This is the second post in a series highlighting churches across Mennonite Church USA who were awarded the Peace and Justice Support Network’s Spread the Peace grant for 2015. The PJSN is a partnership of Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church USA. Each of these congregations is working in different ways to spread peace in its community.
Jane Yoder-Short is a writer and gardener. She holds an Master of Arts in theology from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. As part of the Iowa City Press Citizen’s Group, she writes a monthly column. Her Living the Story column for the Mennonite World Review connects faith with life. Yoder-Short also co-coordinates Just Peace Outreach Group (J-POG), a local peace organization.
It was like pieces of a puzzle coming together.
It started when Ken Gingerich, art director for Mennonite Church USA, talked about the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) panels he was working on. The panels had been in Kansas City and were being updated. Gingerich sparked my interest.
The DoD is the framework dating back to the 15th century that gave governments the moral and legal rights to seize lands and dominate Indigenous peoples.
These rights are spelled out in Papal Bulls, Royal Charters and even U.S. Supreme court rulings.
As a Mennonite Youth Fellowship (MYF) sponsor at West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa, I have one eye out for what might generate interest in faith for youth. Most MYFers I asked had not seen the panels at Kansas City. Seeing these panels seemed like a good fit for rural Iowans, many of whom still connect with the land.
The next piece of the puzzle came when I talked to Marcus Miller, the social studies/history teacher at Iowa Mennonite School. I wondered what he thought about getting the panels displayed at the school.
Miller had already thought about inviting Erica Littlewolf of the Indigenous Visioning Circle, a program of MCC Central States, to come and speak on the historical perspective of indigenous tribes.
The pieces seemed to fit together.
Miller had talked to Joy Lapp, religion professor at Iowa Wesleyan, a small college 40 miles from Iowa Mennonite School. Both were interested in Littlewolf as a speaker but neither school had funding to complete the picture.
I began wondering if this could somehow fit into a Spread the Peace Grant that the Peace and Justice Network offered.
The pieces seemed a little scattered. They needed a home. The home piece came when I talked with Lon Marshal, chair of the Mission and Service committee at West Union Mennonite Church. He was encouraging and with enough pieces lined up, I started writing the grant proposal.
Each group had some money but not enough. The grant created a space for different people to work together. It created a way for each to put in their small loaves and fishes and come out with an amazing dinner.
The Mission and Service committee of West Union looked over the grant proposal and were ready to put some money into it. Central Plains Conference said yes to buying the DoD panels.
The grant enabled the pieces to fall into place. The DoD panels arrived in southeast Iowa along with Erica Littlewolf and Karin Kaufman Wall, peace educator with MCC. Littlewolf spoke at a joint worship service of Wellman (Iowa) Mennonite and West Union Mennonite. And during the Sunday school hour, Littlewolf and Kaufman Wall led the Loss of Turtle Island exercise, an activity that brings to life the history of Indigenous people and the effects of the DoD. Littlewolf and Kaufman Wall also spoke at Lapp’s classes at Iowa Wesleyan. Just Peace Outreach Group (J-POG), sponsored a public meeting where Littlewolf and Kaufman Wall presented.
Nearly 90 students at Iowa Mennonite School took 90 minutes from their day to experience Loss of Turtle Island.
At the invitation of Geyer’s Pizza Oven, a local wood-fired pizza venue, an informal discussion along with pizza was added to the event roster. We discussed the hard questions Littlewolf and Kaufman Wall raised.
How do we respond to the history of stolen land? How do we respond knowing we benefit from other people’s loss? How can we change our way of looking at each other to make sure we don’t take part in the dehumanization of others?
Amid the puzzling, we are finding hope. The ripples of the grant continue. The DoD panels have been displayed in both Wellman Mennonite and West Union Mennonite Church. The panels also spent time with high school students at Iowa Mennonite School. They will travel to Des Moines for the annual meeting of Central Plains Mennonite Conference. After that, the dream is for the panels to keep traveling throughout Central Plains Conference.
It is remarkable how different pieces came together. God’s spirit can use scattered parts and a grant to create a new picture. May the ripples continue.