Overplayed or Underplayed?

“Overplayed” is a theme I hear often. 

Sports are a big part of life in our American culture, and noting the Olympics this past summer, our global culture.

However, I think that the biggest downside is not that we are “overplayed” as much as we are “underplayed.”

I’m not disagreeing with the title or thesis of King and Starbuck’s book – I think it’s a truly timely and prophetic piece.  Instead, for this blog post, I simply want to remind us to actually play more often.  Sports are something we play, but in the sense of structured play.  I think we need far more of the free play that many child psychologists, studies and my own childhood refer us to.

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In some ways, the US has become a place to structure everything in your life.  There is less and less room for creativity and “wasting time” in unstructured ways.  We program so many athletic, academic, hobby and faith activities, that there is no breathing room in our schedule.  Too often if I ask a youth or adult what they do in their spare time, their responses are connected to obligations (school, sports, social groups, church, chores) and still feel like structured time to me.  Maybe not structure group time, but obligation structured solitude.  Where has all the free-time gone?  Where has the unstructured play time gone?

When I read the Bible, I do not read of a structured God.  The priests and kings might have thrived off of structure, but the God of the prophets and of Jesus was a bit more playful and surprising.  Prophets didn’t anchor on weekly or yearly liturgies.  They might use them to their advantage, but they also went beyond the boundaries of structured rituals, structured roles, or structured spaces.  God inspires on God’s time.  I wonder if there were other prophets God tried speaking too that were too busy and formal to listen.

Today I think a lot about the busy and fragmented life of middle class U.S.  None of the youth in my church come every Sunday.  Youth trips rarely have ½ our group, and average ¼ of our group.  We spend less and less time together.  We are also an urban church and spread out far and wide.  What I’ve noticed, is the less time we spend together, the more we “have to” structure our limited time together to do what’s “important.”  This next year we’ve decided to change things, but talking about the Bible a little less, and playing a bit more.  My curriculum now includes a kick ball, football, and basketball. kickball I’ve added a few coloring books to each class, and I intend to use our three projectors for a game system sleepover.  I don’t fear a lazy church anymore.  I fear a church that doesn’t play together, that doesn’t have free-time together, and doesn’t enjoy each other anymore.

If I have one prayer for the churches of tomorrow, it’s that they have more and more play time.  To be honest, I think we’ll have to change a bit to play together.  I see a church that focuses more on how to bond, and frets less about schedules.  I wonder if we’ll spend less time driving to a church, and more being a church with people we enjoy.  I hope we start valuing the spiritual practice of play more than the spiritual practice of fulfilling obligations.

I pray that we become a church that is overplayed – not by structured sports, but with the freedom and creativity that God gives and Jesus showed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tory Doerksen is the Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation with First Mennonite Church of Denver.  He has two children, 4 and 6, and is starting his journey with structured activities with both of his children.  He works hard to keep his full-time job to average 40hrs a week so he can enjoy his children with all his “spare time” riding bicycle, having tea parties, dancing in the living room, fighting with pillows, and simply cuddling on the couch before and after school.  His wife is a full-time music teacher, and together they do their best at wasting time with Netflix, walks to the coffee shop, and long chats when the kiddos are playing outside.

Redefining the Sanctuary

A few years ago I visited a friend of mine in his new church.  He took pride as he showed me the newly constructed building and informed me of some of the work they were doing.  He then showed me a basketball court in their parking lot, and the pavement was faded as it was apparent the court got a lot of use.  My friend told me that the court was often filled with neighborhood youth and that one of the things that lead him to this particular church was the presence of these youth and that the mission field was right at their door.  As we turned to go back inside, my friend informed me that the door we were walking through acted as a “barrier,” as the youth rarely came through the door unless they had to go to the bathroom.  He longed for them to come in and be a part of their congregation, but there seemed to be little interest.  As I looked at my friend I told him I thought I knew what the problem was… he was looking at the basketball court as the mission field instead of viewing it as the sanctuary!

