Winter 2007 > Lasting Ties

Lasting Ties

A Nexus for intercultural relationships

By Joe Springer
Curator, Mennonite Historical Library

CV Image
David and Elsa Shank Castillo (2nd & 3rd from left) with friends who traveled from Chicago to Goshen for their 1938 marriage.
Courtesy MC USA Archives (Hist. Mss. 4-142 Josephus W. Shank Photograph Collection)
On July 25, 1938, Elsa Shank and David Castillo returned to Goshen to get married.  GC President S. C. Yoder officiated in the simple ceremony at his home on South Eighth St.  The couple first met at GC in January 1934, during Elsa’s senior year, when David enrolled in GC’s Winter Bible Term.  From the age of six, Elsa (1911-2006) had grown up in Argentina, where her parents, Joseph W. (’10) and Emma Hershey (’09) Shank, were pioneer Mennonite missionaries. 

A native of Monterrey, Mexico, David (1900-1986) had moved to Chicago from Texas in 1930 hoping to study navigation.  Economic hardship led him to quit school and work in a hotel instead.  While in Chicago, he began preaching at a local Pentecostal church and came to the notice of Manuel Léon who attended recently-begun Spanish-language services at the Chicago Mennonite Home Mission. 

In the fall of 1933, Léon introduced him to furloughed missionary Nelson Litwiller who was splitting his time between teaching at GC and biweekly visits to the Chicago Mission.  Pleased with the young man’s preaching, Litwiller and Léon moved to recruit David and his gifts for the emerging Mennonite group.  Within a few weeks, David found himself at Goshen where, as he later reflected, he “learned more about the Mennonites and felt they were sincere followers of the Bible, though I did detect some inconsistencies.”

After returning to Chicago, David provided leadership to what was the first Spanish-language congregation among North American Mennonites.  Elsa joined him there upon their marriage.  (President Yoder feared the couple might face discrimination and suggested they consider entering ministry in Argentina instead.)  Several years later the Castillos moved to La Junta, Colorado, where they helped found the Emanuel Mennonite Church.

A century’s sample of intercultural learning and teaching at Goshen

1906-07 – With noise of saw and hammer ringing out from the construction site of Kulp Hall, news reached campus in December that alumna Adeline V. Brunk had succumbed to typhoid fever contracted after arriving for a mission assignment in Turkey. She had begun her studies at the Elkhart Institute in 1896. Of 19 members in her graduating class, five had already entered foreign missionary service at the time of her death.

1916-17 – The summer session found GC’s first international students enrolled: Cubans Modesto Guidi and Enriquillo Moto. Moto would return the following year along with two other students from Cuba. What brought these young men to Goshen three decades ahead of other international students?

1926-27 – Junior student Willard Smith published “Imperialistic tendencies in our foreign policies” in The Record: “And it can easily be seen why many Latin-Americans began to distrust and even hate the Yankee. For had not the United States itself violated an important principle in its own doctrine – that of self determination?”

1936-37 – Students from the Young People’s Christian Association held weekly services at the county jail in Goshen and at a shelter for transient adults in Elkhart. Some of the same students worked with a new congregation among poorer families in the northern part of Goshen, visiting in homes and providing church and Sunday school services.

1946-47 – On Oct. 13 GC’s first post-war students from the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Lebanon joined with missionary children raised in India and Argentina in a vespers service representing “the international and world wide atmosphere on our campus this year.”

1956-57 – Chicago student Louis Campbell’s poem “Prejudice, My Felony” is one of four GC poems accepted for publication the National Poetry Association’s annual anthology America Sings: “O you world of trouble … allow me to ride that bus in any seat.”

1966-67 – Summer activities included SST prototype summer seminars led by Roy & Fern Umble in Barbados and Fran & Marion Wenger in Haiti (where Fran Bontrager [Greaser] led a different seminar for nursing students). Art and Oma Smucker’s family traveled to Alaska working migrant jobs in fields and canneries enroute, hoping to “rub shoulders with various types of people.”

1976-77 – A GC task force’s recommendation to start a “Mutual Development Laboratory” to address “minority-white relationships” fizzled. Student Leamon Sowell commented on why the GC community should care: “… you function in the name of Christianity which demands sensitivity to all races and social groups.”

1986-87 – In the year when GC first allows officially-sponsored dancing on a trial basis, an intercultural studies minor appeared in the catalog and faculty wrestled with program review that named “intercultural openness” as one of the desired outcomes of a GC education.

1996-97 – With some trepidation, Karla Hernandez [Thut] of Honduras enrolled in her first women’s studies course at GC and later reflected on her intercultural learning: “I always had the notion that feminism and my Latin culture could not be mixed. .. It is not necessarily true.” Although Karla knew she was changing by being in a different country and in a different culture, she concluded, “I think I would rather think of it as gaining knowledge of another culture and not so much as losing some of mine.”