Name: Dan Jantzi and Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi
Hometown: Lowville, N.Y. (Lowville Mennonite Church)
Assignment: As area directors for MCC’s programs in Southeast Asia, we work with MCC representatives and programs in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam. We help interpret and communicate the complex realities of MCC programs and partners in Southeast Asia for MCC staff in Canada and the U.S., and help those in Southeast Asia better understand MCC.
“We love hearing people’s stories and asking questions to learn more about their context and their work.”
Serving with MCC: Since 1989 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Indonesia. (Read more about the couple’s experiences working with MCC, raising children abroad and finding faith and hope in societies struck by upheaval.)
Typical day: On office days, we spend hours communicating with people in other parts of the world via email and Skype. On our frequent travels, we meet with MCC personnel and partners across Southeast Asia. We’ve lived in Indonesia for the past 12 years and stayed there until our youngest son finished high school this May. Now we’re relocating to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we will work in the MCC Asia regional office.
Joys: Sitting on the floor in a bamboo stilt house in the pouring rain and hearing neighbor women eagerly interrupting each other to tell the stories of how they have worked for change in their community. We also enjoy working with MCC representatives to imagine and plan effective programs.
Challenge: Dealing with time differences of up to 12 hours between our office and MCC offices in other parts of the world. Also, beginning this year, all three of our children will be on the other side of the world — in Idaho and Virginia. Now we know how our parents must have felt!
Serving with MCC
Every year, MCC sends new people and families out to serve in countries around the world. In the years that follow, they learn and grow and change, just as their gifts help to shape MCC’s work in communities across the globe. Here, Dan Jantzi and Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi of Lowville, N.Y., MCC’s area directors for Southeast Asia, reflect on their years of service with MCC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire), in Nigeria and in Indonesia. In summer 2013, they moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand to be more centrally located in Southeast Asia.
How did you decide to serve with MCC?
(Dan) My parents were active in their community in rural Lewis County, New York. Both would drop anything at any time to help people whether they knew them or not. My brother had been in Mennonite Voluntary Service in Mississippi so that had been my experience of service. When I first went to meet Jeanne’s family in Ohio, her dad (who was an MCC Great Lakes board member) asked me if I had ever considered serving internationally with MCC. By the end of the weekend, he had convinced me to change my major from biology to international agriculture. Wanting to date his daughter may have had something to do with my decision.
(Jeanne) I grew up in Wayne County, Ohio. My parents had served with MCC in Indonesia before I was born, but their experience definitely shaped my life. My dad continued serving on MCC boards and on the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale committee. They actively sought out people from other cultures and played a major role in welcoming a large community of Lao people to Ohio. I grew up seeing the pictures, hearing the stories and eating the foods of Indonesia. I knew early on that MCC service was the natural next step after college. My younger brother began MCC service in Bangladesh five months before we started our first MCC term in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire).
MCC orientation photo. The couple began serving in 1989.
We were 24 and 25 years old when we began our first MCC term with our 5-month-old son, Ben. We both come from very close families who missed us terribly, but were also very supportive. My parents drove eight hours to Akron, Pa., to say goodbye one last time. They brought a very early model video camera (a big one, one that sat on your shoulder) so we could document the growth and development of their first grandchild. Dan’s whole family drove eight hours to the New York City airport when we left. At that time, families could go right through to the departures area. As everyone hugged and cried and passed around the baby, we noticed that other people in the waiting room who didn’t even know us were also crying! A few years ago, Dan was talking by Skype with his mother, who was in a nursing home in New York. Ben had just gone off to Hesston College in Kansas (from our home in Indonesia), and we were missing him. Dan’s mother listened sympathetically and then said, “Well! Now you know what it feels like!”
Where did you go?
Our first assignment was working with ox traction and women’s literacy with the Communaute Evangelique Mennonite in the village of Katanda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire).