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In Philadelphia we run a flag football ministry for urban youth ages 13-18.  Of our 250 youth only 32% attend church on a regular basis.  Yet something amazing happens each week on our field… youth memorize a verse before being able to play and after each game the youth circle up as a prayer is lifted up. Our youth are “unchurched” kids, and yet when you ask them what they like about the league they say things like… it’s a family, it’s a safe place off the streets, it’s a place you learn about God, you learn about the Bible, it’s a place I learned to be a leader, and where I was mentored. 

In Timoteo we are redefining the sanctuary.

Sure we still believe in the Church, as our league currently has 12 churches in partnership to make Timoteo happen, but we spend more time being the Church in real life than trying to talk our youth into conforming to us in our church settings.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to be a missionary, because the word “missionary” is never used!  Rather God calls us to be a neighbor!  The term “missionary” can carry a lot of negative connotations in the city as it often means ‘a group of white teenagers coming in to do puppet shows and VBS’.  On the other hand, we are all called to be neighbors.  A neighbor is the call to walk as Jesus walked in real life, even in the ghettos of our world. No matter the context (overseas, urban or suburban), a neighbor represents the incarnate Jesus and we are called to show those living in the world a different way.

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The football field as a sanctuary is a new concept for some, but for hundreds of youth in Philadelphia it is making sense.  The last 13 years we have seen lives changed, and leaders immerge.  The four pillars of Timoteo are: Jesus, Excellence, Empowerment, and Partnership.  It is ultimately Jesus, and His Kingdom values, that drives us to produce an excellent product for the youth in our community, as well as calls for excellence in our youth.

It is Jesus that has modeled for us a way of empowerment through mentoring and discipleship as we partner with people in our community to make a difference.

 

 

chrisl

 

Chris Lahr has been with Timoteo since 2008. He oversees the overall organization of the league each season and coaches the BGA Panthers. Chris grew up in Indiana, but has lived in Philly since 2000 with his wife and three daughters. Chris received his Bachelors Degree at Eastern University and his Masters of Divinity at Asbury Theological Seminary.

 

November Study Circle: Overplayed

overplayedSports/Activities vs. Church

It’s a dilemma that both parents and congregational leaders often wrestle with. This month, join Shana Peachey Boshart, of Anabaptist Faith Formation Network as she facilitates our Learning Circle on this important resource.  If you are a parent, youth worker, teacher, pastor, this is a very helpful read with much wisdom!

Join in the conversation and we seek to empower our families and churches to find a third way. Sign up today!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

3:30pm EST/2:30pm CST

 

**FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY THIS MONTH!**

Join our Facebook page to enter to win this FREE book by writing why this topic matter to you! 5 winners will be announced on November 1st. Sign up here to participate in the study circle.

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November’s Playlist: Stressed Out

I was that youth that was involved in everything in school. Volleyball, Basketball, Track & Field, Student Council, Junior Class Board, Yearbook, British Literature Club, Chamber Choir, Madrigals, Marching Band AND youth group and youth group activities. Ever since I was young, I had the opportunity to be a part of pretty much whichever group I wanted to. I was privileged and blessed. BUT I never wanted to have any part of travel sports after one summer with the travel softball team. When I grew older, I couldn’t work on Sunday morning because that was God’s time. And the only reason my parents let me work on Sunday afternoon, is because the rest of my week was filled with all those activities I was involved with. My group of friends I would hang out with changed based on which activity I was currently in because of scheduling. Today, I wouldn’t change anything because I chose to do that.

