The growth of a vibrant movement of voluntary service is an inspiring story of simple, youthful, practical Christian idealism applied to human suffering and struggle. Many Mennonite voluntary or alternative service programs birthed sincere discipleship convictions and unleashed the latent talent and skills of thousands of young men and women engaged in peaceful service.
In 1943, Harold S. Bender wrote his famous "Anabaptist Vision" essay. In it, he made "discipleship" (nachfolge Christi—or "following Christ") the centerpiece of Anabaptist-Mennonite theology. His vision inspired practical, concrete response to human predicaments. With a focus on "lived faith," these convictions fueled a burgeoning voluntary service movement that grew up in the post-World War II period. The humble work of those compelled to be conscientious objectors to war offered a credible, and incredible, witness to Jesus' call for another way of being in the world.
Those who served tell compelling stories. Heather Ross, who served with our Tucson, Arizona, MVS unit several years ago, wrote:
"… I've changed a lot—not only in terms of the way I will vote or the food I will eat, but in the way that I think about and interact with the world. I am convinced now, even more than I was before, about how important social justice is—about how much people matter. And I want my life to reflect those beliefs."
For three years, Jesus taught and modeled service to his disciples. And still, James and John sought power and status in requesting to sit at his right and left hand when he came into his power. Jesus responded to them (and to us): "It is not to be so among you. … Whoever wishes to be powerful among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to lead in your midst must know the true meaning of service."
Jesus invites and calls us to a life of unrestrained generosity, to a life of love, grace, passion and compassion lived out in human community, need, yearning and suffering. Across the past 75 years of Mennonite Voluntary Service, 14,500-plus volunteers left planned careers and envied opportunities to engage the struggles and sufferings of people in the communities they served. Leaving old friends, old habits, old ways, these volunteers joined Jesus among the poor and the marginalized. Leaving a life dominated by the need to achieve at any cost, they discovered, often for the first time, that Jesus and his service is the way to find life's perspective and meaning.
We sometimes encounter ourselves and glimpse the possibilities for our own transformation: from despair to hope, from the confinement of cultural mores and family expectations to the freedom to walk in Christ's way, from fear and anxiety to courage and boldness, from the desire for self-preservation to the generosity of God's love.
Mennonite Mission Network is privileged to be a part of this 75-year history of service. I celebrate the perseverance, dedication and generosity toward God's vision of healing and hope in the world. I thank the many others who partnered in this venture through prayers and generous financial contributions that made these ministries possible. Thanks for your own devotion to the purposes of God and for following the call of Jesus.
Stanley W. Green