Book looks at a century of MCC mission and service

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Alain Epp Weaver’s 2019 lectures at Bethel College are now available in printed form.

Alain Epp Weaver’s 2019 lectures at Bethel College are now available in printed form.

Anticipating the centennial of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 2020, Epp Weaver, of Lancaster, Pa., a longtime and current MCC worker, prepared four lectures and a sermon for Bethel’s annual Menno Simons Lecture series in fall 2019, that looked at “a missiological history of MCC.”

That is the subtitle of Service and the Ministry of Reconciliation, published in January by the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College as the 21st volume in its C.H. Wedel Series.

It is for sale for $10 at the MLA, where current public hours are 1:30-4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, or email or call 316-284-5304.

The book comprises five chapters, adapted from the sermon Epp Weaver preached at Bethel College Mennonite Church, titled “The Ministry of Reconciliation,” just before the first lecture, and the four lectures themselves.

Service and the Ministry of Reconciliation “reflects on the evolving and sometimes competing missiologies that have emerged from within and shaped MCC’s practice of Christian service over the course of a century,” Epp Weaver writes in the introduction.

It “dissect[s] and analyze[s] the shifts, tensions and persistent themes in how MCC has understood its mission, paying attention to how such service unfolded within and was shaped by specific landscapes.”

Chapter 1 is the most overtly theological, being adapted from a sermon. Using as its jumping-off point two Scripture passages — Luke 24:13-35, about the reconciliation of people to God in Christ, and 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, that points to a ministry of reconciliation entrusted to the church — this chapter examines how MCC has engaged over the course of a century in “a ministry of reconciliation.”

The other four chapters take a more historical approach, looking at how MCC’s understanding of Christian service has been “a site of contestation” throughout its history.

In Chapter 2, Epp Weaver outlines a missiology “perpetually under construction,” attributing that in part to “the many landscapes of MCC.”

These are both literal and metaphorical, as Epp Weaver illustrates through his personal history: from playing with the musical instruments his parents brought back from the Democratic Republic of Congo after two years in MCC service there; to attending the Nebraska Mennonite Relief Sale that raised money annually for MCC and volunteering at a local fair-trade crafts store meant to benefit the craftspeople and MCC’s global work; to cooking with his spouse from the MCC-sponsored More-with-Less Cookbook; to spending 11 years with MCC in West Bank and Gaza, encountering ever more complex issues of ecumenical and interfaith cooperation and peacebuilding.

Chapter 2 finishes with an analysis of “the colonial, racialized and decolonizing landscapes that have shaped and continue to shape MCC service.”

Chapter 3 looks at varied meanings, and shifts in meaning over time, of “service” within MCC. Anyone who has served in, or even paid close attention to the work of, the organization over the past few decades will recognize the terms, describing service as: relief; active nonresistance or “alternative service” to war (such as Civilian Public Service, the Pax program in Europe; transformative education; witness to the Christian gospel); and “listening, waiting and presence,” among others.

Chapter 4 examines the tension between the call of humanitarianism to serve all, regardless of religion or background, and the apparent direction of Christian Scripture to serve all but give first attention to the church (“the household of faith”) — perhaps most graphically illustrated in MCC’s founding as a direct response to European Mennonite suffering after World War I, repeated during and following World War II.

Finally, Chapter 5 looks at the critiques of “development” that emerged in the 1970s and ’80s and how development agencies such as MCC responded and adapted (and continue to do so) to those critiques.

Service and the Ministry of Reconciliation provides those who attended the 2019 Menno Simons Lectures the chance to revisit them, and includes many of the photos Epp Weaver presented with the lectures.

Alain Epp Weaver is a 1991 graduate of Bethel College with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and Bible and religion, and earned master of divinity and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago.

The author of four previous books and editor of five, he currently works in strategic planning for MCC at its Akron, Pa., headquarters.