AMBS response to Hilary Scarsella

Sara Wenger Shenk, President | As AMBS President, I speak on behalf of the Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) and the AMBS Board Chair to affirm Hilary Scarsella in her decision to publish her account of a sexual assault she experienced in 2009 while a student at AMBS and of AMBS’s administrative response. Further, while this incident happened before my time at AMBS, I speak now on behalf of AMBS as an institution and the administrators who were directly involved at the time of the assault. Thank you, Hilary, for daring to disclose the truth of your experience at great personal risk. And thank you for inviting AMBS to provide an official response.

Remembering 37 years of AMBS book celebrations

By David Cramer

On the right, IMS Managing Editor David C. Cramer, Academic Dean Beverly Lapp and IMS Director Jamie Pitts prepare to speak at this year’s book celebration in the AMBS lounge. (Credit: Nekeisha Alayna Alexis)

The following is an address by Institute of Mennonite Studies Managing Editor David Cramer, delivered at the annual AMBS and IMS book celebration on May 1, 2019.

Since this is my first book celebration as IMS managing editor, I spent some time over the last couple of weeks preparing by digging through files of previous celebrations. What I discovered is that this celebration is itself a rich AMBS tradition, spanning four decades and a number of administrations. So, before we celebrate this year’s AMBS and IMS publications, I trust you’ll indulge me for a few minutes as we pay tribute to our predecessors.

In the fall of 1982, recently appointed IMS Director Willard Swartley sent a memorandum to AMBS faculty in which he wrote, “As part of the IMS portfolio, I would like to assist the collegiality of the AMBS faculty in research and publication.” As one way to do so, he requested that faculty send him their recent publications so that he could include them in a faculty bulletin. He also arranged with publishers and the bookstore to make the 40-percent author discount for any AMBS faculty publication available to the entire faculty. This not only encouraged faculty to purchase each other’s works, but it also served as a subtle reminder that writing and scholarship are communal endeavors. Extending the author discount to all faculty was a way of recognizing and honoring the role the seminary community as a whole played in birthing faculty publications into the world.

In response to Willard’s proposal, IMS founding director C. J. Dyck — who was still a faculty member at AMBS — wrote Willard a brief note: “Willard: great. I didn’t do this. I did, fairly regularly as [books] came in, have a 15 min. ‘party’ in the lounge, with special table, a little speech, etc. to honor the author. Keep it up. CJD”

Under Willard’s direction, what had been an ad hoc “party in the lounge” became a regular “faculty-staff tea” at the end of each semester to celebrate each other’s publications and to purchase them at the shared discounted rate. Throughout most of the 1980s and 90s, this celebration — referred to variously as “faculty tea,” “celebration tea,” and “book celebration” — was a way to mark writing and editing accomplishments at the end of each semester.

By the fall of 1992, the Dean’s Office, under Gayle Gerber Koontz’s leadership, had begun partnering with IMS in these semi-annual book celebrations. By this time, a bibliography of AMBS faculty and IMS projects accompanied these celebrations, typically divided into three categories: books, articles and IMS publications.

By 1999, when Mary Schertz and Barbara Nelson Gingerich began as IMS director and managing editor, respectively, the book celebration became an annual event in early May rather than a semi-annual event at the end of each semester. That year, the accompanying bibliography was a full page long. By 2001, it was three pages long, and by 2004 it was seven pages long. I’m not sure whether this increase had more to do to an increase in faculty production or with the new IMS director and managing editor getting on their colleagues about submitted their work to the bibliography. (I suspect it was a bit of both.)

In 2005, a new section was added to the bibliography recognizing student publications, of which there were three that year. This was a significant development for an event once referred to as “faculty tea.” It acknowledges that the scholarly work of the seminary isn’t just done by faculty, with students simply absorbing the scholarship of their professors.

Instead, it presents a picture of an inclusive and collaborative scholarly community — one that is enriched by the contributions of students and staff in addition to faculty.

At some point in the 2010s, the references to student publications disappear. But this is not because students stopped producing scholarly work or because their work was suddenly demoted in importance. Instead, it’s because the distinctions among faculty, staff and student publications was eliminated. After all, such a distinction is difficult to maintain in an environment that encourages scholarly collaboration among faculty, staff and students. As Mary Schertz stated in her opening comments at the 2011 book celebration, “I have been thinking these past few years that there may not be any seminary anywhere in North America that does more scholarly collaboration than we do — not only among faculty but also between faculty and students — not only within our particular community but [also] partnering with others on our continent and around the world.”

