Sharing the Joy by Kate Mast

Kate Mast is the Workroom Supervisor in the Material Resource Center for MCC-Central States and lives in Hesston, Kansas.

A “charming” hallmark of my personality is that when something excites me or makes me happy, I want everyone else around me to also love it! I naturally become a salesperson for whatever brings me joy. Over the past few months, I have tried to convince my friends to try a Zumba class, claim their free trial of Spotify Premium, buy the “hot and spicy” version of Cheez-Its (so much better than regular, in my opinion!), and watch the “Yodeling Walmart Boy” video on YouTube. As much as my friends might roll their eyes, there is something to be said for sharing what brings us joy and satisfaction, even if some of these things are more trivial than others. So, if you have talked to me in the past year or so, you probably already know that a newfound joy in my life is comforter making, specifically comforters for Mennonite Central Committee!

MCC sends comforters to overseas partners working with vulnerable populations, such as refugees, displaced persons, and people affected by natural disasters. Before starting my role as the Workroom Supervisor in the Material Resource Center for MCC-Central States, I was only vaguely familiar with what went into making a comforter. However, on my first day of work at MCC, I was introduced to a wonderful group of volunteers with a contagious passion. They carefully showed me the many steps in the process: matching fabrics, cutting squares, measuring, piecing, pressing, sewing, pinning, knotting, trimming, and binding… and reassured me that there are many steps that even beginners can do! I have always been attracted to colors, textures, patterns, and creating with my hands, so I was immediately drawn to the process. I’ve now been working at MCC for almost two years, and I can honestly say that working with comforters is my favorite part of my job! I jump at the chance to host or attend comforter-making events, I love to unfold every comforter that is donated and admire the patterns, colors, and creativity. I’ve learned so much from the act of creating beautiful things together, and so much from the volunteers who give their time, talents, finances, and efforts for this cause.

One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned is that “comforters for relief don’t have to be ugly”—a direct quote from a talented and dedicated comforter maker in Illinois. Although the idea that a gift shouldn’t be ugly is not revolutionary, it is a statement that initiates a shift of mindset. Often times, our instinct is to keep what is beautiful for ourselves, and use what is leftover for others. However, this quote is a challenge to use our best—either using the beautiful fabric from your stash that you’ve been saving for an unspecified project, or being creative in pairing leftover fabric with complimentary fabric to make it look attractive. When MCC is able to send beautiful and well-made comforters to our overseas partners, it sends a message of dignity and humanity to the recipients. I love to observe the intentionality and quality of comforters that volunteers are continuing to create, some simple, some with hundreds of seams. Donated comforters can be so much more than mere constructions of materials that will keep someone warm or “be better than nothing”—they can be works of art; well thought out gifts of love for brothers and sisters around the world.

Another beautiful thing I have observed is the natural community that is formed around comforter making. Last week, a donor brought 12 completed comforters she had made in her home to donate to MCC. The volunteers in the workroom all gathered around the table and opened up each of the comforters, oohing and awwing, touching and feeling the fabrics and creative patterns. A few were even taking pictures of design ideas to be replicated. There was an instant connection between everyone around the table­—over the love of fabrics, the eye for design, and the care put into these gifts. Oftentimes, a comforter will be worked on by at least 5–6 different people before it is complete. It takes many hands, many ages, many different skill levels. Week after week, comforter-making groups find joy in working and creating together for the good of people they will never meet. There is something so satisfying about finishing a comforter… I’m telling you, it is contagious!

As I work with volunteers who are making and donating comforters, they often dream out loud about what they think might happen to their creation. Where will this comforter end up? Will it keep a person or family warm, or will it go to a hot climate? Perhaps be used as a mattress or a curtain or a wall divider? Will kids play “I-Spy” with this scrappy design? Will they be able to tell that a group of 5th graders tied this one? Will this bright design make them smile? Will they know that I prayed for them as I pieced it together? It is all part of the intrigue of making comforters for relief.

In my job, I often hear stories about the creation of the comforter. But, the truth is, the maker will never know what happens to the comforter once it is donated. It could be loved and cherished, it could be muddied and destroyed, it could be re-gifted, it could cover someone who is dying, or swaddle someone who was just born… the comforter will go on to have a story of it’s own that we will never know, and I think there is beauty in that mystery!

