Jeanette Baum, Deep Run East
A columnist in the Allentown Morning-Call suggested that Mennonites (along with Quakers, Buddhists and Unitarians) might be able to solve the problems of the world when he heard about our congregationâ€™s efforts. Itâ€™s definitely true that the â€œShelter for Lifeâ€ initiative has begun to transform our church at Deep Run East. Through â€œShelter for Lifeâ€, we decided to build a house for an elderly couple who had lost their home to Hurricane Katrina. The house is being built in Pennsylvania in sections and will be taken to Louisiana by truck. There was a good buzz of excitement as the builders were trying to read the difficult blueprints.And we had questions. Would the truck drivers be able to navigate the small bridge that needed to be crossed to get to the building site? With some photos and calculations by an engineer from our congregation the good news was that they would not need to unload the tractor trailer on one side of the bridge and reload it on the other.As part of our building and connecting efforts we invited Gulf States Mennonite Conference leader Steve Cheramie-Risingsun to speak during a weekend event at Deep Run East. Steve is a Native American of the Chinamache tribe and a Mennonite pastor. He ministers with two Native American Mennonite congregations that are four hours apart, one in Alabama and the otherin Louisiana. He is a great storyteller and humble servant of God. Steve, his grown children, his mother and siblings also lost all their material possessions to Hurricane Katrina but he does not talk about his own hardships. His priority is to help others.
A gourmet banquet with a Louisiana flair began the special January weekend on Saturday evening. A woman, obviously unfamiliar with our congregation, arrived at the church at the same time as me. Over dinner, I learned that Danawah was Cherokee and a community activist. I discovered how little I knew about native cultures, practices, and beliefs. Our congregation learned that there is an active Coalition of Native Americans in Bucks/Montgomery Counties when a whole delegation arrived for Steveâ€™s presentation after dinner.
There was an overwhelming response from the congregation and community along with gracious articles in the Allentown Morning-Call. During Saturday evening donations were collected from congregational members, the personal contacts from the congregationâ€™s â€œShelter for Lifeâ€ committee with local businesses, and broader community response and as a result the house is now paid for, around $53,000!
In Steveâ€™s Sunday morning sermon, he voiced his appreciation for our congregationâ€™s music. He told us that the only instrument in one of his congregationâ€™s is a guitar with a couple of strings missing.Then he affirmed our congregation for our witness and we listened. The story of his churchâ€™s guitar has lingered with me since that Sunday and challenged my thinking. What are the possibilities that might emerge if we partner with a Native American congregation and dare to begin a relationship?I was impressed by Steveâ€™s humility and knowledge. In the question and answer time that took place during our adult Sunday School, we learned much about the way of life of our Native American brothers and sisters and about the hardships they have endured not only in the past but even now, as Euro-Americans continually take advantage of them. While Steve knows and feels the hurt of these injustices he does
not dwell on them. He is passionate and committed and radiates Godâ€™s love.
The weekend brought many moments of awareness inspired by God. Our time together brought to light things we were not aware of regarding our Native American brothers and sisters. We learned about the astounding devastation that continues from Hurricane Katrina, the difficulties that people continue to deal with as their homes remain uninhabitable and they live in the cramped quarters of temporary trailers. It is exciting that 15 of our men, including two truck drivers, volunteered to go to Louisiana and build this house so that they can see it through to completion. Our challenge is to continue to take on these opportunities to serve that are so close to home that there is no passport required! To hear the content of the whole weekend on CD or for information on building a Shelter for Life house, call Deep Run East Mennonite Church at 215 766 8380.
Jeanette, from Perkasie, PA, is a mother, grandmother and caretaker for her parents. She is currently involved in music ministry at Deep Run Mennonite Church East. She has an avid interest in missions. She, along with her husband Richard, has taken missions trips with Mennonite Mission Network, MAMA and Agros International.