By 2008, the bibliography expanded to include not just books, articles and journals but also lectureships. This addition is yet another reminder that scholarship isn’t a solitary endeavor that takes place behind a desk in an office but is something performed best in community. By 2009, there’s a recognition that scholarship can even be done via newfangled technology, as there’s a single entry for DVDs: a series of six DVD presentations on two disks by Alan Kreider, titled Resident but Alien: How the Early Church Grew. One suspects these DVD lectures were the genesis of his later magnum opus, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, which appears in the 2016 bibliography.

So today, as we celebrate our 37th year of book celebrations, it is good and right to honor those whose labors established, maintained and developed this tradition of celebrating AMBS’s scholarly achievements each year. And while not everyone who carried on this tradition can be with us today, we’re honored to have Willard, Mary and Barb join us.

For all those local history geeks like me, I’ve copied all of the back issues of our bibliographies I could find, starting with what I’m calling Celebration 1.1 from spring 1983. (Incidentally, that first faculty tea took place when I was two days shy of eight weeks old, to give you some perspective.) That makes this year’s issue Celebration 37, which is the main reason we’ve gathered here today.

As in past years, this year’s bibliography demonstrates a robust commitment to scholarship on the part of IMS and the AMBS community, including faculty, staff and students. Together we’ve had a hand in publishing four books, eight journals, 25 articles and essays, and four book reviews.

Our scholarship has taken many forms, including online encyclopedia articles, blog posts, podcasts, academic presentations and lectureships, and public presentations and workshops.

Our faculty, staff, and students have taken our name from Elkhart to Notre Dame; South Bend; Granger; Chicago; West Palm Beach, Florida; Newton, Kansas; Denver; Vienna, Austria; and as far as Sydney, Australia, and Jakarta, Indonesia.

We’ve published not only in English but also in French, Spanish, German and Arabic. In fact, three of the four books we published were in languages other than English.

And, finally, not only have we produced a substantial amount of scholarship this year, but we’ve also had a substantial amount of scholarly work done about us this past year. Thus, if you go to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, you can find a new entry on IMS by Jamie Pitts and a new entry on AMBS by Karl Stutzman. This past year Ben Ollenburger was honored with a Festschrift, The Earth Is the Lord’s. And just this past month, there was a special issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review devoted to remembering the life and legacy of the late Alan Kreider.

This has truly been another great year for the scholarly community of AMBS. I’d like to thank our president, academic dean, and IMS director for the many ways they’ve encouraged and supported our scholarship this year; our librarians and bookstore managers for the ways they not only support our scholarship but also work to disseminate it and make it more accessible; Karen Stoltzfus, for organizing this morning’s celebration and preparing this spread; and, finally, each of you for coming out to support and honor each other in your scholarly work.


(l. to r.) Former Institute of Mennonite Studies Managing Editor Barb Nelson Gingerich, former IMS Director Mary H. Schertz, former IMS Director Willard Swartley and current IMS Managing Editor David C. Cramer at this year’s book celebration in the AMBS lounge. (Not pictured: Current IMS Director Jamie Pitts and Associate Director Andy Brubacher Kaethler) (Credit: Annette Brill Bergstresser)

Fuertes and Neufeld Smiths receive AMBS Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition

By Marlys Weaver-Stoesz for AMBS

Al Fuertes, Ph.D. (Credit: Irene Girsang); Cynthia Neufeld Smith, M.Div. and Roger Neufeld Smith, M.Div. (Credit: Jakob Seiferth)

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Al Fuertes of Fairfax, Virginia, a professor with a focus on peacebuilding and conflict transformation in war zones, and Roger and Cynthia Neufeld Smith of Jackson, Mississippi, former pastors at Southern Hills Mennonite Church in Topeka, Kansas, are the 2019 recipients of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s (AMBS) Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition.

The Elkhart, Indiana, seminary’s annual award honors alumni with an outstanding record of faithful ministry and service. Fuertes earned a Master of Arts: Peace Studies (MAPS) in 1997, and Roger and Cynthia Neufeld Smith earned Master of Divinity degrees in 1986 and 1989, respectively.

“This year’s award recipients represent the exemplary service we note in the ministry of so many AMBS alumni — in congregational roles as well as academic, peacemaking and mission roles,” noted AMBS Alumni Director Janeen Bertsche Johnson, M.Div. “Cynthia and Roger, in their 30 years of ministry in one congregation, have shown the fruits of long-term relationships and steady leadership. Al, as a teacher and practitioner of peacemaking in the United States, the Philippines and many other places, is influencing hundreds of people to work for peace and justice in communities that have experienced devastating conflict.”

