The annual missions banquet, sponsored by the Goshen College Career Networks and Bible and Religion Department, took place in the College Mennonite Church fellowship hall Tuesday evening. A record number of students, over 60, made reservations for this year’s event that hopes to educate GC students on ways they can serve around the world.
Keith Graber Miller, professor of bible, religion and philosophy, gave an introduction to the event, which is something the department has been doing for 18 years.
During the meal, each table had a representative from Mennonite Mission Network or Mennonite Central Committee and a GC faculty member. They shared and answered questions about their service and missions experiences while getting to know students and their interests.
Sharon Norton, a counselor and recruiter for Mennonite Mission Network, and Les Gustafson-Zook, constituent relations coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, shared opportunities to serve either domestically or internationally with their respective organizations.
Even though “Mennonite” shows up in the name, students do not have to be Mennonite to serve with these organizations, something that was emphasized several times throughout the evening.
After eating, eight representatives, Steve and Dorothy Wiebe Johnson, Rebecca Burkholder, Blaine Derstine, Adam Graber Roth, Rod and Lynda Hollinger-Johnson and Juan Pancheco Luzano, all having served with either MMN or MCC, formed a panel to share how they got into missions, their service experiences and answer students questions.
Each panelist brought a wide variety of experiences in terms of college major, academic degrees completed, reasons for serving and length and location of service.
Panelists shared lessons, stories, regrets, “wow moments” and more with the intention of sparking interest in students.
“I understand Christianity as a life of living in action,” said Blaine Derstine, area director for Central Southern and Northeast Asia at MCC. “It’s not one of talking about. It’s one of acting out.”
Serving with MMN changed the way Rod Hollinger-Janzen thought about his faith, something he thought he already understood from his seminary studies.
“I got the standard North American Mennonite package at seminary,” Hollinger-Janzen said. “Then I went to Benin, West Africa and it’s a completely different cultural context. I had to work through my faith all over again.”
These transformations during service don’t come easy.
“It ruins you,” said Adam Graber Roth who recently served in Egypt for a year. “You encounter people who are hurting and are on the fringes of society and you develop relationships with them. And then you start experiencing their hurt, and you start internalizing that hurt and that suffering.”
Even “ruined,” Graber Roth feels like his heart is still in Egypt
“It’s a really difficult thing, and it’s also a really beautiful thing to say that because of serving internationally, I am ruined.”
“You’re in a constant process of deconstruction and reconstruction of your faith [during service],” said Juan Sebastian Pancheco Luzano who served with MCC. “That’s something you’re not going to be able to find [in other situations].”
Landon Weldy, a senior, had been invited to the banquet previously, but this year the event piqued his interest as he’s preparing to decides what to do after graduation. The speakers’ honestly about the difficulty of their experiences was something he was grateful for.
“[The difficulty of the real world] is something we all have to wrestle with as we leave as we leave Goshen,” Weldy said. “We need more people like that who can open their heart to others and to the marginalized and empathize with them even when it’s hard.”
The banquet closed with a hymn led by Gabe Miller, a junior, and a prayer spoken in unison.
“You’re the kind of students who give me hope,” said Graber Miller at the conclusion of the banquet. “It gives me hope for you and the world.”