My parents never made me participate in an activity that I didn’t want to. They resisted the urge to push me to be better at something, put more hours into one thing so that I could get a scholarship, so I could get into the best schools, so I could…..who knows what reasons they had. (I did play volleyball in college, but Division 3 = no scholarships for activities) And I’m glad they did….because I do know that my friends whose parents pushed them in one activity, one area of their life, or maybe even had those parents who were trying to live their dreams out through their kids….grew to hate that activity OR made it an idol in their life OR completely shut out their family later in life. And throughout my career, my teammates that had played travel ball seemed to be missing that little girl insides of them that still loved just playing the game. I didn’t want to lose that little girl inside.

During that summer with travel ball, my parents WOULD NEVER let me skip the church service for a game. I could never skip out early for lunch with my friends…Sunday was for God and for family. Did I grumble and grown the whole day about that decision? Yes I did, I admit that. But what I didn’t see then was that my parents were reminding me that remembering the Sabbath was a gift. To take a time to STOP all of those activities and be reminded of who created me to be, who provided me with all those opportunities, THAT was more powerful than any skill I could have acquired from a school activity and I didn’t even realize that gift until after college.

After reading this book Overplayed, I just kept saying, “yea!….Yes!!!….ahhh YES! They get it! Can every single parent or leader read this book please?!” Our youth these days have a lot of pressures and a lot of responsibility and a LOT of expectations put on them. Is some of those things bad? No, not at all! What this book is saying to me is that we can’t let our goals, our passions, our dreams and OUR idea of what life should be….those things can never grow BIGGER or MORE IMPORTANT to us than Our Creator, Our Lord.

For this playlist, it’s a mix of this reminder not to overplay our youth, but also a reminder for us as leaders to pause and enjoy what God has gifted us with! To remind us to step back from our activities (because being in ministry, we have the tendency to do as much as we can…right?) to say it’s okay if we don’t achieve the American Dream! To remind us to enjoy the moments we have before they’re gone.

 

Ashley

 

 

 

 

~Ashley Litwiller is pastor of worship at youth at Arthur Mennonite, Arthur, IL. Email ashlit28@gmail.com to share your favorite songs to include in upcoming monthly playlists!

Why These Songs Were Chosen , and a great tool to use as conversation starters with your own youth groups:

1) “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots

“My name is ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think” Our kids are so stressed out! This song is popular because it is how a lot of our youth feel with all the pressures put on them at ages 14 & 15….before they can even drive!

 

2)  “Chain Breaker” by Zach Williams

“If you got chains, He’s a chain breaker” We only need to ask God to remove the chains of what we are slaves to, and he will wash us clean and set us free!!!

 

3) “Dear Younger Me” by MercyMe

“Do I give some speech about how to get the most out of your life or do I go deep and try to change the choices that you’ll make cause they’re the choices that make me” We can’t make our youth change their minds, we are not their parents. We can lay out what can happen with the different choices we make and pray that God speaks to them.

 

4) “Slow Down” by Nichole Nordeman

I added this song to remind us of how our parent feels about us. No matter what we do, they are cheering for us…they are for us! God is enjoying every step of our journey with us.

 

5) “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns

“Hold it all together, everybody needs you strong….you’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held.” We need to remind our youth that they are not alone, and we are here with them through these things that stress them out, but more importantly, God will be with them for life. Turn to the ultimate comforter!

 

6) “Through Your Eyes” by Britt Nicole

“Get it together…I put on the pressure, you can do better, be who you’re supposed to be” Our youth put pressure on themselves too. Let us remind them what they look like through God’s eyes!

 

7) “The God I Know” by Love & the Outcome

“I threw my hands up, worries down…no strings attached when he saved my soul…you gotta know the God I know” –Remember that God tells us that if we believe in Him and follow him, we need to leave our worries, fears, dreams, broken hearts, stressed out souls in from of the Cross. He gives us freedom in that!

 

8) “You Never Let Me Down” by Marvin Winans Jr

— “you picked me up when I was down…” When we lose a contest or fail on a project, we often start that downward spiral. But when we think we fail, God is still in control. He is there to pick us up or remind us how much He loves us

 

9) “Every Giant Will Fall” by Rend Collective

“Nothing is impossible with you” No matter what is overplaying you or stressing you out, God can concur anything. He is on your side….just ask Him forward and sit back and watch the excellence that will come!

