Racial/Ethnic Education Programs Face Funding Challenge

GOSHEN, IND. (MEA) — There is good news and bad news in racial/ethnic education for Mennonite Church USA, according to Mennonite Education Agency (MEA).

Carlos Romero, executive director of this churchwide ministry, says, "The church’s commitment to racial/ethnic education remains strong. And young people want to learn and to prepare to serve the church. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a giving deficit continues. We are unable to take on new students. We must turn people away from programs that have the potential to change lives."

MEA administers Racial/Ethnic Leadership Education (RELE) programs on behalf of the church. These programs — operated in partnership with African-American Mennonite Association, Iglesia Menonita Hispana, Native Mennonite Ministries, Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College and Hesston College — have struggled with funding deficits in recent years.

This story from Melody Pannell, who was supported in her education through RELE’s LARK (Leaders Aspiring to Receive Knowledge) Scholarship Program, illustrates how RELE and the church’s congregations and educational institutions work together to build leaders:

"I remember the article that I wrote for LARK News after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in social work from Eastern Mennonite University in 1997. It was titled, ‘God Has a Plan!’ I quoted my favorite scripture from Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’

"Today I say these words again with even more confidence, trust and unwavering faith … God has a plan!

"After graduating from EMU, I continued to serve as a resident director and graduate assistant in the Multicultural Services office. I implemented and facilitated programs for the campus community that addressed the importance of diversity, racial understanding and reconciliation. I also led the peer mentoring program and a support group for women of color.

"In 1998 I returned to New York and served as the worship leader and cabinet chairperson at my church, Seventh Avenue Mennonite. I was accepted into the Advance Standing Program at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Work, and also began working full time at Marymount College, an all-women’s college in Tarrytown, New York. This experience was a true blessing.

"In 2000, I graduated from Fordham with a master’s in social work. I then started work at Edwin Gould Academy in Chestnut Ridge, New York, a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents from New York City.

"This experience was my biggest challenge and my greatest reward. The Lord strengthened my ministry and used me to lead each and every one of the girls in my house to accept Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. The painful stories of their lives and families that I heard over and over again during our group counseling sessions was sometimes horrific, overwhelming and too much to bear.

"Through the difficult times I remembered that God said in Isaiah 61, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to comfort all that mourn, to give unto them the beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.’

"God had a plan for these girls!

"In 2002, I served at New York Foundling Hospital in the South Bronx as a social work supervisor for special needs children and youth in foster care. I strove to make a positive difference and show the love of Christ in a system that sometimes seemed uncaring and cruel.

"In July of 2003, God brought me full circle; back to serve at EMU as director of Multicultural Services. Through this position, I have the opportunity to assist and empower AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian and Native American) students to succeed at EMU academically, socially and spiritually and to make a positive difference as student leaders. I also am blessed to continue the mission to encourage diversity on campus and provide a bridge of reconciliation, faith, truth and hope.

"As I reflect on my many experiences since 1997, I give thanks to my home congregation, Seventh Avenue Mennonite Church, and to LARK Scholarship Program for all of the support throughout my undergraduate and graduate education. I was able to be well equipped and empowered to step out on faith, reach my goals and fulfill the vision that God has for my life.

"I pray that through your continued support, many others like me will be given the chance to make a difference in their communities, become equipped to fulfill their purpose and show the light and love of God wherever they go. May the plan of the Lord prevail as we believe in faith for his provisions!"

Romero said this is a moment of great promise and opportunity for racial/ethnic education in the church. "But even as we prepare for the future, we face today’s funding needs."

If you wish to give to racial/ethnic education in Mennonite Church USA, please contact MEA at 63846 County Road 35, Suite 1, Goshen, IN 46528-9621; info@MennoniteEducation.org; 866-866-2872 (toll free).