[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Once in a generation comes along a classic that brings new centering to a people as a subculture, a work giving voice to grassroots narratives as well as to scholarly underpinnings. Such is the case with recent publishing of "Development to a Different Drummer" (Good Books, 2004), cowritten by Eastern Mennonite University professors Richard A. Yoder (C 69) and Vernon E. Jantzi (C 64) and retired Goshen College professor Calvin W. Redekop.
All three bring extensive worldwide development experience to their writing. What gives the book unusual authority is its mix of stories from the field along with critical reflection presented at a conference on international development Oct. 1-4, 1998 at EMU. It was an impressive gathering of some 150 people at which 24 Anabaptist/ Mennonite scholars and practitioners presented papers on their experiences in international development.
The book stands in the gap between a generation guided by the sure footing established by the Harold Benders, John Howard Yoders and Guy Hersbergers of the 1950s and those now caught in the shifting geo-political and theological sands of the 21st century. It is authentic in that it recognizes and honors the significant contribution of these forbearers while boldly posing new questions. Through the compelling stories of development workers on the front lines, such as Sue Classen, an MCC health and pastoral worker in Bolivia, El Salvador and Nicaragua for 21 years, the reader gets the clear impression that some of the pat answers with which serious Anabaptists approach their work no longer apply.
"Ultimately, development work is about being kind, being gentle, and walking compassionately on this earth that God has given us to share," she humbly posits.
Or this from Ann Hershberger, working many years with MCC and Rosedale Missions-sponsored health programs in Central America and now teaching nursing at EMU: "My goal is to carry theory into a mud house and tortillas into the ivory tower. My commitment is to carry out service where I am with individuals and with institutions from the base of a relationship with Jesus Christ."
The authors, all of whom have experience both with Mennonite relief agencies and with government development agencies such as USAID and World Bank, are increasingly uncomfortable with the growing hegemony of North America, the country of their origins, in carrying out development missions in the Third World. "We need to acknowledge that the international and domestic development enterprise is largely an expression of Western and middle-class values, and to transcend the 'conversion impulse' that leads us to cross cultures and classes to bring about change."
There is a new vision to bring the Anabaptist ethos to the halls of power as a way of influencing public policy, or as Rick Yoder, puts it"a compelling need for alternative voices at the policy level. In addition to picking up the pieces through our ambulance-driving, we must become part of the process that reduces the need for ambulance-driving."
The book is a must-read for anyone struggling with the tensions arising from a rapidly changing world rushing toward a clash of theocracies, our own United States included. It is not only a manual for anyone considering service on the front lines, but for all Anabaptist Christians caught in the crossfire of the cultural wars here in North America.
Dick Benner (C 91), assistant professor of communication