 

10) “Air I Breathe” by Mat Kearney

“It’s the same fight all over again” – These fights will continue our whole lives. Let’s remember who our Breath is!

 

11) “Let Them Be Little” by Billy Dean

“Let them hope, give them praise, give them love every day.”  Our youth are pretty awesome, otherwise we wouldn’t be youth leaders. We learn from them! Let’s remember to step back from pushing our goals for them just enough to see where God is leading them.
12) “Intentional” by Travis Greene

“All things are working for my good” This is just a great reminder that everything God has for us are for our good! His are better! Spend time with God to let him tell you what His plans are for you, for your youth, for your family.

 

13) The Well by JJ Heller

“I followed my heart and it led me astray….I was chasing the wind, I should’ve chasing you” Sometimes we get sidetracked on our own little side projects. Let us keep going to the Well for our wisdom and strength.

 

14) “That’s What I Love about Sunday” by Craig Morgan

— “Not do much of anything, that’s what I love about Sundays” Remember those times where you just relax in the joy of peace of mind, praising the lord with your church family, catnapping, taking walks, etc. Let’s not let our schedules get so filled that we forget to Sabbath and remember that He is in control and it’s okay to rest without it adding more to our resumes or college applications.

 

15) “King of the World” by Natalie Grant

–“I try to put you in the box that I’ve designed. I try to pull you down so we are eye to eye.” Our human nature tells us that if we don’t do something, it won’t get done! But our God tells us to be still and KNOW that He is God….not us. I believe the King of the World can handle much more than I possibly could dream of.

 

tGP Podcast: Interview with Femi Hollinger-Jantzen, MLS

femi

 

As tGP continues with its interview series this year, Rachel talks with Femi Hollinger-Jantzen, of the New England Revolution (MLS), about his journey with soccer, balancing life, and wisdom for parents and youth who struggle with finding balance.

Femi Hollinger-Janzen, Bethany Mennonite High School graduate (Goshen College) and Indiana University and attended Waterford Mennonite Church now plays soccer for the New England Revolution Major League Soccer. Femi was born in Cotonou, Benin and was adopted by Mennonite Mission Network workers, Rod and Lynda Hollinger-Jantzen.

New England’s third-round selection (51st overall) in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Hollinger-Janzen officially joins the club after four years at Indiana University. The six-foot forward was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011, helped the Hoosiers to an NCAA National Championship as a freshman in 2012, and finished his decorated collegiate career with multiple First-Team All-Big Ten selections and a College Cup All-Tournament Team nod. As a senior in 2015, Hollinger-Janzen paced Indiana with eight goals and 21 points. He logged 45 minutes in one preseason appearance for the Revolution in the 2016 Desert Diamond Cup. Read more about Femi’s amazing story below:

 

https://themennonite.org/feature/femi-hollinger-janzen-deformed-leg-national-championship%C2%AD/

http://www.thebentmusket.com/2016-mls-draft/2016/1/20/10794958/watch-inspiring-story-revolution-femi-hollinger-janzen-2016-MLS-SuperDraft-Indiana-Hoosiers

November Theme–Overplayed: The Busy Lives of Youth (and families)

busy-calendarI get it. Totally.

As a parent of three boys, life often feels full.   Between multiple soccer practices during the week, games on the weekend, piano lessons, swim team, school activities, friend meet-ups, and homework, there is usually little time left over.

Except to shower. As a parent, I always make sure that there is time for my sweaty, smelly tween to hose down. For the love of us all.

I know that my family is not unique. And actually (as my kids are still a bit young, we have much more control over their schedules and activities, goings and comings), I’m guessing that as each get older and take on more diverse activities, things will ramp up to an even greater degree when we have three teens in the house.

