*Pictured above is the Fordson F Tractor at Mennonite Heritage Village which is nearly identical to those sent to southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) by MCC in 1923. The tractor represents the first major relief effort by MCC at that time.
Last spring, the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in Steinbach, Man., partnered with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to create an exhibit called "MCC: 100 Years". The exhibit celebrates the organization's centennial anniversary. Various artifacts, photos and stories have been pieced together in the Gerhard Ens Gallery to narrate MCC's growth and its work over the past 100 years.
Senior Curator Andrea Klassen from the museum has worked hard to illustrate the impact of MCC's work internationally. From humble beginnings, MCC has reached beyond helping Mennonites and many others in need in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) and Germany to help people worldwide.
"We tried to tell the stories of individuals who had an idea and ran with it," says Klassen, adding that the exhibit is exactly that—a collection of small ideas that have grown to have a lasting impact.
In many ways, that is MCC's story, says Brad Reimer, director of donor advisement and special projects for MCC Manitoba.
"There’s truth to that notion of small ideas,” says Reimer. “An example of this is the rower pump invented by George Klassen here in Manitoba, and it was a small idea that impacted hundreds of thousands of people.”
MCC photo/Rebecca Janzen
To tie these stories of achievements together, the exhibit uses the motif of quilt pattern blocks to illustrate how one idea, one person and one step can have a growing impact.
When MCC first began, they did not imagine their work would continue for 100 years, says Klassen. Yet thousands of blankets, relief kits, thrifted items, cookbooks and other projects have carried Mennonite Central Committee’s name since those early days.
Seeds of ideas such as thrift shops, blanket making and private refugee sponsorship* in Canada have become integral pieces of MCC’s work. These projects have been so long-standing over numerous decades that they may appear ordinary at first, says Klassen. With this exhibit, she hopes to remind visitors of the significant impact of these once “small ideas.”
MCC photo/Rebecca Janzen
Started by four women in Altona in the 1970s, MCC Thrift shops now raise more than $19 million annually for MCC's local and global work.
“There’s a wonderfulness about how that came to be—the grassroots initiatives and volunteerism,” says Reimer. “That’s a very common thread within MCC, and therein lies one of the strengths of being the type of organization that we are. That these small ideas come from all over the place.”
MCC photo/Rebecca Klassen
Klassen herself is connected to the story of MCC through her family. Her grandmother sewed blankets until she was unable to anymore. “I was helped, so I help,” Klassen reiterates the words of her grandmother.
This type of personal connection has motivated many families to give back and carry on MCC's work, including support of its work with refugees seeking resettlement in Canada.
As many different migrations brought Mennonites to North America, Klassen notes there can be little to connect those movements. Their experiences, values and worldviews can differ significantly, yet MCC binds those stories together, she says.
The Mennonites who first conceived a central committee were of Russian-descent who came to Canada and the U.S. in the 1870s. They formed Mennonite Central Committee in the 1920s to help their suffering relatives. During that first decade, they provided relief to many Mennonites—and many others in need—still living in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine). After the Second World War, MCC helped Mennonites arrive in Canada by facilitating their migration.
MCC’s very existence is one of the threads that weave together the Mennonites' stories belonging to these three distinct migrations from Russia to Canada, says Klassen.
Refugee sponsorship became more pronounced in 1979 when a small group of people at MCC were motivated to respond to the situation coming out of Vietnam at that time, says Reimer. “That small group of people approached the Canadian government, and the next thing we know, Mennonites were sponsoring hundreds of refugees.”*
Klassen says the museum is thrilled to hold MCC's story as told in this special exhibit alongside its permanent exhibits, which detail the history of Mennonites. However, the “MCC: 100 Years” exhibit is temporarily closed under the current provincial health orders.
The exhibit will be on display until April 1, 2021. As of February 16, the museum has reopened to the public. For more information regarding current COVID-19 protocols and how to visit the museum, visit https://mennoniteheritagevillage.com/.
*Read more about MCC’s roots in sponsoring refugees here: https://mcccanada.ca/stories/consider-it-resettled.