of volunteers themselves. Leadership development is also crucial to the future.

A visioning process produced a significant metaphor for the future. We imagined the stump of a tree. The roots are strong, however, and include a rich history of service and the support of the MC Canada constituency. A fragile green shoot is growing out of the stump. Eventually the shoot will cover the stump, from which it will draw sustenance.

Other growth forms a protective cover over the cut—the support of alumni, churches and agencies that have benefited from the program. Our vision is a forest of new growth: active units, supportive congregations and partnering agencies.

Another important outcome of the meeting was organizational restructuring, combining both programs to become Mennonite Voluntary Service Adventure. A steering committee will set vision and policy, drawing on partnerships with congregations and organizations. A management group will work on details.

First on our list of partners is MC Canada, with whom we are discussing the roles each organization will play.

Membership in Mennonite Voluntary Service Adventure is open to individuals, congregations and organizations that feel they can benefit from, or contribute to, the new growth of Mennonite voluntary service through local congregations. The next year will be an intense period of restructuring and renewal, and we ask for your prayers.

To keep informed, visit our web site at—Carolyn Minor

Publishing network repays $2.3 million loan

Waterloo, Ont. and Scottdale, Pa.

At the end of January, Mennonite Publishing Network completedits Barn Raising Campaign after paying off $1.3 million of a $2.3 million short-term loan. (All figures are in US dollars.) The remaining $1 million is to be amortized over eight years.

The campaign, launched in spring 2002, was part of an effort to halt rising debt and transform the publishing ministry. Along with major downsizing and re-structuring, Mennonite Publishing Network obtained a loan of $2.3 million from an anonymous donor to pay back holders of unregistered debenture notes.

Of the $1.3 million raised during the campaign, 63 percent came from donations in Canada and the U.S., and 37 percent from operations.

“We’re grateful for the generosity and support of so many people,” said Ron Rempel, executive director. “The donations toward debt reduction are just one sign of the church’s re-embrace of publishing as an essential ministry.” For the remaining $1 million, MPN obtained a loan from the Church Investment Loan Fund, administered by Eastern Mennonite Missions in Salunga, Pennsylvania.

“While we are enormously grateful for the generous contributions from our constituency in Canada and the United States, we recognize that the publishing network will require ongoing financial support from the church,” said Ron Sawatsky, board chair.

“We must still pay back the remaining portion (about $3.7 million) of the original debt of $5 million. We plan to do this over the next eight to ten years using a combination of funds from MPN operations and annual contributions.”

The goal is to raise about $300,000 in annual contributions. It is consulting with Mennonite Church Canada and MC USA to develop an ongoing fundraising program.

A portion of contributions will be used for projects such as a new Sunday school curriculum to be released in 2006. Contributions will also be used for payments not only on the $1 million loan from Eastern Mennonite Missions, but also on an additional $2.7 million of debt, most of this in loans from Mennonite Church USA and MC Canada.—From MPN release

Assembly was great encouragement, says Zimbabwe bishop

Waterloo, Ont.

The Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe will never be the same for having hosted the Mennonite World Conference assembly, said Danisa Ndlovu, a bishop in Zimbabwe and vice-president of MWC.

Ndlovu visited Ontario in February. He was a guest at a reunion of Assembly 14 participants at Waterloo North Mennonite Church on February 8, and he spoke to faculty at Conrad Grebel University College the next day.

That the assembly even happened was a miracle, said Ndlovu. Many North Americans registered concern about the shortage of food in Zimbabwe, and that they would appear to be endorsing Robert Mugabe’s government.

“It was important for the church to come,” said Ndlovu. “It was a matter of relationships.” North Americans made a bold statement about peace. In a country with a history of racial tension, it was striking to see so many white people on the streets of Bulawayo.

How wonderful, said Ndlovu, that blacks and whites could mingle as friends without having to treat one another with “undue respect.”

The conference helped to validate the church in Zimbabwe. The Brethren in Christ are only a small part of the Christian community there, he said, and Christians from other groups said to him: “We had no idea that you were part of a worldwide body!”

It was marvellous to see laughter in the midst of suffering, to see people volunteer their time. Rural and urban, rich and poor Zimbabwean Christians worked together, he said. Assembly 14 also gave Zimbabweans a chance to enjoy their own tourist attractions.

“I didn’t know we had this facility in Bulawayo!” was an often-heard exclamation.

Life since then hasn’t been easy. The economy has taken a nosedive, and inflation is running at 625 percent. Eighty percent of the population is unemployed. Many families can no longer afford to send their children to school. He has observed people walking a daily round-trip of 30 kilometres because they can no longer afford transportation.

Politically things are quieter, said Ndlovu, but there are still tensions. A by-election guarantees a display of violence. Government officials view meetings as subversive and dismiss them with tear gas. The churches—Catholic, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabawe, of which the Brethren in Christ are a part—are trying to bring the ruling party and opposition to the table.

The Brethren in Christ have established a new peace and justice committee. It will need trainers, he said, to help its members understand the risks they face. One risk, he said, is that government agents will follow them.

The meeting at Conrad Grebel included discussion about how Assembly 14 participants remain connected. Larry Miller, executive secretary of MWC, said that to have had an intimate relationship with the Zimbabwe church and then nothing further feels like “a one-night stand.” What does “fellowship” mean, now that the assembly is over?

“We are not structured,” said Miller, “to relate permanently and intimately with each national church, but we can monitor what’s happening, along with MCC and various mission agencies.”

People-to-people links are happening through letters and other forms of communication, said Ndlova. The most important links are person to person, congregation to congregation, one institution with another.

Ndlovu’s trip included visits to churches, agencies and schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. He and his wife Treziah have three children: Thinkgrace, Trustworthy and Devotion.

His hopes for Zimbabwe? That there will be peaceful change, that his country can avoid civil war. Although violence continues, he does not lose hope.

“God’s timing,” he says, “is different than ours.”—Betti Erb

Positive fund balance for Africa assembly

Strasbourg, France

Mennnonite World Conference(MWC) continues to stand in solidarity with the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe and to engage in “sharing gifts in suffering and in joy,” the Assembly 14 theme.

MWC will work with the new Peace and Justice Committee of the Zimbabwe church in presenting concerns to the government there. Ray Brubacher of the MWC office in Canada is the contact person for this.

MWC finances at the end of 2003 showed a balance of $47,000. European and North American registrations for Africa 2003 were good, contributions were strong, and costs were carefully controlled.

While inflation soared and the value of Zimbabwean currency plunged, the bottom line on the international budget remained virtually unchanged. Travel and operating funds also ended with positive balances.

The Assembly Fund balance will finance future assemblies, including a feasibility study on the location of Assembly 15 in 2009. MWC has received invitations from Paraguay and eastern Pennsylvania. Paraguay has five Hispanic conferences and three German-speaking ones.

Feasibility studies of both locations will be done and a recommendation brought to executive committee meetings in Strasbourg July 28 to August 4.—From MWC release

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