Al Fuertes

Originally from Surigao City, Philippines, Fuertes worked from 1991 to 1995 as a resident pastor with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Sto. Nino, San Agustin, Surigao del Sur, an ongoing war zone. Ed Martin, then regional coordinator for Southeast Asia for Mennonite Central Committee, visited him in 1995 and, after hearing about his work, offered him a full scholarship to earn a master’s degree in peace studies. Fuertes began studying at AMBS in 1995, having chosen the seminary largely because of Ted Koontz, Ph.D., and Gayle Gerber Koontz, Ph.D., AMBS faculty members (now retired) who had been his professors at the Silliman University Divinity School in Dumaguete City, Philippines, where he earned a Bachelor of Theology in 1990.

“Having been in a war zone for five years prior to coming to AMBS,” he said, “I was overwhelmed and consumed by so much anger at the Philippine government and Philippine army for human atrocities and all kinds of injustices, militarization and oppression committed against Filipino people.”

Fuertes credits AMBS with introducing him to the field of peace studies and peacebuilding, naming “memorable and life-changing courses” taught by the Koontzes as well as now retired professors Mary Schertz, Ph.D, and Daniel Schipani, Dr.Psy., Ph.D. He wrote his MAPS thesis on partnerships between global organizations and churches, especially between developed and developing countries. He also recalled the vibrant and supportive learning community and noted that he has continued relationships from his AMBS cohort, collaborating on projects together around the world.

Now an associate professor at George Mason University’s School of Integrative Studies in Fairfax, Virginia, Fuertes focuses his work and teaching on intercultural and interreligious dialogue, cross-cultural experiential learning, conflict resolution and transformation, human trafficking and smuggling, community-based trauma healing, sustainability of Indigenous communities in Southeast Asia, refugee and internal displacement, and liberation theology, among other fields.

“I am who and where I am today partly because of AMBS through MCC,” he said.

Fuertes participated in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program in 1990-91 and in Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1999 and 2000. He earned a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in 2007. He is also a covenant minister at Wellspring United Church of Christ in Centreville, Virginia.

Roger and Cynthia Neufeld Smith

Roger and Cynthia Neufeld Smith not only experienced spiritual and academic growth during their time at AMBS, but also met each other while studying at the seminary, marrying in the AMBS chapel in 1987.

Originally from northwestern Ohio, Cynthia Neufeld Smith earned her bachelor’s degree in music from Bluffton College (now University) in 1976, taught public school music, and then earned her master’s degree in music theory from Bowling Green State University in 1982. Feeling unsatisfied with her life and uncertain about what to do next, she came to AMBS in the fall of 1984 “for a year of discernment.” She took organ and piano lessons while at AMBS and ended up focusing her MDiv studies on worship and music. She later earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in church music with an emphasis in organ performance and choral conducting from the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 2000.

Roger Neufeld Smith, who grew up in central Kansas, graduated from Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He worked four years as a youth pastor at his home congregation, First Mennonite Church in Newton, and one year as a research chemist in Wichita, Kansas, before testing the “seminary waters” by enrolling in January interterm classes at AMBS in 1981 and 1982.

“As I moved into a leadership role with our church’s young adult group and lived in a household that aspired to be an intentional Christian community, I realized that I needed more biblical background and pastoral skills to be a ministry leader,” he said. “Though I still had doubts about pastoral ministry as a profession [after the interterm classes], I decided to enroll full time at AMBS to learn how to be a Christian minister.”

Roger Neufeld Smith said his professors helped him gain the biblical grounding and pastoral skills he’s used throughout his ministry. Specifically, he named Willard Swartley’s (Ph.D.) New Testament classes and David Augsburger’s (Ph.D.) family systems course, which he said had a “profound effect” on his life. Cynthia Neufeld Smith referenced the Bible classes in particular as having deepened and expanded her understanding of how the Bible came to be and of how to read it.

The Neufeld Smiths also emphasized the importance of the close community they found at AMBS. The K-Group they formed on campus has met almost every year since their graduation.

“The AMBS student community supported and inspired me to learn and grow in so many ways as we shared and discussed and argued and worshiped and confessed our humanity to one another,” said Roger Neufeld Smith. “The experience of such a learning, worshiping, discipling, sharing community gave me a vision for what God’s reign might look like no matter what the situation or context.”

From September 1988 until July 2018, the Neufeld Smiths pastored together at Southern Hills.

“It’s a wonderful congregation, and the musical resources in the congregation as well as the opportunities for me to be involved in music in the community all contributed to our decision to stay so long,” Cynthia Neufeld Smith reflected. In addition to pastoring, she taught worship and congregational arts classes at the former AMBS–Great Plains Extension in North Newton, Kansas (2000-11) and offered her music and worship gifts in various conference and denominational settings.