View More: http://giftoftodayphotography.pass.us/gerberfamilyoct2016

More times than not, families in our congregations are also maxed out. And it’s generally with really good things. But more and more, we are seeing Sundays filling up with soccer tournaments, marching band competitions, and other activities, including Saturday friend-sleepovers. This puts parents in a precarious position of choice. What gets top priority? How do we navigate these decisions of how to spend our time and what do our choices say about our values?

Before I  get too far, I want to show my own hand. I do highly value the Sunday morning church experience and want  my own children see, understand, and participate in their community of faith. But I also don’t think that it’s always that easy to decide; that it’s always that cut and dry. Because it goes deeper than just a technical change of schedule. I believe that we all lose if we simply pit Church against extra-Curricula.

What is really going on?  What is the deeper issue in this concept of ‘overplayed?’

As church leaders how are we able to walk with our families to name and identify, and perhaps even navigate this rat race? Are our schedules full because we have the FOMO disease (fear omissing out)?  What might it mean to encourage our families to flip the board entirely–and begin with identifying their own family mission/values, evaluating potential activities in light of this lens?  Maybe less is more. But maybe not. It depends on how God has called each family to engage and what feels right to them–and it isn’t going to be the same for everyone. But giving families tools to consider for reflection is important. The book this month, Overplayed is one of these tools to use, which has the potential to begin good conversation.

Regarding faith formation for busy families–I want to pose something to consider.  Our congregations are also often highly activity based.  We have activities for girls/boys club, jr. youth, youth group, softball league, basketball league, choir, handbells, drama team, etc…Often times when we get to church, our families are split again into age-segmented programming.

Let’s consider Sunday evening, when youth groups generally gather. Maybe Sunday evening is the only time that our families actually have to be together in any given week (do you see the delicate balance between it’s not always so cut and dry)? Our families are stretched, hurried, stressed, and tired. What is it that they really need?

What might it mean to, as formation leaders, create spaces for our families to re-create together?

What space do their spirits need in order to be present to God, and one another? There are no easy answers or magic formulas.  But I do believe that open, honest conversations along with our families deeply knowing that they are loved and supported and cared for will carry us further. Maybe our faith formation practices will need to change or become more adaptable for families on the go. But this I do know, shaming or guilting our busy families won’t get us anywhere.  There has to be another way.

So let’s gather together this month and talk about it!

This month on The Gathering Place, we will engage in the theme of Overplayed: The Busy Lives of Youth (and families). Our webinar will be presented by the authors of the book by the same title, Dave King and Margot Starbuck, as they help us navigate these questions and ponder this dilemma, Friday, November 11, 1pm EST. Sign up now!

overplayed

Shana Peachey Boshart will be facilitating a study circle on the book on the same title on Tuesday, November 15, 3:30pm EST. Join our Facebook page to enter to win this FREE book by writing why this topic matter to you! 5 winners will be announced on November 1st. Sign up here to participate in the study circle.

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As tGP continues with its interview series this year, this month Rachel talks with Femi Hollinger-Jantzen, of the New England Revolution (MLS), about his journey with soccer, balancing life, and wisdom for parents and youth who struggle with finding balance.

 

all-about-youth

 

In the All About YOUth podcast vlog this month, Lesley and Caleb talk about how they adjusted their youth group Bible study to work with their youth group’s busy schedule.  Sometimes you have to work with what you have. You can’t change the commitment levels of people, but you can make the most of the various touch points that you do have.

 

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Don’t forget to check out this month’s playlist curated by Ashley Litwiller, “Stressed Out.” This list is just what you need to remind yourself of Whose really in control.

 

 

May peace, wisdom, and and joy guide you on this journey this month. I look forward to seeing you!

View More: http://giftoftodayphotography.pass.us/gerberfamilyoct2016

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Gerber, Denominational Minister of Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA and editor of The Gathering Place.

