Regardless of whether social conscience is just now arriving for most evangelicals, it is nothing new to the Mennonites.
The Mennonite Central Committee, founded in 1920, is the granddaddy of American relief and development agencies, evangelical or otherwise. But more important, the MCC holds a reputation for progressive enlightenment among specialists in the field. Differences between the MCC and others can often be traced to the Mennonites’ greater experience. The leaders seem less taken with endless talk, and the constituency is more informed and involved.
To Edgar Stoesz, MCC associate executive secretary for overseas, the terminological gulf fixed between “relief” and “development” is not nearly so useful as it appears to be for other R and D leaders.
As Stoesz says, “The MCC sent wheat to Russia in 1920, and then tractors, plows, and seed to the Ukraine in 1921. People today would call the wheat ‘relief’ and the equipment ‘development’. In both cases our people were doing what they thought would help most.”
Stoesz adds, “Our people came upon their involvement in these matters rather easily because in many of those early projects they were aiding friends and relatives of Mennonites who had emigrated to the U.S. and Canada.” They learned to resettle on this same basis in the twenties when they helped friends and relatives to relocate in places like Paraguay after they left the Soviet countries following the 1917 revolution.
In 1982, the MCC will operate on a budget of $10 million in funds and another $5 million in material aid. It is currently active in 44 countries.
In no element of relief work is the Mennonite performance more noteworthy than in fund raising. Largely this is because the constituents are self-starters. While it is true that a denomination has fund-raising advantages, the degree to which the flow of funds is spontaneous is still remarkable.
The Mennonite Relief Sales are an excellent example. Approximately 20 of these sales occur annually across North America, generating a total of around $2 million. The largest sale is in Goshen, Indiana. Proceeds there ran to $297,000 last year.
The Mennonite sales are best known for their quilts, crafted by Mennonite women, and sold at auction for as much as $1,000 apiece. Food, antiques, and livestock are also on the long sale list.
Each sale quickly becomes an annual event, but in the beginning “they simply happen,” according to MCC officials at the Akron, Pennsylvania, headquarters. Material Aid director John Hostetler says, “We’re in the habit of leaving the sales alone. We just go out and pick up the check.”
The sales, however, are no more important than a second fund-raising effort among MCC supporters: the Mennonite stores. There are 72 in the U.S. and Canada, each run by a part-time, paid manager. Other store workers are volunteers. The merchandise falls into two categories: resale items, such as clothes or tools, and goods produced by workers in the countries in which the MCC works (this creates a market and source of income for MCC development projects).
The people of the MCC-affiliated churches know the potential of such activity, and they know the money is needed around the world. As a result, they are willing to put in the time and work required to make these projects successful.
Such grassroots motivation and effort mean that the MCC’s donors escape a lot of the confrontation with that ubiquitous naked child others face so often.
J. Alan Youngren is a consultant to evangelical organizations in marketing and developing. A resident of Downers Grove, Illinois, he is coauthor with Edward Hales of Your Money: Their Ministry (Eerdmans, 1981).
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