Thursday, June 28, 2007

history as our school teacher

I have never understood why I encounter so many innovators who fail/refuse to stand on the shoulders of the giants who’ve lived a full life ahead of them and the great stories of history that lie in wait to be told. On my recent trip, I looked up some distant relatives to drop in on and do a bit of family history note taking, while I was visiting my sister in South Carolina before the Yoder reunion in Florida and the adventure in St. Augustine de la Florida and the misadventure finale at the Atlanta airport.

Florida was great. But I had the best time meeting up with my great uncle’s sons and hearing them tell stories of my grandfather and their father. My great-uncle Harvey’s legacy deeply fascinates me. It drew me in. And somehow it seemed as though my philosophy of life or approach to organization resonated with the evidence he left behind. My own underdeveloped leadership took notes on the surprising particulars of his legacy which demonstrates good organizing, linking and establishment of businesses, schools, churches, charitable organizations and communities. I was able to see things linked together in ways I’d never seen before. The whole community called him granddad—Mennonite and non-Mennonites. Somehow I feel like he is one I must model my life after—the cross-cultural, cross-denominational things he did while retaining his own identity. He established a business to support a camp school for troubled teens. One camp was for boys and one for girls. He started several Mennonite churches in communities that were strangers to the Mennonite way of life. He established an orphanage in Haiti and used the expansive Mennonite connections to put out the call for volunteers to serve at the orphanage and also at the camps. All this he did without being an ordained minister. And if you don’t understand Mennonite community structure, it is quite difficult to become an influential leader if you are not an ordained minister, ordained by lot in the tradition of the casting of lots in Acts. You have to be quite innovative if you are to be successful in any one of the following: business, church, community and charity work. And Uncle Harvey did them all successfully, while raising a family of 6-8 children, moving them on to a new place once the projects were successfully established and running in the previous community. It was as though he moved in, looked at the terrain of a community, put pieces and people together brought in new elements and left a carefully crafted social machine behind that continues to run to this day.

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