ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Enacting a modern day parable of loaves and fishes, the junior high youth of Mennonite Church USA gave what they had — Amish friendship bread, granola and lemonade — to help build the global church. These gifts will continue to grow as Congolese Mennonites use them to expand their existing ministries.
Church leaders and young adults in Congo hope to use the funds to build a computer center. This center, which will offer a cyber café and computer support, would be based in Kinshasa and could have branches in other urban centers such as Kikwit, Tshikapa, Mbuji-Mayi, and Kananga.
“In this way, church conference in Kinshasa will make sure that the benefits of computerization reach all of CMCO’s [Mennonite Church of Congo] church conferences,” said Damas Luvilo, national president of the CMCO youth.
Across the ocean, junior high youth were learning to be good stewards. Starting with an $825 stake — $5 for every participant — junior high youth raised $5,005.88 to support ministries in Congo.
The funds that the junior high youth raised will be given in addition to a grant that Mennonite Mission Network supplies that helps the Mennonite church in Congo as it works to bolster health care, make tools for evangelism (including loud speakers and bicycles for transportation) available, and support leadership development programs.
Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mission Network director for Africa said, “In short, we want to help the Congo Mennonite church carry out its mission.”
One factor contributing to the decision to share the San José junior high offering with Mennonites in Congo is an ongoing and developing relationship between Mennonite Church USA and two Mennonite denominations in Congo. The relationship is part of the denomination’s work to strengthen global connections with Anabaptists and other Christians around the world, which is one of four shared missional priorities among all parts of Mennonite Church USA.
In an effort to help junior high youth think beyond themselves, Mennonite Mission Network, with the junior high convention planning team, sent each junior high participant a $5 bill in the weeks prior to San Jose 2007, the Mennonite convention that took place in July, with simple instructions to think of it as seed money and to make it grow. Participants were instructed to bring the money they raised to the Wednesday morning worship service at San Jose and to offer it as a gift to support the ministries of Congolese Mennonites.
Youth went about raising the money in a variety of creative ways. Carissa Harnish, a member of Neffsville Mennonite Church
in Lancaster, Pa., raised $97 selling Amish friendship bread during vacation bible school at her church.
“The people at my church really helped, and they pitched in and bought the bread. I liked the fact that we started with so little, and it came out to be so much more,” she said.
Harnish will remember this project and her amazement at how far a little bit of money can go when young people work together.
“I learned that helping people can be fun,” says 12-year-old Alex Clemens from The Table
, an emerging Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va.
The only junior high youth in his congregation, Clemens decided to use his money to make and sell fresh-squeezed mint lemonade to pass out during church. Nearly all of the 20 regular attendees contributed, donating $107.
For sister and brother Jenny and Geoff Ramseyer, of Lexington, Mass., bringing their offering to worship at San Jose was too important to miss. Despite feeling ill, the Ramseyers chose to attend the Wednesday worship service rather than staying at their hotel to rest and recuperate.
“It was so important to attend worship on Wednesday because we wanted to share our story with everyone else,” Jenny Ramseyer said.
By pooling their resources, the Ramseyers were able to buy materials to make their grandma’s special granola, which they sold to family friends and neighbors. They made soap and rock candy, which Jenny learned to make in science class. In addition, they sold lemonade, chocolate zucchini cake and chocolate chip cookies. To track their expenses and profits, Geoff developed a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.
Beyond their multiple forays into sales, Jenny and Geoff also donated the money that they earned for babysitting, pet-sitting, weeding the neighbor’s lawn, and other odd jobs to their collection for the Congolese Mennonites, which allowed them to bring $239.88 to worship.
“I learned about the cost of things, making a profit, and the ways that people like to help others, but they sometimes need a little encouragement or an opportunity,” Jenny Ramseyer said.
Susan Nisly, coordinator of the junior high convention and Service Adventure
director, notes that the seed money project stemmed from the planning committee’s desire to create a sense that junior high youth are an important part of the church and have many gifts to contribute.
“This was an opportunity for the wider church to impress upon youth the importance of giving back to the broader church body,” noted Jeremy Kindy, a development associate at Mennonite Mission Network involved in the coordination of the seed money activity.
And it appears that junior high youth were impressed.
Inspired by their projects this year and encouraged by the support they received, the Ramseyers are planning to raise money again next year to support additional ministries.