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Hex signs on barns, fertile farms, plain dress, PA Dutch cooking: These are the first impressions many people have of Mennonites in Lancaster County. But the ethic of compassion of these folk draws from a deeper well: From their founder, Menno Simons, to the present day, the practice of helping others is deeply ingrained:

Menno Simons_mod_8x11_72                      

In fact, the mission statement on the website of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), echoes those words of Menno Simons in 1541:

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches, shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation.  

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Their logo expresses their mission as the cross and dove merge in a “dynamic, interactive relationship in which the cross empties into compassionate action fulfilling our call to global service.”

In a similar vein, loving hands was the image used for the theme of the 90th birthday celebration for my mother and aunt, her sister-in-law, both named Ruth Longenecker, have the same birth year and middle initial “M,” and live independently on the same street,

                            Hands clip

Mother is and was handy in many ways. Along with Daddy, my mother served on the board of New Life for Girls, an agency supporting the rehabilitation and guidance of young women in urban areas. For many years she volunteered at the Mennonite Home making beds. She served also at the MCC International Gift and Thrift Shop in Mt. Joy, PA. One Monday a month she went to sewing circle where she helped piece quilts and knotted comforters for overseas relief. My sisters and I also remember rolling long, long strips of gauze for bandages to send abroad.

             1995RuthKnottingComforter_small

Aunt Ruthie, Principal of Rheems Elementary School and West Donegal Township tax collector, took her call to missions in a different direction. For over 25 years, she with Grandma, opened their home to refugees and immigrants, beginning with Phuong from Vietnam whom she sponsored. Her home was a warm cushion absorbing the cultural shock of leaving home and family. Aunt Ruthie was never married and has no biological children, so she was flummoxed by Phuong’s normal adolescent activity: She takes such long showers, she doesn’t know when to hang up the phone, and she wants to stay out so late!

      1989RuthieHouse 1979Grandma,Ruthie, Phuong_small

The house on Anchor Road was a safe haven, welcoming  refugees from a collage of countries in addition to Vietnam: Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia—anywhere there was political upheaval.

1990s SaltofEAward Salt of the Earth Award for 25 years of service through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services in recognition of “exceptional compassion in welcoming the stranger,” as Menno Simons admonished.

When I was a child, Grandma’s house was a Home Depot for relief: On the back porch she collected eggs from local farmers to help the needy. In a corner of the kitchen facing a window with a bird feeder, she parked her sewing machine with stacks of fabric in baskets to make baby clothes, blankets, shirts, pants, pajamas, and comforters. During the Great Depression, the needy were closer at hand, and Grandma would repair raggedy teddy bears with buttons for eyes, and red yarn or rick-rack for the mouth.

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Normal teddies                            Missing ears, detached arms

At the heart of all this giving is love, pure and simple. “And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity.” And nothing says “love” to a child like a teddy bear.

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