Top photo: Nilam Devi Shah, with her son Shivam Shah, 6, looks after her garden at her home in Jahada Rural Municipality in the Morang District of Nepal in 2017. Shah participated in a super flour training facilitated by MCC partner Brethren in Community Welfare Society (BICWS), the service arm of the Brethren in Christ Church in Nepal. The BICWS program worked with landless and low-income families to improve their livelihoods, food security and nutrition in Jahada, one of the least developed areas of Morang District. It included training in nutrition, such as production of super flour, kitchen gardens, and vegetable and fish farming. BICWS has also helped start up a local market for farmers to sell their produce. MCC photo/Colin Vandenberg
MCC is grateful for the active participation and support of all its sponsoring denominations. This article focuses on MCC and Brethren in Christ U.S. and globally.
In 2020, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) turns 100 years old! The Brethren in Christ (BIC) Church in the U.S. has formally been part of the MCC story for 70 years.
MCC was formed when representatives of various Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren groups met in July 1920 in Elkhart, Indiana, and pledged to aid hungry people, including Mennonites, in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine). The first feeding operations began on March 16, 1922, at Khortitsa. MCC sent a shipment of 25 tractors and plows to southern Russia in June 1922.
In the late 1930s, BIC leaders were contacting national government officials, seeking an alternative service mechanism for conscientious objectors. BIC leaders learned that a group of Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and Friends was doing the same, and members of the BIC Peace, Relief and Service (PRS) committee connected with MCC in February 1940. Eventually, MCC administered Civilian Public Service (CPS) on behalf of the church, including the BIC Church. In CPS, “work of national importance” was performed by nearly 12,000 Anabaptist and other conscientious objectors between 1941 and 1947, of whom 136 were BIC.
Meanwhile, at BIC’s June 1940 General Conference meeting, PRS reported on its developing connections with MCC. Conference recommended that churches support MCC’s relief work. MCC sought BIC personnel to participate in that work. In 1941, Jesse W. Hoover, from Union Grove Brethren in Christ Church in Nappanee, Indiana, went to France and served for a number of months among war refugees.1
"Curing hate by love may seem like a wintry task, but we can pour on love as recklessly and with as great abandon as the geranium pours out color and brightness, for our God is the God of love and there is no limit to his supply.”
- Elsie Bechtel, Valley Chapel in Ohio
Another example of BICs who served with MCC is Elsie Bechtel, a member of Valley Chapel in East Canton, Ohio. Bechtel worked with MCC in 1944 at a state hospital in Howard, Rhode Island. From 1945 to 1947, she was an MCCer in France, much of the time with Secours Mennonite Américain aux Enfants (American Mennonite Aid to Children). Committed to the doctrine of nonresistance, she held that this conviction should lead to positive action. Bechtel found relief work to be an avenue for expressing God’s love. “Curing hate by love may seem like a wintry task,” she said in a speech in 1945 to other relief work candidates at Goshen (Indiana) College, “but we can pour on love as recklessly and with as great abandon as the geranium pours out color and brightness, for our God is the God of love and there is no limit to his supply.”2
Through the years
By 1954, C.N. Hostetter, president of Messiah Bible College, was chair of MCC’s executive committee. Harriet Sider Bicksler, Ruth Lesher and Gwen White have served in similar leadership roles with MCC in the U.S. Wilmer Heisey served as MCC U.S. executive secretary from 1982 to 1989.
In 1962, David Climenhaga was bishop of the BIC Church in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now part of Zambia). He also was general superintendent of BIC missions there. To those roles, he added the task of coordinator for South Central Africa of MCC’s new Teachers Abroad Program (TAP). Through TAP, hundreds of teachers were placed in church-run secondary and teacher training colleges, first in newly independent African countries and later elsewhere. The first orientation for TAP participants took place at Messiah College in Grantham (now Mechanicsburg), Pennsylvania.
