By Hilary J. Scarsella
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA)—At each biennial convention of Mennonite Church USA, a special offering is received to support a chosen ministry of the church. At this summer’s convention in Phoenix, participants will have the opportunity to contribute toward two initiatives: Mennonite Church USA’s DREAMer Fund and MennoMedia’s forthcoming Sunday school curriculum for children, Shine: Living in God’s Light.
“Convention offers us a great opportunity not only to fellowship as one body, but also to touch many lives through our giving,” says Glen Alexander Guyton, director of finance and convention planning for Mennonite Church USA.
Guyton says the goal is to raise $15,000 for each of the designated projects, for a total of $30,000. The Shine offering will be received on July 3 during the joint adult/youth worship service. The DREAMer Fund offering will be received on July 2 during the adult worship and morning youth worship services.
The DREAMer Fund was established in the fall of 2012 to help Mennonites who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) pay the application fee of $465. DACA is a U.S. administrative policy change through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that went into effect on Aug. 15, 2012.
Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), explains, “While this policy change is not a path toward citizenship, it allows undocumented immigrants who are under the age of 31, came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and have resided in the U.S. for at least five years to legally obtain work permits and gain protection from deportation.”
Those who qualify for the DACA program are commonly referred to as “DREAMers,” after the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, a proposed bipartisan legislation through which qualifying undocumented youth would be eligible for a six-year long conditional path to citizenship. It has not passed.
Mennonites who qualify for DACA and are granted DREAMer Fund assistance will be given a loan of up to two-thirds of DACA’s application fee, or $310. Convention planners hope to raise $15,000 to help 50 young Mennonites.
“DACA is intended for young adults who were raised and educated in the U.S. and should be seen as valuable resources to our country and our communities,” says Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA.
She explains that Saulo Padilla, immigration education coordinator for MCC U.S., introduced the idea for the DREAMer Fund to Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) in Dallas last August at IMH’s biennial gathering, and that IMH raised money to initiate the fund. The Intercultural Relations Reference Committee (IRRC) then gave their support and decided to develop the process and guidelines for the fund within Mennonite Church USA. The IRRC also contributed $5,000 to the fund.
Though some immigrants were initially concerned that applying for the DACA program might put members of their families who don’t qualify in danger, Alexander says that fear has largely passed.
“The response from immigrant communities has been jubilation,” she says. “I have pictures on my wall of lines of hundreds of people waiting to pick up DACA applications on the very first day they were available.”
De León-Hartshorn adds, “God calls us to be loving and compassionate. The assistance offered by the DREAMer Fund is a small gesture, but it can have a huge effect on the young people applying for DACA and on their communities. They have been held in bondage by the fear of deportation. Contributing to this fund is a way of ‘setting captives free’ so they can fully serve God and their communities without fear.”
Shine Sunday school curriculum
The Shine: Living in God’s Light curriculum will be available for congregational use beginning in the fall of 2014 and available for preview in March 2014.
“The current curriculum, Gather ’Round, was designed to last for an eight-year period, and those eight years are about up,” says Amy Gingerich, director of media at MennoMedia.
“Shine is the next generation of curriculum to teach our children about faith and empower them to live as followers of Jesus, extending peacemaking and compassion,” she says. “Patterns of faith formation and ways of doing Christian education have changed in the last eight years. It’s important to have Sunday school curricula stay current with the times so that the examples and activities offered to children in Sunday school are relevant to their lives.”
Shine will be co-published by MennoMedia and Brethren Press, longstanding publishing partners. It is estimated that the development of Shine will cost MennoMedia $100,000 per year for a four-year development phase.
Gingerich says, “One of the reasons I feel so passionately about Shine and the importance of churchwide support for the project is that being the church together involves all ages. Jesus welcomed and blessed children. Welcoming children into the story of God’s love is a big part of what it means to be Christian.”