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
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
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.”