Now, it wouldn’t be like me to share all of these musings on comforter making without also inviting you to join in the fun! Last year, MCC sent 51,062 comforters to seven countries, including Jordan, Syria, Bosnia, and Haiti, and continues to receive requests for more. For instructions and MCC approved guidelines, you can visit www.mcc.org/comforters, or reach out to your local MCC Material Resource Center. If you have made a comforter you are particularly proud of, or have a comforter-related story to share, I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out to me at katemast@mcc.org. Happy comforter making!

Worshiping Together Daily by Denise Nickel

Denise is a member of Tabor Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas. She is active with the worship team, children’s ministries, deacon and women’s Group. She is secretary to the principal of Goessel Elementary School. She and her husband, Elton have three children and seven grandchildren.

My husband and I are in a small group of six couples at our church, Tabor Mennonite, rural Newton, KS. In early January 2018, one of our small group friends called and said their Christmas season had been one with an unexpected turn of events. Our small group had not been in regular communication with one of the couples, Rosie and Kent, because Rosie is also our pastor and she was on sabbatical. When she called the rest of us in January, we discovered that instead of spending time reaching her sabbatical goals, she accompanied her husband to doctor appointments. They had both gone for annual checkups in December but were told to come back in early January when they received devastating news that Kent’s tests proved positive for prostate cancer. They were told that the cancer was treatable but not curable. We were all shocked and overwhelmed, but God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

What could we do to show our love? Our group immediately kicked into action and fixed a meal and gathered as a group to share their burden.

What else could we do? How could we practice Sister Care? Lois, our member who enjoys quilting, started percolating an idea. We would give them something of ourselves that would be a constant reminder that we are praying for them and that they would never leave our thoughts and prayers. It would be something special for these friends to show them that we are walking the difficult road with them. Lois had made a Cancer Quilt for another friend a couple of years earlier so her wheels were already turning.

Lois asked all of us, including Kent and Rosie, to send her our favorite colors and hobbies or interests. The next thing she did was gather fabrics that symbolized all of these things. She also purchased fabric phrases that said “What Cancer Cannot Do”. She included light blue because she discovered when making her first Cancer Quilt that different types of cancers use different colors. Prostrate cancer is light blue. With fabrics surrounding the “cancer” fabrics of farming, mechanics, estate sales, gardening, reading, going for coffee, sewing and steam engines, we hoped this would serve as a symbol of us surrounding them with love and prayers.   We added red and blue cancer ribbons to represent hope, and balanced that out with Kent’s Kansas University Jayhawks and farming and the inspirational fabric as we need the Lord’s presence to walk with us. On February 17, the ladies met to sew the top, Lois quilted it, and the ladies got together to finish the binding on February 27. Lois wrote a poem (of which some phrases I have use in this blog), and we met our deadline. Before the stitching had time to cool off we presented the quilt to Kent and Rosie on March 4, 2018.

Kent and Rosie continue with their journey of cancer shots and chemo pills and we trust that God’s presence is upon them as friends carry them with prayers. One of Rosie’s favorite verses is Prov. 3:4-5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Believing in this verse is providing some hidden blessings amidst their walk with cancer.

 

Balancing Technology Use

Hear from Madalyn Metzger, Amy Gingerich, and Melody M. Pannell on faith and technology in our Three Women, Three Windows Timbrel column.

How do you use technology in your work? How do you use technology in your personal life? Are there any perceivable differences?

Metzger: In both my personal and professional life, I use technology to access and share information. The primary difference would be the type of information. Professionally, I use it for information related to Everence, marketing, financial services, and the various denominations that Everence relates to. Personally, I use it for social reasons and to receive news about current events.

Gingerich: My coworkers and I are constantly connected digitally, if not in person. With our staff spread out in different locations, we connect throughout the day on various electronic platforms and try to utilize video connections as much as possible. In my personal life, I try to limit how much I use my phone or social media. As a parent, I do not want my kids to see me on my phone checking Facebook or email, so I try to keep it to a minimum when my children are awake.

Pannell: As an educator, I use technology for email correspondence, learning management systems, shared documents, video conference meetings and educational webinars. In my personal life, I use social media for  “self-help” education, entertainment, communication with friends and family and engaging in hobbies. At work, my focus is more external as I communicate with and give my attention to others. In my personal life, I use social media in solitude and my focus is more internal.

How does technology affect your faith formation?

Metzger:  Technology gives me access to discussions and ideas around faith that I may not have been part of on a regular basis without it. But, it’s also easy to participate only in discussions about faith that I agree with, which has the potential to stifle faith formation, rather than grow it.

