Note: As we work to build out our Peace and Justice Center, we are sharing voices from our community and letting them tell you why they need a Peace and Justice Center. Today’s post is from Cynthia Neufeld Smith, a former Unit Leader at the Service Adventure team hosted by Open Door. – Pastor Hugh
We spent two meaningful years with Service Adventure in Jackson, Mississippi, hosted by Open Door Mennonite Church. The people of Open Door welcomed and prayed for us as soon as we said “Yes.” They fed us as soon as we got to town. And almost immediately those people felt like family.
How or why did that happen? Somehow the people of Open Door have a very big, very ready love. It comes from Jesus, I’m sure. Maybe it also comes from being such a small group that there’s plenty of space for newcomers. They need all the help they can get and are eager to embrace anyone who shares their mission of nurturing peace and love in the Jackson area.
One thing that is particularly special and sadly, much too rare, is that Open Door is a multi-racial congregation — Black, White and Choctaw. In that way they are a microcosm of Mississippi. We shared faith, food, and projects, and learned to know and trust each other well enough to be able to share stories of both pain and joy. We bumped into issues of differing music preferences, differing language, and differing theology. Sometimes that was really hard. But love and a sense of needing each other kept us working at it.
As Service Adventure leaders, we felt supported and encouraged by the Open Door family. Equally significant was how Open Door supported the young adult Service Adventure participants. Whether from the US, Germany or Japan, they were away from home and family for the first time, suddenly living in close quarters with strangers, and taking on responsible roles in community agencies. Whoever they were, Open Door people embraced them and made them part of their families.
Open Door wants to continue to be a church where everyone is welcome and valued. That vision is preached and lived at Open Door. They are working to restore their building so it can function as an adequate gathering place for their congregation. But there is a greater vision to become a center for peacemaking and reconciliation in the south. That could take many forms – hosting visiting groups to learn about the history and current realities of the south, sponsoring bridgebuilding events for people of all ages, and addressing economic and policy issues that stand in the way of “the beloved community.” There are people within the Open Door family with the vision and abilities to work at creating such a center.
Now that we are back in Kansas I contribute money to Open Door to help grow their community and facilitate their ministry of peace and justice. I believe in who they are and what they are doing. I believe that God has called them and is equipping them. In their own small way they are trying to live the gospel of Jesus. We need many more “Open Doors” than just one in this world. But this one place was a gift to me when I was there and their ongoing efforts are a source of hope for me even now at a distance.