(Jeanne) I thought it was perfect and exactly what I had imagined from an MCC assignment. For the first three years, we lived in a mud brick, thatched roof house with no electricity and an outhouse in the far corner of the yard. Our water needed to be carried about half a kilometer from the source. I am forever thankful for that experience, and I’m sure it gets even better with nostalgia!
It was a wonderful place to really get to know a community and to participate in life there. A Congolese Mennonite pastor and his family moved to the village at the same time and they lived across the path from us. They advised us on every point of village life — who needed to be visited, what to say, what food to serve, how to negotiate. Our second son, David, was born by kerosene lamp and flashlight in the guest room of friends serving with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission. We have so many happy family memories of our time in Congo. It’s hard to remember that our five and a half years there were also times of almost constant political tension. For our last two years, our evacuation bags stayed packed, and I dreamed about how we would hand our children over the wall to our neighbors if a mob came . . .
Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi harvests squash seeds with members of a farmers' group while serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) in 1993. Other names are not known.
What surprised you about Congo the most?
(Jeanne) Strangely, the food! I had grown up somehow equating MCC service with an opportunity to eat incredible international cuisine. My parents always raved about the food in Indonesia. But when we got to Congo, we realized that variety is a luxury and that the critical thing for most people is simply having adequate calories. We learned to eat nshima (a staple dish made of cornmeal dough), greens and some version of protein for every meal.
As you look back, what do you wish you had known early on?
Dan Jantzi stands by an MCC-funded water pump in Mwene-Ditu, a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) in 1993. Other names are not known.
(Dan) One thing I wish I had understood when we started in Congo is that I don’t have all the answers. Most new MCC workers are incredibly confident people. It’s that confidence that pushes us outside of our comfort zones to other places in the world that we know nothing about and where more times than not, due to language barriers, we can’t even speak to local people. Yet we go out planning to make lasting change in three years. In reality, it takes time, patience, humility and a lot of listening to even begin to identify some of the questions. Each MCC worker is important, but our real value is as a small part of something much bigger. It’s thousands of MCC workers along with thousands of local agents of change, over 90-plus years, who volunteered to be a small part of something big God is doing in the world. MCC has made a positive impact on the world, and I have the privilege of being a very small part of that.
What are some of highlights of each place you’ve served?
Congo: An opportunity to do hands-on grassroots REAL work in a village setting. This personal understanding of the real-life challenges of communities totally changed the way we see MCC projects. We’re much more empathetic to the complexities of people’s lives and probably much more skeptical of trying to tidy up every aspect into logical frameworks. We loved our local church; our love for the global church grew. And we learned to appreciate the strength and resilience of people who have been tested almost to the limits. Congo shaped us in many ways.
Nigeria: An incredible team of people to work with. Gopar Tapkida (who as of July 2013 is an MCC representative in Zimbabwe) worked with us in the MCC office, and we forever associate Nigeria with the memory of his laugh in the office. As people in our early 30s, working for the first time as MCC representatives, we had the opportunity to work with Nigerian partners and leaders who had devoted their entire lives to God’s Kingdom. We respected them and learned from them.
Indonesia: Working with Mennonite churches and learning what Anabaptism means in the Indonesian context. We’ve seen incredible examples of creative peacebuilding in interfaith contexts. We attended GKMI Siloam, a Muria Mennonite church in Salatiga, Indonesia. The church is in a small neighborhood behind the market, and many members work in the market and live nearby. We love the sense of community and hearing the stories of how different church members came to faith. Most of them became Christians because their neighbor invited them, or a colleague or extended family member brought them along. It’s taken 12 years, but now we can understand sermons and Jeanne has even preached in Indonesian language. We appreciate the solid Anabaptist identity of the church members as peacemakers and community builders in their closely populated neighborhood.
How do you make your home in each new place?
