the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

A little chili, a little ice cream and a lot of
investment in Mennonite higher education

By Jodi H. Beyeler

Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, knows there is a strong correlation between Mennonite college attendance and later participation in the Mennonite Church. So, they see their Student Aid Plan as an obvious way of being missional.
Their effort is flavored with chili soup and homemade ice cream to raise money to send a significant percentage of their youth to Mennonite colleges and seminaries. This fall, 25 of the possible 35 college students from Zion will join Mennonite campuses – 14 of them at Goshen – all having received $7,000 from their congregation for their education, plus $2,500 through the Church Matching Grant (from each respective college).

Zion is one of numerous congregations that has taken the responsibility to encourage students to see the benefits of Mennonite higher education, recognizing that this choice impacts both the future of the students and of the church.

Zion’s giving to the church Student Aid Plan since it began in 1982 reached slightly over $2 million in the past year to the benefit of a total of 136 students.

The aid plan began as a vision of Ed ’58 and Theo Hartzler Yoder ’57. The couple had such good memories and lifelong friendships from their years at Goshen that they wanted to share the opportunity to attend a Mennonite college with other youth in their church, even as they sent their four children to GC. In 1982, they initiated a first church meeting to discuss how the church could set up a Student Aid Plan. With different perspectives about such aid, the church decided to set it up with extra giving outside of the regular budget. That year, enough money was raised to support 12 students with $1,000 each. The amount given rose “fairly rapidly” and is available today to church members or children of members who go to any of the Mennonite colleges or seminaries.

Ed is clear in articulating why Zion Mennonite only contributes financially to the education of those students who attend Mennonite colleges and seminaries. “We pay taxes, and that helps support kids at state institutions,” he said. “And we are Mennonite, so we are promoting Mennonite [beliefs] and we do not apologize for that.”

He points to the passing on of Anabaptist values and the lifetime friendships that he and his children made at Goshen as primary benefits of a Mennonite college over other Christian institutions. “I am who I am today, in part, because of the experience I had 40-some years ago at GC,” he said.

In 1984, what Zion Mennonite now knows as Church School Day took form and has continued in much the same fashion since. The annual Sunday in March begins with a Mennonite college president, or other representative, preaching in the morning worship about the value of Mennonite higher education. During the evening fundraiser – a chili supper and homemade ice cream organized by Theo – current college students talk about their experiences made possible through church support. Ed, the event organizer and church treasurer, discusses Zion’s Student Aid Plan and presents the year’s fundraising goal.

One GC student who benefits from Zion’s Student Aid Plan, junior physics major Becca Johnson said, “Zion’s support of Mennonite higher education really did lead me to Goshen College. Had it not been for their support, I would have still felt the need to attend an engineering school.”

Katie Beck, a senior biology major at Goshen, said, “Growing up in a Mennonite church, I’ve always felt support from my church community. Knowing that these people who I respect and admire support Mennonite higher education compelled me to further investigate the benefits of such a college. Now that I am at Goshen College, I have come to experience not only great academics, but have also developed significant relationships in which I can share my faith.”

Zion member Richard Nyce, a father of three GC alumni, sees additional benefits. “There seems to be a better connection between the older church members and the college students. I think the older members feel that the church is investing in these college students and they are interested in the performance and progress of the investment,” he said. “I have also seen my sons and daughter take a more mature approach because of this program. They felt responsibility to a whole congregation.”

It is not just Zion’s own young people who are benefiting from the generous support. Fifteen years ago, someone suggested that instead of continuing to increase the amount given to their own students, though generous, that they might adopt another church that could benefit from encouragement toward Mennonite higher education. That was the beginning of a relationship with Good Shepherd Mennonite Church, a small, local Hispanic congregation, and has led to six of their young people taking advantage of the opportunity and attending Mennonite colleges with the same amount of aid that Zion’s own students receive.

The emphasis that Zion Mennonite and the Yoders have placed on Mennonite higher education is making a difference in many lives. The Student Aid Plan “benefits the students with making lifetime friendships and supports the values that they were taught at both home and church. It benefits the college because they need students. It benefits the church because they are our future leadership potential,” Ed said. “We obviously believe in Mennonite higher education.”