Mennonite Weekly Review Logo Mennonite World Review

Aug. 9, 2010 issue

Fair exchange for blueberries

It can sometimes seem cliché to hear participants in service and mission trips report that they received more than they gave.

Yet it’s true that such trips ought to be mutual in the sharing of knowledge, gifts and time, instead of volunteers thinking they are the only ones with something to offer.

Chicago Community Mennonite Church, a mostly middle-class congregation that meets in a low-income area, would have enough service projects within a mile of where it worships to keep busy for years.

While members work to meet local needs, a group of us took a weekend to visit Rehoboth Mennonite Church in Pembroke Township, Ill. Rehoboth owns a blueberry farm, which produces funds for the church’s ministries. Some customers come to pick and buy fruit for themselves, but the farm also needs volunteers to help fulfill orders.

Rehoboth offers a deal: pick two buckets, leave one for the church and take one home.

It turned out to be an apt image for the encounter of the two congregations. The volunteers from Chicago picked blueberries and did maintenance tasks in the retreat house the church owns. In addition to taking part in the work, the Rehoboth hosts shared their stories of hardship and success, enduring difficult times in their 61 years as a congregation.

Rehoboth celebrated its anniversary July 25. It was founded in 1949 as a camp for Chicago children by James and Rowena Lark, African-American mission workers. The camp sprouted a mission for local people, which blossomed into a congregation in the 1960s but has dwindled to an average Sunday attendance of 10 or fewer people.

But, as Jesus promised to be present where even two or three gather, so the few people at Rehoboth still know how to worship the Lord.

The Sunday morning service was a powerful reminder that coming together in praise is an essential part of Christian service. Members of the Chicago Community and Rehoboth churches gave thanks for each other’s gifts, lifted up each other’s prayer concerns, heard testimonies and took time in the service to embrace and offer words of blessing.

Worship showed how Christ is present when Christians gather, especially when they cross would-be barriers of race and income to do so.

In worship we blend our voices and prayers to God. Each one is equally valuable to God, and each one is needed. We are able to praise more fully because we come together.

So it is in mission. When visitors and hosts each contribute their gifts to a project, it can bear fruit far beyond completing the task at hand. Giving and receiving are both necessary.

Rehoboth Mennonite Church — with partners in Illinois Mennonite Conference and Mennonite Mission Network — is seeking more people to build relationships with the congregation, envision new ministries, refurbish camp and retreat facilities, and, of course, pick blueberries.

They’re also looking for a pastor.

Those who would answer any of those calls shouldn’t imagine they are just going to help, though. The tenacity of Rehoboth’s members, especially Rose Covington, elder, inspires and uplifts as a model of faithfulness.

That’s a lot to receive in exchange for fixing doors and picking blueberries.

Celeste Kennel-Shank

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