"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
Civil rights activist, Mr. Roscoe Jones, shared with the alumni tour group on the porch at Pine Lake Camp in Meridian, Mississippi. Photo by Susan Nisly.
Bridges of understanding
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. —James 1:5
The civil rights struggle stepped out of history and came to life for 12 alumni of Mennonite Mission Network short-term service programs. From Mar. 9–16, Arloa Bontrager, SOOP and Youth Venture director, and Susan Nisly, Service Adventure director, led a learning tour through Mississippi. Each tour participant had served in one of Mission Network's smorgasbord of mission opportunities designed to help people in every stage of life share their gifts with others.
The itinerary included the Service Adventure unit in Jackson and workdays with members of the unit's hosting congregation, Open Door Mennonite Church. Tour participants also immersed themselves in the history and vision of Pine Lake Fellowship Camp, a SOOP location near Meridian, and learned about the ministry of Jubilee Mennonite Church. More workdays in Mashulaville, where Mennonites have served with African-American and Choctaw communities for six decades, were a welcome boost to the Mennonite Service Center there.
Sandra Rush of Jubilee Mennonite Church shares her story with tour members Scott Nelson and Ron and Liz Martin. Photo by Susan Nisly.
A visit to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson deeply impacted tour group members as they learned about atrocities that aren't recorded in school history books. Exhibits took on flesh and blood as participants later sat on porches and in church fellowship halls listening to firsthand stories of those who had experienced the events illustrated in the museum displays.
Scott Nelson, a Mennonite Voluntary Service alumnus, reflected on new understandings about race that occurred during the tour. Nelson, who now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, wrote about how "eerily similar" history is to what happened in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, just five years ago, when a police officer fatally shot an unarmed 18-year-old African-American youth, Michael Brown, Jr.
"I feel too many of us today are guilty of the MLK quote [about sincere ignorance]. I witnessed [scenes from the 1960s] in 2014. Black fear is REAL … lots of Whites disregard these fears … we, as White people, must learn to just listen to Black people and their perspective," Nelson wrote.
Nelson sees that the roots of "weeds of racism" have remained dormant under the surface of our society, despite civil rights laws. He asks, "What are we willing to do to uproot the powers and principalities [of racism]?"
Check out more highlights from the trip and stay tuned for the next alumni tour to take place fall 2019!
A note from the directors
Stories created sacred space on the tour. We visited the site of the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which was, in reality, the first step in the forced removal of the Choctaw Nation from their homeland. We stood in somber silence at the place where voting rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in 1964. Their friend and fellow activist, Mr. Roscoe Jones, told us, "We fought for equality, but instead they gave us integration." This thought keeps returning to us and we ask ourselves, "When have we given those fighting against injustice a crumb instead of the whole loaf?"
We heard many stories of pain and evil, but we also heard stories of hope and resilience. We ended this trip with profound gratitude for the ways we were challenged, the new friendships forged during the week, and a strengthened commitment to spreading God's peace in this world we share together. Stories from our brothers and sisters in Mississippi, who passionately and sacrificially love their neighbors in both big and ordinary ways, inspire us in our ministry of continuing to make these kinds of opportunities for service available to people of all ages and abilities.
P.S. Because of you, youth and people of all ages have an opportunity to broaden their perspectives on life and learn listening habits that lead to service and a more just world.