The couple is now leading a Mennonite Mission Network Service Adventure unit — a yearlong service assignment for young adults — in Jackson, Mississippi.

“It is both rewarding and challenging to live with three young people; participate in the very small, interracial Open Door Mennonite Church; and learn to know a new (to us) part of the country,” said Cynthia Neufeld Smith. “Our training at AMBS — in Bible study, theology, marriage/family systems, etc. — continues to serve us well in this new context.”

She noted that her AMBS education and experience are also contributing to her work on the team that’s creating the new Voices Together hymnal.

While in Kansas, Roger Neufeld Smith served as a board member for the Topeka Center for Peace and JusticeInterfaith of Topeka and the Topeka Justice Unity Ministry Project. He has also served on multiple Western District Conference committees and as WDC moderator. The Neufeld Smiths have two adult children.

Celebrating contributions to scholarship during 2017–18

From left: Andy Brubacher Kaethler, Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Culture and Associate Director of IMS; Sophia Austin, IMS Assistant and current MDiv student from Missouri; Barb Nelson Gingerich, IMS Managing Editor; and Karl Stutzman, Director of Library Services; with a sampling of 2017–18 publications.

Each year, the Institute of Mennonite Studies (IMS) and the AMBS learning community as a whole — teaching faculty, administrators, staff and students — engage in scholarly work that contributes to our disciplines; wrestles with critical biblical, theological, ethical, spiritual and social concerns; and supports the work of church leaders, academics and followers of Jesus Christ within and beyond the church.

At a gathering on May 1, the campus community celebrated these publishing efforts from the current academic year and asked God to bless them so they can be part of God’s reconciling mission in the world.

The list of AMBS/IMS publications for 2017–18 is available for download here.

AMBS recognizes alumnus Palmer Becker for ministry and service

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — A long-time church leader, pastor, missionary, church planter, author and educator has been named the recipient of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition for 2018.

Palmer Becker of Kitchener, Ontario, who earned a Master of Religious Education from Mennonite Biblical Seminary (MBS — now AMBS) in 1965, will receive the award on April 29 in his home congregation, Waterloo (Ontario) North Mennonite Church. Becker will also be the featured speaker at AMBS’s May 6 commencement service.

“Much of Palmer’s recent work has been in interpreting Anabaptism, both in North America and around the world,” said Janeen Bertsche Johnson, alumni director and campus pastor. “This was a key contribution that led us to select him.”

Becker is the author of 15 books, including the widely used booklet, Missio Dei No. 18: “What is an Anabaptist Christian?” (now available in 18 languages), and an expansion of that resource called Anabaptist Essentials: Ten Signs of a Unique Christian Faith (Herald, 2017). Since 2007, he has taught short courses on the subject of Anabaptist identity in more than 15 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America with Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness.

Becker is currently introducing a 16-session discipleship and renewal resource, Begin Anew, to regional conferences and local congregations. Published jointly as a free online resource by Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church CanadaBegin Anew seeks to help people establish solid beliefs, examine a relational church, adopt spiritual practices and choose a ministry in the church and a mission in the world.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for living out core values that were, in a major way, instilled in me at MBS,” Becker reflected. “I hope this recognition will be a witness to prospective church workers who are looking for a training program that has a passion for biblical studies, Anabaptist theology and peacemaking.”

Becker grew up near Freeman, South Dakota, and attended Freeman Junior College (FJC), where he met Ardys Preheim. They married in 1958 and have four grown children. Becker also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Goshen (Indiana) College; did graduate studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia; and earned a Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Becker shared that while attending FJC, he was also beginning his own hog-breeding operation. As part of Christian Youth Volunteers at FJC, he was invited to preach at a small country church.

“After the service, my favorite uncle placed his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and asked, ‘When are you going to stop feeding pigs and start feeding people? I believe you have a call to be a pastor,’” he recalled. “I consulted with Ardys’ pastor, J. Herbert Fretz, who advised me concerning a college major and enrollment in seminary.”

At Goshen College, Becker was a member of a pre-seminary club hosted by H. S. Bender, who introduced him to Anabaptist thinking and encouraged him to attend MBS. During a term of alternative service in Taiwan, where he served as director of a mobile medical team and with China Sunday School Association (1958–1963), he developed an interest in Christian education and drama, which brought him to MBS to pursue a combination of Christian education and pastoral ministry.

