LONDON (Mennonite Mission Network) – Esther Misrahi left this world in the same way she had lived in it, wrapped in the symbolic love of family, friends and church members from all over the world.
Misrahi, 20, was diagnosed with a cancerous nerve sheath tumor in April 2007. She died July 11, 2008, bundled in a quilt made of fabric squares donated by friends and family at home in the United Kingdom and from other countries including the United States, Lithuania and Sweden.
The quilt, pieced by Mennonite Mission Network worker Kathy Thiessen
, who serves at the London Mennonite Centre
, was presented to Misrahi at a healing service, symbolizing her global community’s support and love. Thiessen said a community must walk with its members in crisis.
“Sometimes you don’t really know what’s the right thing to do, and so you just have to do what you can,” said Thiessen, who organized the production of the quilt after the church received word that Misrahi’s tumors were growing.
In addition to creating the quilt, members of Wood Green Mennonite Church
, Misrahi’s congregation since birth, and London Mennonite Centre also visited Misrahi regularly, donated funds towards living and funeral costs, provided transport to and from the hospital, cooked meals, and supported the Misrahi family in many ways, even bringing her cat to visit her in the hospital the day before she died.
The church also hosted several prayer meetings on Misrahi’s behalf.
“It is all part of a picture of a small church (very small by U.S. standards) doing its utmost to support one of its own, in a way that is unusual in the U.K.,” wrote Lesley Misrahi, Esther’s mother.
During Esther’s struggle with cancer Lesley also created and maintained a Web site which kept friends and family around the world up-to-date on Misrahi’s progress. Throughout her illness, many individuals have written notes of encouragement and support to Misrahi and her family.
This Web site also helped to connect the Misrahi family to communities throughout the United States, including Kern Road Mennonite Church
in South Bend, Ind.
Upon graduation from high school in 2006, Misrahi joined Service Adventure
, one of Mission Network’s Christian service programs, in South Bend. Kern Road served as the sponsoring congregation for the unit. Misrahi assisted in a local Goodwill
store and at Sister Maura Brannick Health Center
while living in a unit with a leader and two other young women.
“Esther was very perceptive,” said Laura Kraybill, Misrahi’s unit leader in South Bend. “She had a curious mind and she was very aware of and concerned about world events. She would bring those up to us at home and also at church she would stand up and share a prayer concern about something going on in the world.”
Misrahi created community within her house by making tea for her housemates each day.
“When we all moved in and were still very new to the area, Esther worked hard to get to know Rike [Muschka, a housemate] and me right away. She was willing to open up to us and share some of her experiences,” wrote housemate Terra Wiens.
Misrahi’s tumor was discovered during her eighth month in South Bend. Members of Kern Road and her home housemates rallied to support her. They held a prayer ceremony and members of unit continued to pray for her regularly.
This was not Misrahi’s first battle with cancer. At the age of 4, doctors discovered a brain tumor and she was forced to undergo brain surgery and radiotherapy at age 5. This tumor and its treatments had lifelong effects on Misrahi and made some physical activity involving balance and coordination difficult. But through hard work and determination Misrahi was able to succeed in school and in many other spheres.
In her 20 years, Misrahi left a deep imprint on her communities.
Misrahi was an active member of Wood Green, the only Mennonite congregation in London. She loved to participate in the European Colloquium, a bi-annual gathering of Mennonites from Europe. And she became a regular volunteer at London Mennonite Centre, often helping to host groups, clean buildings, and turning up for afternoon tea times and events.
“Esther was reserved but quite passionate about the things she believed in. She helped with our mailings, helped in the garden, and did whatever needed to be done around the place. She was a permanent fixture here,” said Thiessen.
Misrahi was survived by her mother, Lesley, and an older brother, Adam, 23, who continue to be supported by the Mennonite community. Her father, Bernard, a baptized Jew, from whom she inherited her passion for social justice, passed away in January 2003 with a similar nerve sheath tumor.
A memorial service for Misrahi was held at Westbury Avenue Baptist Church Hall, where Wood Green Mennonite Church meets each week, on July 25.
Service Adventure, one of Mennonite Mission Network’s Christian Service programs, invites young adults ages 17-20 to live in a household with four to six other youth and to serve in a community for 10 months in a variety of locations across the United States.
The London Mennonite Centre today is a resource and teaching center rooted in the Anabaptist tradition and cultivating Christian discipleship as a way of life. Mennonite Mission Network personnel and local center staff provide hospitality to guests, organize seminars on contemporary themes in a Christian perspective, provide an Anabaptist library and book service, and offer training in conflict mediation to a wide range of British churches through the Bridge Builders program.