By Jackie Nelson
John Stoesz, Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States, is wrapping up a 50-chuch bicycle tour to celebrate his retirement.
“I could have just retired from MCC, but I didn’t want a party – I wanted to do something that was appropriate for me,” he said.
In finding a way to celebrate his retirement, Stoesz embarqued on a bicycle journey that will take him hundreds of miles through Kansas, visiting churches that support MCC.
“I’m doing this to raise awareness of our Global Family Education Sponsorships. It is promoting a Bike To Church Sunday to support one of our five programs,” he said.
Stoesz said with MCC’s new sponsorship model, more children can be helped.
“We are focusin on elementary schools and preschools. There is one in Tanzinea that works with orphans or families that have lost a parent to AIDS. We have a program in Bangledesh working with poor and disabled children. A program in Serbia works with Roma [commonly known as Gypsy] children. In Honduras we help support six pre-schools and an after-school program. And, our fifth program is in Syria. It is focused on educating children who have been displaced by the war,” he said.
Stoesz said through this bicycle tour, he hopes other church communities will become involved and spur donation drives.
“We are encouraging others to bike to church to raise money for these causes. If a group chooses to target a program, say a Bible Study, family, or church wants to donate to a specific cause, they can. If a group raises $300 or more, they become a sponsor and receive a twice-yearly report from MCC on that specific project,” he said.
Stoesz said MCC is working to reformat giving, so donation dollars can positively impact entire communities.
“We are moving away from individual sponsorship and working with quality education. The move away is tied to an experience I had while in Periguay. In 2006, I was on a Global Education Program location and the Principal took me to one of the classrooms. He asked students with global family sponsors to come to the front. It was about half the class. I asked him about the other children. He said they were still waiting for sponsorship. This is why we are moving toward educational projects,” he said.
MCC’s work spans the globe.
“MCC works at relief development and peace in the name of Christ. We work in 50 countries around the world,” he said.
In recent years, Stoesz said the way project work is approached has been modified.
“Our approach is community based. We work through partnership organizations; we are not a missionary organization. We don’t establish a North American presence. We support local organizations rather than starting our own thing.
By working with local community leaders and members, Stoesz said MCC has tapped into new resources.
“We think the best way to accomplish our goals because there are so many Christians that share our own values that it makes sense to support and work with them,” he said.
Stoesz said partnership organizations must meet criteria established by MCC.
“We look for organizations that have been created by local people. It needs to be a grass-roots group. We do not partner with outside groups. They need to be Christian or share our values that we hold dear,”
In addition to modifying how MCC delivers aid, Stoesz said the voice of MCC is shifting to doing the work of hands and feet.
“For the most part, we are not a preaching organization. We work with churches, but they do their own evangelism in their communities. We support those groups,” he said.
Stoesz said those who work with partnership organizations are free to share their faith, but prolestitizing is not the objective.
“We work with the Syrian Orthodox Church as a partner organization. If a Kansas worker is asked to give their testimony, she can. But her job is to work with the project and support it, not take it over,” he said.
In addition to working with local organizations, volunteers here in the United States are a key component to helping others thousands of miles away.
“For MCC Central States, not much goes to overhead. For last year, 5 percent went to overhead – which is the executive director, communication, fundraising, finances and human resources. One reason it is this low is because, unlike some non-profits, many of our fund-rasing initiatives are volunteer driven. The Kansas MCC Sale raised about $500,000 and it was all volunteer. Most non-profits don’t have that kind of network to raise that kind of money that doesn’t have to put in staff or resources,” he said.
Though his tour is in celebration of his retirement, Stoesz said the mission of MCC will continue under new leadership.
“I want the focus to be on MCC and the work we do with children around the world. This is a tool to focus attention and resources on education for children that might not have the opportunity to go to school if it wasn’t for MCC,” he said.
In nations where MCC has a presence, the organization works hard to expand the opportunities for over-taxed systems.
“There may be free public education in the country, but some children cannot afford school supplies, transportation or uniforms and will go without. There are schools that cannot afford teachers,” he said.
Ultimately, Stoesz said MCC’s work is about ensuring the success and education of even the most underprivileged of the next generation.
“We work with kids at the bottom of the social order, kids that would have been left behind if not for MCC and those who support MCC,” he said.
For those interested in giving to the cause or supporting an organization, donation information can be found with area churches or through the MCC web page MCC.org.