“The biblical studies at MBS prepared me for the mystery and joy of meeting and obeying God,” he said. He credited William KlassenClarence BaumanPaul MillerLeland Harder and Erland Waltner in particular as professors who influenced him.

“They also served as models as I went on to mentor and teach prospective pastors in the Hesston (Kansas) Pastoral Ministries Training Program,” Becker commented.

“The sense of community that existed on campus was heart-warming, affirming and memorable for both me and my family,” Becker said. “It shaped my lifelong interest in community as being central to who we are.”

Following his graduation from seminary, Becker served as a pastor in Oklahoma and then as executive secretary of the Commission on Home Ministries of the General Conference Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas (1969–78). He also held pastorates in British Columbia, Minnesota, Oregon and Georgia, and served as chaplain at Menno Simons Centre and the University of British Columbia (1988–91) and as director of the Hesston (Kansas) College Pastoral Ministries Program (1999–2006). In conjunction with his pastorates, he worked with Southern Cheyenne, Chinese, Laotian and Hispanic congregations and fellowship groups.

While preparing to give the keynote address at a Hesston College conference on “Discipling New Believers from an Anabaptist Perspective” in 2002, Becker said three core statements came to him: “Jesus is the center of our faith; community is the center of our life; and reconciliation is the center of our work.”

“No doubt these had been rooted in my study of The Anabaptist Vision by H. S. Bender,” he added.

Becker’s address came to be published in Mennonite Mission Network’s Missio Dei Series as “What is an Anabaptist Christian?”

“To make it easier for lay and international readers, I asked an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher to mark all words with which a Grade Nine student would have difficulty. As a result, I found alternatives for 70 words,” he recalled.

Becker noted that Stuart Murray’s book The Naked Anabaptist was published around the same time, “helping Mennonites recognize they have something valuable to share.”

“We are in something of an identity and faith crisis concerning who we are as Mennonites,” he reflected. “Old methods and expressions aren’t working anymore, and people are leaving the church — especially young people — and yet there is a search for community and desire for significant ministry. Many are finding the core values found in ‘What is an Anabaptist Christian?’ and Anabaptist Essentials to be of substantial help in declaring their identity and faith.”

Anabaptist Essentials is available in English, French and Spanish — with plans for translation into several other languages. Mennonite World Conference will give two copies to each constituent conference at its General Council Sessions in Kenya in April.

Seminary to dedicate solar panel array

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) will dedicate an array of 180 330-watt solar panels on Thursday, April 20, 4:30–5 p.m. on the south side of its campus in Elkhart, Indiana.

The panels, installed over the first week of April, are expected to generate nearly 79,000 kWh annually, offsetting more than a quarter of the electricity used in the seminary’s Waltner Hall each year.

“This is the largest solar panel array in the city of Elkhart,” noted Missy Kauffman Schrock, AMBS director of development. “We are excited to add solar to our community and also to have it as another resource for conservation education.”

The solar panel dedication will take place during Rooted and Grounded: A Conference on Land and Christian Discipleship, which AMBS is hosting April 20–22 for the third time for participants from across North America. The seminary will also hold a workshop on the panels on Friday, April 211–4 p.m. in Waltner Hall Room 214 on the AMBS campus; a tour will be included. Both the dedication and the workshop are free and open to the public.

Gerald Shenk, AMBS major gifts officer, initiated the idea of installing solar panels at AMBS in the fall of 2015. Kauffman Schrock picked up the idea and used it as her Master of Business Administration capstone project. Over the course of the last year, the project has come to fruition with help from the Energy Solutions Division of Telamon Enterprise Ventures, Carmel, Indiana, and a grant from AEP (American Electric Power) administered by Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, Indianapolis.

“Installing solar at AMBS was great to study in theory, but to see it come to life and to know that it will make a real impact on our campus, both financially and environmentally, is so gratifying,” said Kauffman Schrock. “At AMBS we take seriously our responsibility to be stewards of creation, and this is one of many ways we are actively living out God’s reconciling mission.”

Both Kauffman Schrock and Ray Wilson of Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, who helped AMBS apply for the grant for the solar panels, will lead the April 21 workshop on the panels.

The seminary demonstrates its commitment to creation care not only through physical features of its campus grounds and facilities — which include six acres of native prairie and more than 20 species of trees and a library that earned the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Standard — but also through academic offerings, community life and relationships with other creation care practitioners.

In 2013, AMBS joined the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA), a consortium of 50 seminaries working on creation care issues. Since joining SSA, AMBS has received almost $5,000 in grants for various projects.