Biblical and Anabaptist Views On Government

 

Feel free to use the reflections offered below as a starting conversation with your youth on their view of how our Anabaptist lens informs our view of government.

god-and-politics

We usually don’t read Scripture with an eye to what it says about political engagement. But it is there, time and time again, throughout the Biblical text.

These include: the warning in 1 Samuel 8 on how a king will act, Jesus’ distinction between what is given to Caesar and to God (Mark 12:17), Paul’s declaration that governing authorities are instituted by God for the purpose of bringing order (Romans 13), his instruction to pray for elected officials (1 Timothy 2:1-2), and the sweeping declaration in Colossians 1:15-17 that all rulers and powers are subject to God.

Throughout Scripture there are also examples of people of faith advocating against unjust policies and calling on government authorities to uphold justice and fairness. Elijah called King Ahab to account for his unjust seizure of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). Esther pleaded to the king to spare her people (Esther 7). John the Baptist lost his head as a result of his challenge to the ruler Herod (Matthew 14:1-12).

Anabaptists have long had mixed views of government. Some early Anabaptists articulated a clear distinction between the church and the world, such as in the Schleitheim Confession, which declared that Christians cannot serve in government. Others, such as Pilgram Marpeck, worked as a government employee. Many Mennonites who migrated from Europe to the United States chose to be “the quiet in the land,” not wanting to get involved in government affairs as long as they were left alone to live out their beliefs. But Mennonites did engage with the government when their own interests were at stake, particularly on the issue of conscientious objection.

When we as Anabaptists engage with governing officials, we must do so out of our lived witness as a church. In other words, if our congregation is not doing anything to address poverty locally or around the world, we probably shouldn’t be telling the government how to do it. But when we are actively engaging issues of justice such as poverty and race in our churches, we quickly realize that these are deeply systemic issues which need to be addressed—not just at the personal or congregational level, but also within our society by calling for more just policies.

This gives our witness to government both integrity and humility—recognizing that there aren’t easy answers, but that we will continue to work faithfully toward a more just and equitable society.

Ask your youth what “lived witness” is happening (or needing to happen) in your own congregation or local community. What creative ideas or suggestions do your youth have in getting involved in this pressing need?

 

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach serves as Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. She leads workshops, writes and speaks on U.S. policy toward the Middle East and meets regularly with congressional offices and Administration officials to convey MCC’s perspective on public policy. She also speaks to groups about the intersection of faith and politics from an Anabaptist perspective.

Rachelle worked at the MCC U.S. Washington Office from 1998-2003, before returning as director in 2007. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and is a graduate of Goshen College.

 

Helping Youth Talk About Hard Issues

This is part 1 of 2 blog posts this week that Rachelle Lyndaker-Schlabaugh brings from her work as the Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington office.

 

In this election season, it is tempting to go to either of two extremes. Many identify strongly with one particular party or candidate, feeling that only that party or candidate will govern in ways that are consistent with our values and beliefs. In those moments, we should take a deep breath, read Psalm 146 (which reminds us not to put our trust in princes, but to trust in the Creator of heaven and earth) and remember that our ultimate allegiance is to God alone. Every political candidate and party will inevitably disappoint us.

The other extreme is to just withdraw from the political process altogether. This is an understandable impulse, but equally unhelpful. Whether we like to admit it or not, government policies affect all of our lives. Those who are on the margins of society are often affected the most. If we avoid politics completely, by default we are supporting the status quo.

Rather than going to either extreme, we can have respectful, thoughtful engagement in politics. As Christians, if we take loving our neighbor seriously, we must learn about candidates’ stances on issues and try to discern who we think will make the best decisions for the common good, not just for us personally. (You might find this election resource from the MCC Washington Office to be helpful. Our office also provides regular updates and legislative action alerts throughout the year.)

One of the things that I lament most about the current state of politics in our country is that we seem unable, whether in Congress or in our local communities, to have respectful, substantive discussions between those who lean ‘red’ and those who lean ‘blue.’

