by Rhoda Charles
“As I finish my term at the end of December as board chair of Mennonite Women USA, I am so blessed by the many ways this ministry connects women in following Jesus. This one story represents for me the ripple effect that we often do not see until many years later.” – Rhoda Charles
When I first attended MW USA Preparing Resourcing Encouraging Praising in Kansas in early March of 2003, the United States was on the cusp of warfare against Iraq. It was a heavy concern for this gathering of Mennonite Women leaders who represented the MW USA conferences. We gathered around a globe and candle in prayer. Later during that night, I awakened with words of a prayer that I felt compelled to get out of bed and write down. I had just begun sewing school and health kits the previous year and it seemed one way to put my prayers into action.
A prayer while sewing MCC kit bags
Our heavenly Father, How grieved you must feel when you see all the vicious cycles of distrust, fear, abuse of power, encouragement to hate, and preoccupation of war that our world is so focused on. Lord, hear our cries for peace and the salvation of all people worldwide who You love and sent Jesus to this earth to redeem.
Holy Spirit, as I sew this school kit bag, I pray especially for the children who are so vulnerable—May this bag be filled not only with supplies to aid them to get a basic education, but filled also with our love and continuing prayer for them.
As I sew this health kit bag, I pray that you will restore a sense of self-worth and hope for the receiver, that they may believe You love them and have a future for them.
I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen
During the next few years as the United States engaged in war in Iraq, I kept sewing kit bags and for several years sewed 1,000 bags annually. However in 2008, God surprised our congregation at Habecker Mennonite with another opportunity to build bridges of healing. KaRen refugees from Burma who had fled to refugee camps on the Thailand border were arriving in the United States and some were starting to be resettled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Our congregation sponsored a family of four, and they became a vital link of welcome as more KaRen refugees arrived over the next several years. I invited these new friends to sewing circle, and this has absolutely transformed our group. I taught a few women to sew these MCC kit bags and they very neatly sewed boxfuls of kit bags for us to fill. A special joy was that the pattern now used by MCC was that of Ruth Nissley, a beloved member of Habecker Church who now lives in heaven. When I had served as Lancaster Conference Mennonite Women President, I made a printed copy of this pattern to encourage quality bags to be made with ease (download MCC kit bag pattern). Now here we had come full circle, and persons that had received kit bags (and comforters, and newborn kits) were now helping to make these very items. Probably the items they received came from another organization, but the stories they share make the connection of giving and receiving so meaningful.
Each August our group assembles around 250 school kits. It is a joyful assembly line and we then gather the finished bags for a prayer of dedication. I asked my friend, Mya Ray, if she had enjoyed packing these kit bags and she replied with gleaming eyes, “Oh the children will be so happy.” She knew the faces of the receivers and hearing these stories have transformed our group.
As we met here this week for our final Sewing Circle of 2014, we rejoiced that we finished 100 comforters this year, some which are given locally to new arrivals from Burma and many which are given through MCC globally. Our multi-generational group consists of women and girls, (and also some men and boys) and our largest attendance this year was 32 people. Some of us have been part of this group for decades, and some have just started coming when they arrived in Lancaster this year. We speak, sing, and pray in the languages of English and KaRen, but feel a strong bond of love and marvel how the Holy Spirit moves in our midst.
I am grateful for this way I have been able to be part of the ministry of Mennonite Women which aids us in connecting globally, providing resources, and speaking prophetically.
The video is of one of our sewing circle meetings this fall: