To me, Mennonite Central Committee is more than an institution. It’s more than a collection of people. It’s more than relationships. It’s more than history. It’s more than methodology. I think of MCC as a movement. A movement that’s greater than but well exemplified by MCC. At the heart of this movement is a vision – described by an ancient prophet.
6 In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;Isaiah 11:6-9, NLT
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
7 The cow will graze near the bear.
The cub and the calf will lie down together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
8 The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
9 Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
for as the waters fill the sea,
so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.
Institutions are imperfect. People are imperfect. Relationships, history, and methodology too. Hope in them will disappoint. God’s Peaceable Kingdom is perfect. It’s something that we yearn for yet it’s something we can never achieve on our own. God will never disappoint. To pursue this impossible vision is why I am with MCC.
On Tuesday, three primary school principals from three different rural districts in Prey Veng province gathered at our new MCC Prey Veng office. I had ordered two photos on foam board for the Prey Veng office and they were leaning up against the wall. During the meeting, the principals kept on glancing back at the photos. After the meeting two of the principals told impromptu stories about the Doctor in one of the photos – John Martens – saving the lives of their family members in the early 1990s.
I heard many stories like these when I lived in Prey Veng during my first term from ’06 to ’09. I use to joke that Dr. John kept me humble. When the people in Prey Veng realized I was with MCC they often responded with a story about how Dr. John had literally saved someone’s life. Often either their own life or the life of a family member.
As we were saying goodbye, one of the principals looked at the photo again and said that Dr. John was a ទេវតា. The word was unfamiliar to me so I asked if it meant surgeon. MCC had sent many Doctors to Cambodia in the early years but, as far as I’m aware, Dr. Martens was the only surgeon. Our Education Coordinator, Maly, answered, “No. ទេវតា means angel.”
I want to be part of that. I’m not a Doctor. I won’t be directly saving lives like Doctor John. People won’t remember me. No one has ever called me an angel. But as much as I am able I want to be part of that.
Bismarck famously said that, “Politics are the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.” In the early 1980s, MCC tried to send school kits to Cambodia (then Kampuchea) in the immediate aftermath of genocide. In the politics of that era such a thing was impossible. The US State Department blocked MCC from sending the schoolkits. This was not an isolated case but part of a broadly supported international embargo against Cambodia’s new Vietnamese backed government.
Many development agencies and charitable organizations did ‘the next best’ thing to working directly in Cambodia and instead focused their efforts on the refugee camps in Thailand. Only five US based NGOs went against the embargo and worked directly in Cambodia. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that all five were Christian NGOs. They were answering a higher calling than politics.
This was the other photo leaning against the wall of the Prey Veng office. Cambodian students in Svay Rieng province holding tightly to schoolkits in 1983.
MCC did not find a loophole to work around the US Department of State. School children in the US wrote letters to President Reagan and asked him to allow the schoolkits to be delivered to Cambodia. This is how during the height of the Cold War MCC was given approval to deliver schoolkits to children in what was widely considered a puppet state of the communist Vietnamese. The first schoolkits were disbursed to students in 1983, the same year that President Reagan gave his famous ‘Evil Empire’ speech.
I don’t want to settle for ‘next best.’ Actually, these days, politics feels more like ‘the art of least worst.’ I don’t want that!
I want to be part of a movement towards something new. Something that’s far greater than my meager ability or imagination. Something that has already begun.
Don’t you feel it too? A higher calling. Something beyond the old worn boundaries of our fearful and petty human realities. I grew up listening to stories of people who left their homes to reach out to the last, the lost, the least as equals. These people were part of a movement. They considered the people whom ‘the art of the possible’ had left behind not as beneficiaries or problems to be solved, but as equals – brothers and sisters in Christ.
You can define Mennonites as a group of humans. You can define MCC as an institution. But I think of them as something more – part of a movement that’s flying, running, walking towards God’s Peaceable Kingdom.