I’m writing this while sitting in the midst of open suitcases, trying to think about what will make a new home for us in Thailand. One thing that helps is holding on to or creating traditions. One year, our family was on home leave during Advent season. We lit the candles and wreath in four different countries on four Sundays. Some would think it was silly to carry candles and a little wagon wheel. But it did help. We don’t have a lot of “stuff,” but we do plan for a few flat things to carry around with us. We have some starched crocheted snowflake Christmas decorations that have followed us to four countries. They fit in an envelope. We have a birthday box with a birthday banner, candles, etc. We can pull off a birthday celebration anywhere. Even using the same recipes builds a sense of home. I always make the same “Crazy Cake” chocolate cake for birthdays for family members and whoever else happens to have a birthday when they are near us. It’s a recipe from my mother, who got it from her sister. Recently, I was reading my mother’s letters from her Indonesia time in 1961. I found that she made that exact same cake for a young Paxman’s birthday celebrated on the beach in Timor, Indonesia.
We also have a few things that have followed us to every home — music, cloth, a Petersen map of the world . . . We try not to have anything sitting around that doesn’t have a story or some meaning to us.
You started your time with MCC as parents. What’s it like raising children while working in an international MCC assignment?
One of the best things was living without advertising and free of stuff. I remember a video of David at age 2, telling his grandmas how he and a neighborhood friend, Kabamba, “play shoes.” One of their favorite games was to drive shoes around the swept earth courtyard like toy cars. One day I gave the kids an old ripped curtain and our boys and the neighbor kids played tent and parachute and king’s robe. A many-forked tree branch became a truck. Ben remembers catching grasshoppers with friends and taking them around to find a mama with a cooking fire so she could roast the grasshoppers on broom straws for them to eat. I remember reflecting that not many 5-year-olds can hunt their own protein!
This was a great question that we raised at the dinner table with David, 22, and Paul, 18, when we were all together for one last time in Indonesia. (David was born when we were in Congo, and Paul was 6 weeks old when we arrived in Nigeria.)
And they said?
They talked about being flexible and their ability to adapt to the unexpected. “We are open to try anything. Things seem possible to us — almost anything is in our reach. We are more likely to spend money on experiences and to invest in relationships rather than in things.” They mentioned we encouraged them to trust other people instead of protecting them all the time, to be part of the Indonesian culture and to take part in the things Indonesian kids were doing.
(Want to read more? Check out Parent Trek: Nurturing Creativity and Care in Our Children, an MCC-commissioned book Jeanne wrote after the couple’s time in Congo and Nigeria and that brings together meditations, suggestions from numerous contributors and questions for reflection.)
You’ve made big changes — from the U.S. to Africa, from Africa to Indonesia. Tell me what you’re thinking as you look toward this next stage.
In 1988 we accepted a three year assignment and here we still are, serving internationally with MCC. I guess this is our family’s version of normal.
We had always thought we would be Africa people after serving in Congo and Nigeria. When our term in Nigeria finished and MCC didn’t have another position in Africa for us, it took a full year to give up the disappointment. We looked at other organizations, but found that there was no other organization with a mission statement that we believed in as much as MCC, and we decided to apply for a position in Indonesia.
Now, after 12 years in Indonesia, it’s really hard to leave Salatiga, where we have home and community and where we’ve had such meaningful and inspiring work. We trust that God continues to work in Indonesia. The hard part is that we would love to be there to see it!
I talked about our struggle with some of my church friends, a wonderful group of older Javanese Mennonite women in their 70s. They said they will pray for us to find a community in Chiang Mai just like our church community here in Salatiga.
As MCC Nigeria representative, Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi, left, visits with Asabe Anthony in 1995.
Want to share a favorite food?
Our church service at the Indonesian church we’ve attended is at 6 a.m. Our family tradition has been to go out to a local shop for Soto Ayam for breakfast after church. It’s a delicious chicken rice soup. Today, when our children come home to Indonesia, going out for Soto is the first activity – sometimes straight from the airport. The recipe is in the cookbook, Extending the Table, as “Bu Yani’s Chicken Soup (Soto Ayam).” You also squeeze in lemon juice and add cubes of cucumber marinated in vinegar.
1. Paxman, A name used for the participants of the Pax Project, a U.S. Mennonite international service organization for conscientious objectors which operated between 1951 and 1976.