Additionally, AMBS was recognized as 12th of more than 230 seminaries in North America for course offerings in creation care by the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development in September 2015. The seminary offers an Environmental Sustainability Concentration in its Master of Arts: Peace Studies program and its Master of Divinity Peace Studies concentration through a 15-week residency at Merry Lea Environmental Center of Goshen (Indiana) College.

On April 12, AMBS received 10 trees native to northern Indiana, worth a total of $2,000, from Dogwood Hills Tree Farm in Middlebury, Indiana, through a tree-planting grant from the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO). Ongoing campus activities include community presentations on environmental issues, a large student-run garden and maple tree tapping for syrup in the spring, among others.

Donations revitalize !Explore program

Annette Brill Bergstresser

!Explore participants in the 2013 program during their group experience at AMBS. (Photo by Sae Jin Lee)

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Major gifts from two donors are breathing new life into Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s summer youth leadership development program.

!Explore: A Theological Program for High School Youth will be able to continue on a regular basis for at least the next decade, thanks to a gift of $751,811 from the estate of Leatha Zook, formerly of Orrville, Ohio, which continued the support begun in 2015 with a $50,000 gift from Laura Ann King and the late Kenneth King of Scottdale, Pennsylvania. The program offers youth in 10th, 11th and 12th grades the opportunity to develop leadership skills and test their gifts for ministry.

“These gifts are huge because they help us continue a program that has proven to be immensely successful,” said Andy Brubacher Kaethler, director of AMBS’s Center for Faith Formation and Culture (CFFC), which administers the program. “Rarely do I open an issue of The Mennonite, Canadian Mennonite or Mennonite World Review and not read something about a former !Explore participant. Many of them are leaders in the church in Canada and the U.S.”

Kaethler added that !Explore participants who have chosen vocations outside of the church are going about them in ways that are informed by the program: “One participant from eight years ago told me that although he had considered becoming a pastor, he was going to become a doctor. He said, ‘!Explore has shaped the way I think about what it means to become a doctor, who I want to serve and what kind of doctor I want to become.’ I think that’s huge.”

A grant from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, Inc., initially funded !Explore from 2003 to 2010, when it ran every summer, sometimes with two groups of students. Since then, AMBS has had to raise funds to run the program, so it has been offered about every other year. Kaethler is grateful that the gifts will help the program continue to bear fruit into the future.

Inspiration and challenge

Kaethler said he consistently hears about the importance of both the group and congregational components of the program.

In the 16-day group experience, participants come together at AMBS in Elkhart, Indiana, for worship, spiritual disciplines, service and study of a theological question. AMBS faculty and students serve as mentors and conversation partners.

For 100 hours during other weeks that summer, the students fulfill the congregational experience part of the program, working alongside a pastor in their home community in a mentoring relationship. Within their congregations, they are testing their gifts, practicing leadership skills and continuing to engage spiritual disciplines and theological questions.

“Part of what makes the program work is that the youth come here to the seminary to be with youth who are kind of like them; they’re used to being leaders, but they’re not used to being with other leaders. They can really challenge and inspire each other, and being able to do that on the AMBS campus is significant,” he said. “Also, working and developing their leadership skills in their congregations, surrounded by adults who will continue to encourage them — that’s another key part.”

Josh Janzen of Aurora, Nebraska, a 2013 !Explore alum and a current Master of Divinity student at AMBS, said his peers’ questions inspired and challenged him: “I loved being able to get into deep and complex questions about faith and theology in !Explore, such as how we interpret Scripture.”

Janzen is one of three !Explore alumni who are currently studying at AMBS. Of the 158 students who have come through the program, eight have returned to AMBS to study. At least nine have gone on to other seminaries or theological schools.

Integration into AMBS academics

About four years ago, AMBS leaders began to work at integrating the program more fully into the curricular life of the seminary, said Kaethler, who also serves as assistant professor of Christian formation and culture at AMBS. For example, the !Explore event pastors are now seminary students, and those who serve in this capacity can get course credit.

He noted that part of Lilly Endowment’s goal in funding programs like !Explore was to help shape seminaries. A book published in March 2016, How Youth Ministry Can Change Theological Education – If We Let It: Reflections from the Lilly Endowment’s High School Theology Program Seminar, edited by Kenda Creasy Dean and Christy Lang Hearlson, includes a chapter by Kaethler with reflections on his experience of directing !Explore.

He shared feedback from Mary Schertz, professor of New Testament at AMBS, who met with a small group of !Explore students five to six times during the group experience to explore their biblical and theological questions together.

“She said that what she liked about working with !Explore youth was that she could try educational approaches with the students that she might not try in a seminary classroom. If one of them worked, she’d use it in her seminary-level courses,” he said. “This setting gave her a chance to test her creative ideas.”