The church should be a place where we can have those discussions, rather than avoiding hard topics or assuming everyone agrees on them.

How might you help lead such a discussion for youth?

Here are a few suggestions: Arrange chairs in a circle (or several smaller circles, if you have a large group). Select an issue that is being discussed in the election, such as immigration or terrorism. Let them know that this is not just about sharing their own perspectives, but also listening to others. Take turns sharing. One way to do this is to pass around a “talking piece,” such as a stone – whoever has the talking piece is the only one allowed to speak, with no interrupting allowed.

Encourage youth to share a personal story or experience that has shaped their views, as well as how Scripture shapes their views on the topic. As a youth leader, you can help model this for them. It’s also fine for youth to pass or just say, “I’ve never really thought about that!” After the initial round of sharing, allow some time for silent reflection. Then, invite participants to identify areas of common agreement and areas of disagreement. Did they hear anything that made them think differently about the issue? What concrete actions might they want to commit to as a result of this discussion? At the end, ask participants to join hands in a circle and close with prayer.

 

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach serves as Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. She leads workshops, writes and speaks on U.S. policy toward the Middle East and meets regularly with congressional offices and Administration officials to convey MCC’s perspective on public policy. She also speaks to groups about the intersection of faith and politics from an Anabaptist perspective.

Rachelle worked at the MCC U.S. Washington Office from 1998-2003, before returning as director in 2007. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and is a graduate of Goshen College.

For the Sake of Our Neighbors

I never intended to live in Honduras for four years. The reports of violence alone keep most people from even booking a flight, and I wasn’t convinced I could eat tortillas three times a day. I certainly never imagined I would ride on the back of a motorcycle through the winding hills to meet with small groups of women–shy about speaking to the gringa, but keen to learn new skills for small businesses of their own.

What started as a one-year commitment turned into an experience that has profoundly shaped my worldview. Working in small business programs for women opened a window for me to understand the influence of government in helping or hindering progress. I believed strongly in the small business support I was part of, but there were many structural problems and systemic injustices that worked against the women at every turn. It is out of this experience in Honduras, along with my current advocacy work, that I now see public policy and citizen engagement as crucial components of stronger, thriving communities; and healthy government as a necessary tool to reach these goals.

In the Anabaptist tradition, there is much debate about participating in government, versus holding government accountable, or just staying out of the debate all together. But we have a wealth of biblical wisdom to draw on–examples of people who advocated for their families and communities, demonstrating that wise policies can make a difference in people’s lives and seem to be looked on favorably by God.

Coming from the United States, it was eye-opening to immerse myself in a country that lives in the shadow of our superpower. Hondurans understood the consequences—intended or otherwise—of U.S. policies that were affecting their economy, the country’s security forces and their elections. Friends in Honduras would share exasperation, anger and fear over the changes brought by increased militarization in response to gang violence and drug trafficking. But as we would lament the state of affairs, they would say, “It’s your government that funds all this. Go home and tell them this isn’t the kind of help we need!”MCC logo

And so the journey took me to Washington, D.C. and my current work as a legislative associate for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Rooted in MCC’s work and partnerships overseas, we advocate to change U.S. policies to be more just towards our neighbors, both at home and abroad. We also share information with churches in the U.S. to help them understand government policies and speak out on issues important to them.

faith-politics

It is slow work and often hard to see progress on a short-term basis. But it is necessary for Christians to hold government accountable for harmful practices and policies—especially when they are easily tucked away in the complex accounting of the State Department or the Department of Defense. I encourage people regularly to find out more: read more, google more, diversify your news feeds. Talk to people who directly experience the impact of U.S. foreign policy and tell your representatives you are paying attention. We have avenues to speak to our government, to influence policies, and

we can’t be silent.

 

charissa-zehr

 

 

 

 

 

Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.