There are certainly more than just children’s books and movies tucked away in the Good Library basement. For one more month, the library is featuring the exhibit, “Brought Home: Objects and Stories from Mission and Service Workers,” containing various artifacts that past Mennonite mission workers returned with.
Over 50 foreign countries are represented, with stories from at least 75 people. More than a mere collection of souvenirs, the collections and their stories represent what Mennonites have done on service, mission and relief work, often during times of war. Some objects were found, others purchased or made, while still were given as gifts of appreciation for Mennonites’ work.
Ervin Beck, retired Professor of English and researcher for the exhibit, found inspiration for “Brought Home” after obtaining a three-piece silver tea set from Ukraine.
“Mennonites in Ukraine suffered greatly from the time of the communist revolution both through persecution by the communists but also by famine,” Beck said. “That’s where Mennonite Central Committee got started, going to the aide of the Mennonites in Ukraine.”
A wealthy Mennonite family in Ukraine gave many of their processions to Orie O. Miller, one of the creators of MCC, to take with him to the United States and sell. One of these, a three-piece silver tea set, is featured in the exhibit. The money from the tea set went back to the family in Ukraine once they needed assistance.
“It’s just a silver tea set,” Beck said. “But that story behind it is very interesting and we thought, ‘Hey, let’s try to find other interesting things.’”
Beck described the Mennonites at that time being very reserved and isolated. The start of MCC developed the Mennonite church and allowed the religion to spread across the world through their mission work. The things they brought home symbolize their experience.
“Goshen College now emphasizes cross-cultural experience,” Beck said. “Every item here comes from intercultural contact. Goshen College also emphasizes servant leadership, and every item here represents people who didn’t know what those words meant but were doing that; even the college motto, ‘healing the world peace by peace,’ everyone here was doing that in their own way. It has to be taught to each generation but the point is, it’s been around for a long time and Goshen College students rise to those challenges after graduation.”
Students, faculty and visitors are encouraged to not only look at the items but at the descriptions that accompany them. Each piece tells a story and adds a perspective of what is now history.
The items on display range widely and include a tiger skin, a statue made from various gun parts in a “Swords to Plowshares” project and artillery shells that were emptied and shaped into vases—one with the quote “peace on Earth, good will to men.”
Although the exhibit may seem like a collection of art and antiques, the stories behind them embody a sense of importance of Mennonite service workers.
“These people have interesting stories to tell,” Beck said.
“Brought Home” will be open through Nov. 13. The Good Library Gallery is free to the public. For gallery hours, call (574) 535-7418. The upcoming exhibit will contain quilts from around the world as well as mannequins wearing the corresponding country’s clothing from the quilt’s time period.