Leatha Zook, who passed away in December 2015, would have been glad to hear about these transformative experiences, said Steve Schmid of Wooster, Ohio, one of her nephews, who delivered the check from Zook’s estate to AMBS in August with his sister, Barb Fridley of Elkhart, Indiana. Leatha and her husband, Paul, were farmers; they didn’t have children of their own and were close to their nieces and nephews.

“Leatha gave several transformational gifts while she was alive, helping the church and church organizations in Kidron, Smithville and Orrville [Ohio] do things that were only distant dreams — not just business as usual,” Schmid said.

“Leatha’s gift demonstrates her love for AMBS, youth and the church, and she was able to express that beautifully through her final gift,” added Missy Kauffman Schrock, director of development for AMBS.

According to Gerald Shenk, major gifts officer for AMBS, donor Laura Ann King also expressed affirmation for the transformative nature of the youth program. King’s late husband, Kenneth, had worked with young people at Goshen (Indiana) College and Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

“Kenneth passed away in 2002, but they had spoken often of their hopes for these funds, and she was very grateful to be able to follow through in fulfilling their shared vision to make a difference in the lives of young people who love the church,” Shenk said.

Kaethler is energized by the way that the !Explore program generates excitement, goodwill and partnerships between families, churches, the seminary and young people: “When you have all those groups of people working toward the same cause, this is where the call of Samuel comes alive today: young people, parents and church leaders can work to develop the next generation of faithful, thoughtful leaders.”

The application deadline for !Explore 2017 is Feb. 1, 2017.

Longtime mission worker to receive AMBS alumni award

AMBS staff

Linda Shelly, recipient of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition for 2016. (Photo: David Fisher Fast, Mennonite Mission Network)

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Linda Shelly of Newton, Kansas, Latin America director for Mennonite Mission Network, has been named the recipient of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition for 2016.

The AMBS Alumni Council selected Shelly to receive the award, which recognizes a graduate who has given at least ten years of faithful service to God. Shelly graduated from AMBS in 1989 with a Master of Arts: Peace Studies.

“As we thought about people who have contributed, Linda came to mind as someone who has served long and well,” says Kay Bontrager-Singer of Goshen, Indiana, a member of the Alumni Council.

Shelly grew up in Newton and graduated from Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, having majored in history, social sciences and liberal arts with an emphasis in Spanish. From 1981 to 1983, she worked with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Bolivia in rural education. She lived in Honduras from 1983 to 1987, serving as MCC country representative and in refugee camps, and from 1990 to 1992, working in justice and peace ministry and nurturing a new faith community with the Honduran Mennonite Church. She also worked for a total of 12 years in two different time periods at MCC headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania, first as a voluntary service worker in Human Resources and then as director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

She moved back to Kansas in 2001 to support her parents during her father’s illness and death, and was called to become Mennonite Mission Network’s regional director for Latin America in 2002. In addition to supporting mission workers in Latin America, coordinating programs, and connecting North American and Latin American congregations and conferences, she serves as an advisor to the Movement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology in Latin America (MTAL) and has helped Mennonite Women USA bring Sister Care training to Latin America with MTAL.

Shelly has been a key person in helping initiate the Global Anabaptist Network of Women Doing Theology, which took root at the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Pennsylvania last year with the hope of strengthening and encouraging Anabaptist women around the world.

In addition to her role with Mission Network, Linda is vice president of the board of directors of Mennonite World Review. In 2002, she received the Journey Award from Everence for her stewardship of gifts and resources. She is a member of First Mennonite Church in Newton, where she has served on the Outreach Commission and in other roles. She also regularly attends Iglesia Menonita Casa Betania, which meets in the same building.

Shelly says she came to AMBS after her first term of service in Honduras, where she worked with the Mennonite Church with refugees from the wars in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua.

“Serving in Honduras was very challenging and also was a time of spiritual growth,” she says. “I felt I needed a place to process what I had experienced and do more biblical and theological work to reach clearer understandings and integrate my experiences in Latin America into my faith and life.”

She says she appreciated her professors’ openness in encouraging her to use experiences from Latin America as case studies and as a basis for some of her assignments.

“This helped with integration,” she reflects. “When I returned to Honduras, I took with me key questions from my hermeneutics class like: What did this passage mean to the people who first heard it? What does it mean for people here in this place? What does it call us to do?”

“I think it’s good that AMBS is a place where people can go who are serious about deepening their faith and biblical and theological understandings, even if they aren’t sure where their studies will lead,” she adds. “I would also encourage AMBS to actively work with students in discernment processes towards roles in mission, ministry and broader church service.”