Gingerich: About 15 years ago when people started to subscribe via email to daily devotionals or inspirational thoughts, everyone thought it was great. But I sense that this era has waned. In terms of personal spiritual development, people are going back to print – whether physical Bibles or printed devotionals. There’s something about holding printed words in my hands that lets me engage more deeply than the skimming I would do if I were reading on my phone. Technology provides instant accessibility, which is not always helpful to me in my faith formation.

Pannell: Technology gives me access to “toolkits” to assess my spiritual growth, provides me with  avenues to engage in mentorship and creates platforms in which I can share my faith journey with others. I see these connections and resources as positive influences on my faith formation.

How does technology connect us as a church? How does it distract us?

Metzger: I think technology serves an important role in connecting us as a body of Christ. It gives us the ability to touch parts of the church that we may not be as naturally connected with (geographically, theologically, racially, ethnically, economically, etc.), which I believe is an important way for us to grow and learn as the body of Christ together. On the other hand, technology can distract us. It’s too easy to jump on the bandwagon when someone posts something, rather than enter into a thoughtful discernment about a topic. It’s also too easy for us to stay in our own theological bubbles, and only interact with others who think the same theologically as we do.

Gingerich: Technology can make us feel connected to others in our congregations but I sometimes wonder if we feel more connected than we actually are. Am I really getting to know someone in my congregation and taking time to engage with them or am I getting to know their Facebook or Instagram profile?

Pannell: Technology has  the potential to connect us as a church in meaningful ways. With the use of technology as a “strategic tool” for church growth and congregational engagement, church leaders can use apps with the intention of encouraging enthusiastic giving, expanding audience participation and creating exciting visual examples of Christian Discipleship and Faith Formation. If utilized in a positive manner, engaging in an online church community creates safe and brave spaces where people can continue and embrace conversations about the challenges and joys of faith formation and com-munity outside of the walls of the church or a set schedule of sanctioned services. However, the power of technology with-in the church can definitely distract us from prioritizing face-to-face relationships and communication skills. Technology lends itself to easily enabling us to form a false sense of connection with one another. When social media, email or online church services take the place of authentic, accountable faith formation with a body of believers, we may be settling for an easy distraction from the process of wrestling with what it means to be in relationship with Christ and the ebb and flow of growing towards spiritual maturity.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Timbrel, Faith Formation in the Digital Age. To subscribe to Timbrel, click here.

Carrying our message internationally

Rhoda Keener is the Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA and a former MW USA executive director. She lives in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania with her husband Bob. Rhoda is the co-editor of She Has Done a Good Thing: Mennonite Women Leaders Tell Their Stories.

I remember receiving an email from Jana Oesch in 2010 asking me to speak at a women’s retreat in Idaho. I wrote back saying, “The speaking I am doing right now is Sister Care. Would you like to host a Sister Care seminar?” A year later Carolyn Heggen and I led our first seminar together in Caldwell, Idaho. One email can change so much.

I am often amazed as I work from my home in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, that I am communicating with people all over the world. I can correspond via email with Elisabeth Kunjam in India, Milka Rindzinski in Uruguay, Sun Ju Moon in South Korea, Pamela Obonde in Kenya, or Tran Diep in Vietnam.  Without the Internet, I don’t know how Sister Care International could exist and grow.

The Latin American Sister Care seminars began through Carolyn Heggen’s personal friendship with Olga Piedrasanta, an instructor at SEMILLA, and then continued with assistance from Linda Shelly of Mennonite Mission Network. Linda’s relationships with the women leaders in Central and South America enabled her to guide the planning of another nine seminars.

When Carolyn and I arrived in Havana in late January of 2018, our host, Midiam Lobaina from the Cuban Council of Churches, asked if we needed a projector and screen for our presentations. When we said, “No, we are quite low tech,” she breathed a sigh of relief. It is the photos that we share on Facebook and other social media platforms that connect the Sister Care ministries around the world.

After teaching an Enrichment seminar in Bogota last spring attended by women from five countries, I received an email from Linda Shelly sharing what women in Rumococha, Peru are doing with the Sister Care material.  Cielo Arguelo attended the Bogota seminar; then taught women and children in Rumococha that they are beloved daughters of God by creating a motto that says, “Soy una mujer amada por Dios” or “I am a beloved woman of God”.

A ministry is only as strong as the love and trust that form its base. Much can be built and sustained with long distance electronic communication, but there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations and time together.

Whatever form of communication we use, what remains important is that we know and believe we are beloved daughters of God.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Timbrel, Faith Formation in the Digital Age. To subscribe to Timbrel, click here.