Caption: Lancaster Central Market, a landmark in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Photo/Wikipedia Commons
Mayor Danene Sorace has officially proclaimed June 20* as MCC Day in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in recognition of Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) 100 years of ministry around the world.
Courtesy of the city of Lancaster
The date of June 20 originally was chosen to coincide with a national celebration of MCC’s centennial that was to be held locally. Because of the coronavirus, the celebration has been rescheduled to Oct. 17.
MCC, which has offices in Akron and Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and other U.S. locations, was created in 1920 in response to a call for help from Mennonites in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) who were starving because of famine and war.
Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren leaders throughout the U.S. and Canada formed a committee that became MCC. The new organization coordinated the efforts of churches to provide emergency food and clothing, as well as shipments of tractors and other agricultural supplies.
Those early actions set in motion a 100-year ministry for MCC: relief in times of disaster, sustainable development and working for peace in the midst of conflict and injustice.
MCC benefits from the support that residents of Lancaster city and Lancaster County give through donations, volunteer time and personnel who have served with MCC in the U.S. and around the world.
“We deeply respect all of the ways that the city of Lancaster and MCC add value to each other’s missions to build just and thriving communities,” says Bruce Campbell-Janz, executive director of MCC East Coast and a Lancaster Township resident. “MCC’s work benefits from the support and engagement of the vibrant, diverse city of Lancaster. We’re pleased to be doing this work together.”
MCC photo/Bruce Campbell Janz
MCC’s work today in more than 50 countries is focused on helping people who are especially vulnerable because of poverty and war. For example, during the past decade, MCC has provided more than $56 million in programming and humanitarian aid to help Syrians who fled mortars and tanks to save their lives during the Syrian war.
Some found safer places to stay within Syria and other fled to Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. MCC partnered with churches and organizations to provide them with food, education, vocational training, and trauma and peacebuilding workshops.
Most recently MCC has distributed locally purchased hygiene products to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among refugees and displaced people in these countries, which not only include Syrians, but an influx of refugees from Africa, including South Sudan and Somalia.
MCC photo/Evangeline Hammond
MCC Day this year coincides with World Refugee Day, as declared by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to remind every person that they can do something to address the plight of 25.9 million refugees and 41.3 million people displaced within their own countries.
Dubbed by BBC News in 2017 as “America’s Refugee Capital,” Lancaster has resettled 1,300 refugees since 2013 and many more before that. MCC shares Lancaster’s heart for refugees but works with refugees and displaced people around the world.
In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 100 armed groups fight to gain power, land and resources, MCC is helping people whose villages were burned to the ground and family members killed as they ran from the latest attack.
Near the town of Minova, MCC’s Congolese church partner rent fields and provide agricultural training, seeds and tools to help several hundred displaced people feed themselves until they can go back home. Twice a year, MCC provides supplemental food so the families living in mud huts have enough to eat between harvests.
MCC photo/Matthew Lester
Refugees in Chad benefit from the clean water that MCC’s partner organization provides. And in southern Africa, people displaced in 2019 by flooding from Cyclone Idai recently received their last food distribution along with hygiene supplies to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
In Central America, MCC works with churches and organizations that strengthen the livelihoods of people who would otherwise migrate toward the U.S. For those who do migrate, MCC’s partners support their safety and wellbeing along the way.
In the U.S., MCC advocates for the fair and just creation of immigration laws, while providing some legal and practical support for asylum seekers and other immigrants.
Helping refugees has been a consistent thread through MCC’s history since its early work in Russia.
After World War II, MCC helped to resettle Russian refugees in Paraguay and after the Vietnam War, MCC helped to resettle about 5,000 refugees from southeast Asia in the U.S. and Canada. Some still live in Lancaster.
J Ron Byler, executive director for MCC U.S., says, “As a county native, Lancaster is the place I keep coming home to, and I am thankful that Lancaster has also become a place known for welcoming newcomers from around the world. Lancaster has been a home to MCC since it began 100 years ago, and so many people in the city and county support MCC’s work through the churches here and around the world. We are grateful.”