Looking back on 13 years

Photo Credit: MCC photo/Anna Vogt

At the end of August, I will be stepping down after 13 years as director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. Although there have of course been challenges over the years, it has been a rich and wonderful experience for me and has helped me grow in many ways.

  • I have been deeply blessed by getting to know and work with MCC staff and partner organizations around the world. It is inspiring to see their unwavering commitment to a more just and peaceful world. On my travels, I have been humbled the generosity and hospitality that has been extended to me on many occasions.
  • I have been enriched by ecumenical and interfaith relationships here in D.C. Anabaptists like to think of themselves as having a unique faith perspective and we do. But sometimes I think that we lose sight of how much we have in common with our Christian sisters and brothers in other denominations and what we can learn from other faith traditions. I know that I have received much more than I have given over the years.
  • I am reminded that the U.S. government is not a monolithic entity “out there” somewhere. Congressional staff, members of Congress, foreign service officers and others I have met with are individuals almost always trying to do their best, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Over the years I have heard from staffers about houses being sold, babies being born, the stress of grad school tests and more. I’ve found that meetings always go better when we’re able to connect on a human level, even when we disagree on the political issues we are discussing.
  • Changing policies through advocacy is a long, slow process but a necessary one. On more than one occasion it has been tempting to shift my focus to immediate needs, handing out grocery bags to hungry people instead of changing the systems that perpetuate need. Providing emergency relief is an important part of a Christian’s response, but advocacy is also important. It often takes a long time to bring about changes, but when those changes finally do happen, they can impact thousands—sometimes even millions—of lives. As Christians, we must provide both the cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42) and work for just policies and laws (Proverbs 31:8-9).
  • I remain as convinced as ever that the church needs to be a prophetic voice within our society. My Christian faith is a personal commitment, but it isn’t limited to my individual actions. A commitment to following Jesus also has implications for how we live in community with one another and in the world at large. In our current context of the COVID-19 pandemic and deeply rooted racial and economic injustices, what will the church be known for? Will we fall short of addressing the powers that be, or will we work to create more just and equitable structures?

A final note: the longer I have been in this role, the more keenly I am aware of how little I know. As the church discerns how to address the current context, I hope that those of us in dominant groups will learn from and follow the leading of people of color and others who are the most deeply affected by injustice. As we move forward, we can trust that God is indeed bringing about a kingdom of people from all ethnicities and nations (Revelation 5:9). May it be so.

 

Click here for more by Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach.

 

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One response to “Looking back on 13 years”

  1. Just One Person says:

    ” I hope that those of us in dominant groups will learn from and follow the leading of people of color and others who are the most deeply affected by injustice.”
    One of the new ‘dominant groups’ includes politically connected Mennonites who use their position to push a false political agenda. One Mennonite leader, confronted about his/her claim to congress that he/she ‘speaks for 1.5 million Mennonite Americans’, responded to a plea for honesty by stating “The organization I work for is aware of what I am doing, the Board is aware of what I am doing, and we’re not going to change for just one person.” Thus concluded his/her comments that the many significant lies in his/her address to congress would not be corrected.
    I am definitely NOT part of the dominant Mennonite political machine. I am “just one person”, who thinks it is wrong to claim that there are 1.5 million adult Mennonites in the U.S., wrong to claim that they all think alike, wrong to claim that they are represented by one leader, wrong to claim that the Manchin-Toomey bill would have prevented the Newtown school shooting, etc etc etc. As RLS moves on, will our Mennonite political machine continue to exercise this dominance? I think she is leaving us (and I use that word expansively, since I am ‘just one person’) with a noble challenge.

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