My Pilgrimage in Mission

Article excerpt

I come from a marginal Christian people. At least as far back as the 1560s, my ancestors were a part of a Taufer (Anabaptist) community of faith that had taken refuge at Eggiwil in the mountainous Langnau district of Switzerland. In 1717 Christian Shank, son Michael, and their families migrated to William Penn's Pennsylvania. In 1816 my mother's great-grandfather John Neuhauser, an Alsatian Amish miller, immigrated to Canada to avoid conscription into Napoleon's army. I was born to Charles and Crissie (Yoder) Shank on October 7, 1924.

Preparation

At age eleven I was baptized in the Orrville (Ohio) Mennonite Church. I knew nothing of other churches except that they were said not to practice the "all things" that Jesus told his apostles to teach to all nations (Matt. 28:20). I was the only Mennonite in my class in school in North Canton, Ohio. We remained a marginal people.

While at Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana, my parents had been deeply influenced by the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions and subsequently, from 1915 to 1919, had served as missionaries in Dhamtari, Central Province, India. My father taught industrial arts to male youths who had been orphaned by the great famine of 1896-99, and my mother worked with Bible women engaged in grassroots colportage and evangelism. My parents buried their first child "under the mango tree," and their mission was cut short when their second child developed life-threatening rheumatic fever. Thereafter my father lived under the burden of having abandoned the call because he was unwilling to pay the price of staying.

In 1929, when I was five years old, my mother died giving birth to her eighth child. From the early 1920s until her death, she had been the literature secretary for the Mennonite Women's Missionary Association, and she was the first American Mennonite woman author. (1) She often spoke about missions and India from the pulpit, at a time when Mennonite women did not speak in worship services. Her book with its pictures and my parents' India photograph album and "India trunk" of exotic mementos never ceased to provoke my wonder and curiosity. Former colleagues from India who visited our family seemed to be another breed of Mennonite.

My father lost his job as research engineer for the Hoover vacuum company because he could not in good conscience work on its contracts related to war materiel. He moved our family to Goshen so we children could attend Goshen College from home. Mission, peace, and education were intimately tied together in our family. During my first year of college I met my future spouse, Wilma Hollopeter. World War II interrupted college, and I served in Civilian Public Service (CPS) units during three years of "public service of national importance." Here I met other varieties of Mennonites, as well as Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Catholics who were Christian conscientious objectors. This was grassroots ecumenicity.

In 1945 I was invited to transfer to Mennonite Central Committee's headquarters, at Akron, Pennsylvania, to edit the C.P.S. Bulletin for Mennonite CPS units. In mid-1946 Harold S. Bender organized a conference on Anabaptism at which Franklin Littell presented a chapter of his Yale doctoral dissertation on the missionary dynamics of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, adding a missional dimension to Bender's earlier threefold "essence of Anabaptism." (2) For Littell the church was (1) disciples of Jesus responding to the Good News of God's reign, (2) in a community of mutual support, (3) committed to God's service through nonviolent love, and (4) engaged in the mission of sharing the Good News. I discussed my future with Bender, and he explained that, following relief ministries in Europe, the Mennonite Church would need church workers with an Anabaptist vision who were well trained in Bible and theology. I returned to Goshen College to earn a B. …