Scott Litwiller, data services manager for the AMBS Development Team, was supervised by Shelly while doing mission work in Colombia from December 2011 through October 2013.

“She has a great passion for Latin America,” he says. “She is very knowledgeable and cares for her workers and the communities they are in.”

Shelly will visit AMBS on Thursday, Nov. 3, to accept the award and speak about her ministry at a lunchtime gathering at the Lambright Center Dining Hall (lunch begins at 11:40; the event runs from 12 to 12:50 p.m.). The public is invited;

Nigerian church leaders rely on the Bible and prayer

Mary E. Klassen

The seminary community surrounded Obed and Phena Dashan (dressed in blue) when they shared from their ministry in the context of violence in northern Nigeria.

When Obed and Phena Dashan told students and faculty at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary how they feel God’s love surrounding them in spite of facing death every day in their ministry in Nigeria, the community gathered around them to pray while they also honored them for the faithful ministry.

Both Obed, a 1990 AMBS graduate, and Phena, a 1991 graduate, received the 2015 Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition. During their September 24 and 25 visit to AMBS, they related how challenging life is for Christians in the northern part of Nigeria where Boko Haram is attempting to establish Islamic Sharia law.

Obed, who earned a Master of Divinity at AMBS and a Doctor of Ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Ill., is a leader in the Church of Christ in Nations. He recounted that as many as 500 Christian churches have been destroyed in northern Nigeria. People are killed daily, and buildings and houses are burned, he said.

“Suicide bombers come to church,” Obed continued. “Every time we leave our houses we are aware that we may not come back. You always budget death when you leave your house and when you come back you are thankful.”

What sustains them in their ministry is the Word of God and prayer, the Dashans emphasized. “We find strength and encouragement in the Word of God.” Obed said several times. He remembers that Willard Swartley, now AMBS professor emeritus of New Testament, encouraged students to memorize Scripture. “I still memorize Scripture every morning, because I find in doing so that I grow and learn every day. I discovered that the understanding of the Word of God comes by studying it and by knowing it and applying it in my own life.”

Prayer also is essential for them. “It is a powerful way of surviving,” Obed said. “When you come before God and cry, and you tell him what is going on and what you’re feeling, definitely he sends help.”

Phena summed up another theme of their lives and ministry when she said, “When you have peace you have everything.”

Jesus’ teaching to love and forgive enemies is the model the Dashans try to follow. In talking about Boko Haram, an Islamic group that has targeted Christians and other Muslims with violence, Obed said, “We continue to love them and pray for them, and in loving them and praying for them we find the inspiration to keep going. We find inspiration also that we are walking in the steps of the Master. We don’t do this by our strength; we find strength in the Word of God. We find strength in the Holy Spirit. We find strength in community of believers, knowing many of you are praying for us.”

Reflecting further, Obed added, ‘Love is not natural; it is supernatural. You would normally want to hit back. That’s the natural response to violence. When the inner being is touched by divine love, your perspective is transformed.”

One way they have worked for peace is by bringing Christians and Muslims together for conversation and working toward common goals. Another is through education.

Phena, whose Master of Arts: Theological Studies degree focused on church history, has been registrar and instructor at a Christian school. Now, as the first woman in Nigeria to head a theological school, she oversees theological education by extension for more than 3,000 students.

“We make sure in the curriculum we have a section about peace—how to approach the conflicting situation we are in, how we can make a difference,” she explained.

In spite of the difficulty of their lives and ministry, both Obed and Phena insisted that others face challenges just as serious. “AMBS prepared us to see that other people faced suffering. What do you think of people in Iran? People in other countries are facing the same thing.”

The AMBS alumni recognition highlighted Phena’s work in theological education as well as her life witness in their context. Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president said, “We can’t imagine what it’s like to feel at risk every day, constantly aware that violent persons may kill you or your loved ones and being surrounded by many displaced persons. Yet you talked of how, in the midst of it all, what you feel most is the love surrounding you.”

In honoring Obed, Wenger Shenk said, “As a peacemaker you have chosen to take great risks to calm volatile situations, drawing on the peace study you engaged while here are AMBS. You are a leader among the people who have chosen to stand together, and we are profoundly grateful that we can give you this thanks.”

Each year, the AMBS Alumni Committee selects one or two graduates to receive the Ministry and Service Recognition. This year the group especially wanted the award to be an encouragement for someone ministering in difficult circumstances. Phena concluded, “It is a challenge for me to do better. It is a challenge for me to reach higher, so I say thank you very much.”