In 1982, after initially denying the request, the U.S. government granted MCC permission to ship school kits to Cambodia (then called Kampuchea). More than 96,000 school kits – prepared by Canada and U.S. BIC and other church groups – were eventually shipped to schools. Indian and Indonesian churches also contributed school kits through MCC.
In 1993, MCC provided a grant to the BIC Church in Zimbabwe to start the AIDS Education and Counselling Project in southern Zimbabwe. The project sought to boost awareness of AIDS, recruit and train volunteers for home-based patient care, and offer spiritual support to AIDS patients and their families. Also, responding to a BIC Church call, MCC provided $2,650 for seminars for leadership training in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
Monsoon rains in August 2017 killed at least 1,246 people and displaced more than 1.7 million in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. In Nepal, MCC and Brethren in Community Welfare Society (BICWS) partnered to provide food assistance and tarps for shelter to 700 families. MCC and BICWS supported 323 families with home reconstruction, repairs of wells and fisheries, and projects to increase vegetable crops and income from kitchen gardens.
BICs and MCC continue to partner today. Rachel Diaz is an immigration attorney who attends Iglesia Rescate BIC congregation in Hialeah, Florida. Since 2005, Diaz has worked with MCC East Coast, serving those in need of legal representation with immigration matters in BIC and other Anabaptist churches. In Miami and New York City, MCC East Coast works with such churches to provide services, education and advocacy related to immigration. The efforts include consultations, court representation, application assistance, education and immigration law updates. More information on MCC’s immigration work can be found here.
“Thank you, our Brethren in Christ partners, for being an essential part of who MCC is. We thank God for leading in the past and present and continue to seek God’s direction for the future. May God continue to bless BIC’s other ministries as well.”
- J Ron Byler, MCC U.S. executive director
In Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, Cyclone Idai made landfall on March 15, 2019. MCC, the BIC Church in Mozambique, and other partners provided food assistance, toiletries and supplies to more than 11,000 people in Mozambique. MCC and the BIC Church in Malawi provided maize flour, beans, plastic tarps, relief kits and more to 500 households in Malawi. “The food relief will really make a difference in our lives,” said Rose Innocent, mother of five, in Malawi. “Please, pass on this message of our gratitude to people who have sent us this food assistance.” The joint response in Malawi continues into early 2020.
For more than 10 years, Upland (California) Brethren in Christ Church members have sewn cloth bags for kits, collected basic school supplies and packed school kits to send via MCC to children in need. This year they again broke their congregation’s record and donated 903 kits to MCC. Since 2011, the church has donated 3,867 school kits in this way. “We feel good about giving to MCC because we know it is an efficient conduit for sending help to so many in need,” said Allen Vanderbilt in 2018, a member at Upland. Check here for information on how you or your church or other group can make kits and comforters.
“Thank you, our Brethren in Christ partners, for being an essential part of who MCC is,” said J Ron Byler, MCC U.S. executive director. “We thank God for leading in the past and present and continue to seek God’s direction for the future. May God continue to bless BIC’s other ministries as well.”
Read more church denomination stories from the MCC at 100 collection:
- Mennonite Church USA – integral part of MCC from the beginning
- Mennonite Brethren – a pillar of MCC
- LMC and MCC – 100-year partners in practical compassion
- CMC – a passion for service
Visit mcc.org/centennial(link is external) to learn more about MCC’s year-long centennial celebration.
1 Details in this paragraph and the previous paragraph are from Nancy R. Heisey, “Brethren in Christ Participation in MCC: Integral Part or Burden?” in E. Morris Sider, ed., Brethren in Christ History & Life, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Grantham, PA: Brethren in Christ Historical Society, August 1995, pp. 178-180.
2 Quote is from Elsie Bechtel, “Why We Should Support Relief Service,” as printed in Evangelical Visitor, July 16, 1945, p. 5, reprinted in M. J. Heisey, Peace & Resistance: Tracing the Brethren in Christ Peace Witness through Three Generations, Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2003, p. 151. Other information in this paragraph comes from M. J. Heisey, pp. 150-152.