It’s the day you run into everyone you’ve ever known. The people you look forward to bumping into every year, and the people you think maybe, just maybe, you’ll successfully avoid. Oh, and just so we’re clear, you won’t.
MCC – Mennonite Central Committee – is a faith based, global relief agency. Born out of the Mennonite denominations, it is a ministry of Anabaptist churches to share the love of Christ by working towards peace and justice, and responding to human needs. And every year in Abbotsford B.C., they host an MCC Sale. People come from all over the Fraser Valley to take in auctions and concerts, pursue the different vendors and shop at the Ten Thousand Villages pop up store.
And then there’s the food. The highly anticipated perogies, sausage, and these deep fried raisin donuts that no one can pronounce, but which will change your life. Carbs, sugar, and gravy – all three food groups are here. And remember, all the money spent on food goes to MCC, so congratulations! You are contributing to global relief work, one bite at a time. Bless you.
Abbotsford was known for many years as the Bible belt. It was a small farming community with a church on every corner and a wholesome sort of feel. Recently, I heard a well-known speaker in the Fraser Valley discussing some of the struggles of living in the post-Christian culture he found himself and his family surrounded by. He joked, “sometimes I think about packing up, buying my wife some denim skirts, homeschooling my kids and moving to Abbotsford.” I laughed, both at the joke and at the hilarity of his summary of the current state of Abbotsford. I couldn’t help but think: “He clearly hasn’t been here in a while.”
Abbotsford is no longer a small farming community. The cultural landscape has shifted greatly since the days of early Mennonite immigrants. Change can be a complicated process. For some, change is something to be thrived on, welcomed and sought out. For others, it’s an intimidating thing that can be difficult to adapt to or embrace. And yet, as inevitable as death and taxes, change surely comes.
Different waves of incoming cultures from all over the world continue to add to the mosaic that is our little piece of Canada. We’ve grown both geographically and in population, with all the joys and struggles that come with that. That former farming community is now a city that has the same issues of homelessness, racism, drug trade, gangs and violent crime as anywhere else. Yet in the midst of that we continue to come together, year after year, for this event know as the MCC Sale, and that really begs the question, why?
In many ways, the MCC Sale is a piece of the old Abbotsford, and yet it continues to grow and to draw people each year. There is something about it that keeps everyone coming back. Mennonite faith and culture in Abbotsford is not what it once was. The different Mennonite denominations are moving towards one another, looking for unity rather than turning a blind eye towards disunity. Nowhere is this more evident than at the MCC Sale. The Mennonite Brethern, the Mennonite Conference, and Holdeman Mennonites all gather. Communities that don’t often intersect come together for this event.
MCC as an organization has become well known in recent years for it’s involvement in working with new refugees to Canada, and supporting churches who wish to sponsor refugees in coming to Canada. This has become a key part of the MCC Sale in the last few years, and I think a deep understanding of the need to serve refugees comes from the fact that two, sometimes three generations ago, our families were refugees. Many, if not most, of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were refugees or immigrants, fleeing persecution and searching for a place to raise their families and practice their faith in peace. And through different paths and different time lines we have arrived here. To this town, to this country, to these people that we have chosen to call home.
The Mennonite community is one of deep commitment. Deep commitment to living out our beliefs. Deep commitment to working hard and serving faithfully. Deep commitment to our community. And these commitments have grown to look different for different people. We no longer all worship within the denominations we’ve historically considered ourselves a part of, but we remain committed to loving, worshiping and serving the Lord. We are no longer a predominately farming community, but we work hard in business or farming or academia, or any other number of professional paths. Most Mennonite denominations are no longer closed communities : people join, people leave, and people return with freedom and waiting open arms.
Canada as a whole is in a constant state of transition. One of the most beautiful attributes of our country is our commitment to fling open our doors to those in need. Each new culture that grows in Canada adds a new piece to the picture, and makes us a little richer. The Mennonite community in Canada is changing. We can no longer be defined by being of white, German descent. We hail from all corners of the globe, and we are richer for the gifts that each of us bring.
Some things stay the same, some things are ever changing, and every year, we gather again, give, and thank God for the work he is doing among us. We continue to come together to celebrate our faith and our heritage, not to cling to the past, but to bring the beautiful things about our Mennonite faith and culture with us into the future.
A Future of 10,000 Villages was originally published at Convivium Magazine