Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi and her husband Dan, while serving as area directors for MCC’s work in Southeast Asia, lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from 2013 to 2017. Here, she shares a story from Thailand, where Buddhism is far more common than Christianity. And look below for other remembrances from her decades of service with MCC. Top photo: The view from the couple's second-story back porch in Chiang Mai. (MCC photo/Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi)
Witness without knowing it
Photo courtesy of Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi
As MCC area directors for Southeast Asia, and working with a number of countries, we never mastered Thai language, and because of this, didn’t know that many people in our Thai neighborhood. Buddhism is far more common than Christianity, and, in Thai culture, people would rarely talk directly about themselves. Indirect communications is far more common and appreciated.
We have one English-speaking Thai neighbor who lived in the U.S. for 30 years and came back to Thailand to retire. She's a lovely gregarious Presbyterian woman who loves riding her bike around the neighborhood and talking with anyone who's outside.
When she met my husband Dan, she told him this surprising story.
"You don't know many of your Thai neighbors, but they know you! And they know that I know you, so they ask me lots of questions about you and what you do and why you're here,” she told him.
“And you know what? Because of you, I am having so many opportunities to tell people about Jesus. They ask me questions about Mennonites, and peace and the Bible and service and I get to say everything I want because I'm talking about you guys!"
Explore other vignettes from Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi. And read “Serving with MCC,” a reflection from Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi and husband Dan Jantzi on their years with MCC.
On being seen
A holiday bird far from the U.S.
Sharing the kitchen
Serving with MCC
A birthday cake used by two generations of MCCers
Photo courtesy of Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi
One of my favorite things in Indonesia was the Women's Fellowship at our congregation GKMI Siloam, which is part of the Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI), one of three Mennonite synods in Indonesia. We met every Friday afternoon in one of the women's homes with singing, Bible study, stories, prayer, offering and eating together.
One week, I was late and walking alone through the rain to get to the women's fellowship at church. As I hurried through the narrow mossy sidewalks of the little neighborhood, I slipped and fell.
Believing that no one saw me, I jumped right up and went to the church and didn't say anything about it.
Three weeks later, when I asked where women's fellowship will be held, my friend said, "Ibu Nur's house. It's right in front of the house where you fell down." Little neighborhoods mean no secrets! This place may become a landmark.
I miss the creative satisfaction of cooking Thanksgiving dinner outside the U.S. Rolling pie crust with a bottle. An early morning visit with a chicken seller in the market who wonders what occasion I'm celebrating. Roasting a chicken so fresh that it was never even refrigerated. Cooking all day on the tiny stove and putting the food on our bed piled with blankets and pillows to keep it piping hot until time to eat. Extending the table with a door on top of the ironing board and guests sitting up to the table on end tables. Making up a family among our friends.
MCC photo/Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi
When you live in a house without many walls, the advantage is being able to really enjoy creation. The downside is that sometimes the critters are in the kitchen!
I am still chuckling to myself about a Facebook chat message I received in Cambodia from another MCC worker friend who lives in Africa. This is just exactly, EXACTLY the real MCC life!
"Hi Jeanne ... just arrived home from meeting to find ants swarming on a lemon yoghurt cake I made earlier today for dessert tonight. How do I get rid of them? Have 4 SW (service workers) here for supper."
The answer is to put the whole cake (or cookies or bread or sugar bowl) in the freezer and the ants will walk away. The other preventative action to stop the ants from getting there in the first place is to balance the cake on top of a bowl sitting in a plate of water. Ants can't cross the moat.
How MCCers entertain guests: Not much has changed since my mother, Martha Miller Zimmerly, wrote this letter from Timor in 1960!
"We were all sitting there visiting early in the evening when I heard something at my cookies on top of the cupboard. I put them up there to escape the ants as it is the only cupboard with cans under the legs and water in them to keep the ants from climbing up. But the rats can climb it. A rat had snatched a cookie and was half way down behind the cupboard with it. We shut all the doors and got brooms and clubs and had a chase. We three women were up on chairs since there were enough men to do the honors. But the rat ran behind the couch whereupon Helen was enthroned and after they couldn't punch him out from behind it, she shook the blanket and discovered it had climbed up there. Well, we had a merry time for a while but at last they carried the rat out, DEAD!"
In another letter in 1961, my mother noted that a newly arrived MCC colleague "is such a sanitary nurse-type she may have a hard time roughing it ... Saturday evening she could hardly eat the pumpkin pie after she heard me say I scraped ants off the top. She practically wants to sterilize the house they are moving into. But after all, it is the one the Synod had used for a goat pen about a year ago."
MCC photo/Ron Byler
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. In 2013, Dan Jantzi and Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi of Lowville, N.Y., then MCC’s area directors for Southeast Asia, reflected 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).
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, Pennsylvania, 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!”
MCC photo/Dan Jantzi
Where did you go?
Our first assignment was working with ox traction and women’s literacy with the Communauté Evangélique 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.
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) 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 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.
MCC photo/Pearl Sensenig
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 (see recipe below) 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 the birthday of a young worker in MCC’s Pax program that they 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!
MCC photo/Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi
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 these ideas from Parent Trek: Nurturing Creativity and Care in Our Children, an MCC-commissioned book Jeanne wrote after the couple’s time in Congo and Nigeria. It 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.
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.
MCC photo/Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi
Another recipe that we have carried through the years is a chocolate cake that we make for MCCers' birthdays. My mother used the same recipe (that her little sister, Ruth Ann, found in the "Jack and Jill" magazine in the 1950s) to bake for MCC workers in Timor during their term from 1959-62.
The best compliment was when a former participant in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together program married her Indonesian husband, they asked me to bake it as part of their wedding cake!
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 t. soda
1 t. salt
6 T. cocoa powder
2 t. vanilla
2 T. vinegar
3/4 cup oil
Mix in a bowl with wooden spoon until most lumps are gone. No need to use a mixer. Bake in a greased 9 by 13 pan for about 25 or so minutes. Cupcakes also work. If you want a layer cake, use two small round pans. (You'll know it's done when a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.)
2 cups powdered sugar
3 T. cocoa powder
1/2 cup room temperature butter
1 t. vanilla
pinch of salt
about 2 T. liquid hot black coffee (or just hot water or milk...)
Stir in a bowl with a spoon until most lumps are gone. No need to use a mixer. You need to spread the frosting when the cake is cool, or the frosting will melt and slide off the cake! Put it on top of bowls sitting in water so the ants don't get into it before you serve it.