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The many graces of humor

A woman who "enjoyed her religion" visited a quite staid and formal church, one which stood squarely in the high-church tradition of meticulously planned liturgy. "Amen!" said the woman as the minister brought out a point with which she agreed. "Madam," said the usher standing nearby, "please try to control yourself. We don't allow that in this church." In a few moments she was so carried away by the sermon that she shouted, "Amen, Praise the Lord, Hallelujah!" The usher rushed to her side. "Madam," he said,"you must quiet down immediately or leave." "I didn't mean to disturb the service," she explained, "but I am just so happy since I found the Lord." "Well, you may have found the Lord," snapped the usher, "but I am quite sure you didn't find him here."

If reading this joke brought a smile to your face, a titter to your lips or a chuckle to your throat, you've said something about your faith and, quite possibly, improved your health.

I'm all for taking God, and our faith, and our vocations seriously, but I think in questing after significant, meaningful lives and doing important work we've sometimes been too serious, too somber, too bereft of energizing, health-inducing, life-giving mirth. At its best, humor allows us to cope, to humbly recognize our own fallibility and to move toward healing. Humor provides a variety of graces for our lives.

Erma Bombeck, in her book At Wit's End, tells the story of a Sunday morning worship service which she attended. Her attention was captured by a young child who was turning around and smiling at everyone. "He wasn't gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals or rummaging through his mother's handbag. He was just smiling," Bombeck writes. Finally, the mother grabbed the child, jerked him around, slapped him down into the pew, and whispered loudly, "Stop that grinning. You're in church." And as the tears rolled down his cheeks, the mother added, "That's better." And she returned to her prayers.

"Suddenly I was angry," writes Bombeck. "I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us. I wanted to tell him God is an understanding God. One who understands little children who pick their noses in church because they are bored ... God even understands my shallow prayers that implore, 'If you can't make me thin, then make my friends look fat' ... What a fool, I thought. Here was a woman sitting next to the only thing left in our civilization — the only hope, our only miracle, our only promise of infinity. If he couldn't smile in church, where was there left to go?"

Historically, the church in North America, instead of spawning humor, has spurned it. Our early ancestors needed to work hard to survive, and there was little time for fun and frolic. Because of certain religious values, we were expected to shun laughter and gaiety as frivolous worldliness. At times the Protestant work ethic overtook people in the new land, convincing them that they should work as a way of glorifying God. Diligence, thrift and sobriety were cardinal virtues.

Some Mennonites, obviously, were drawn into this sobriety with everyone else, and they perpetuated it. In 1876 the Mennonite Publishing House published J.M. Brenneman's Plain Teachings. Among Brenneman's otherwise reasonable exhortations was a chapter titled "Christians Ought Not Laugh Aloud," in which the author wrote: "Could we see the pain, the sorrow, the tribulation and misery with which thousands are daily afflicted, or could we see how many unconverted souls are daily and hourly passing into eternity, it would doubtless make us feel sad, and our vain laughing would be turned to mourning." (And he seems to think this would be good.) "I think it is unbecoming and unsuitable for professors of Christianity to laugh aloud, or to say or tell anything to cause others to laugh," he writes. "Such conduct, it seems to me, is a very dim light before the world." Egads!

Fortunately, some more recent Mennonite writers have taken a different approach. In 1993, Steve Nolt, now assistant professor of history at GC, co-wrote The Mennonite Starter Kit: A Handy Guide for the New Mennonite with J. Craig Haas. The book, complete with top 10 lists and baseball-style trading cards of prominent church figures, was well-received in the church and beyond.

In reality, the gospel (the good news) and humor are integrally related, in the same genre, born of the same mold. Humor is a child of faith, and helps us understand our faith and our lives. As J. Lawrence Burkholder once wrote, "Both faith and humor are ways of coping with the ambiguities, incongruities, and contradictions of existence."

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we find a tremendous amount of weeping and wailing, but there's also a lot of laughter and rejoicing going on. One concordance lists 57 references to laughter in the Old Testament, and a whole slew of references to joy, gladness, rejoicing and happiness.

The first biblical reference to laughter comes in Genesis 17:17 when God informs the aged Abraham that his barren and purportedly post-menopausal wife Sarah is going to have a son. Recognizing a divine sense of humor, Abraham bowed low to the ground ... and laughed. And then God told Abraham and Sarah to name the child Isaac, which in Hebrew means "God's laugh." God had broken through with this paradox, this impossibility of a 90-year-old woman giving birth, and described that divine act as a "laugh." And after she gave birth to Isaac, it was Sarah's turn to laugh, this time with God's blessing. "God has given me cause to laugh; all those who hear of it will laugh with me," she reportedly said. And no doubt a lot of people did laugh with her.

Quaker professor Elton Trueblood identified in his book The Humor of Christ about 30 instances of Jesus' humor in the gospels, including such knee-slappers as the one about straining out gnats but swallowing camels . . . Well, OK, maybe Jesus' stand-up comedy loses something in translation. But it is striking that Jesus' parables often were effective for precisely the same reason a good joke works: they concluded with the unexpected, the ironic twist, some form of upside-down logic.

Trueblood wrote: "An alleged Christianity which fails to express itself in laughter, at some point, is clearly invalid. The Christian is joyous, not because he or she is blind to injustice and suffering, but because he or she is convinced that these, in the light of divine sovereignty, are never ultimate (they are never the final word) ... The well-known humor of the Christian is not a way of denying the tears, but rather a way of affirming something deeper than tears."

As the late Sara K. Hartzler, longtime GC professor of English, once said: "A good joke can be not only an act of courage; but, because it affirms our God-given ability to survive, to triumph over everything that is weak or bad or wrong in ourselves and in our world, a good joke also can be an act of faith.

"Humor," said Hartzler, "brings unmanageable problems, those irreconcilable situations that human beings get into, down to bearable proportions.

It is striking to realize how many of our jokes deal with death and dying, with what lies on the other side of death, God's great mystery. Humor is one way we cope with or wrestle with such mysteries. In my Christian Faith class each spring students are required to turn in one theological joke during the term, and many of these submissions begin with tales of Peter at the pearly gates, or with lawyers or popes or righteous folks in heaven or hell.

Humor also serves to humble us, to knock us off of our pedestals of self-importance or absolute certainty. Just when we think we know everything we're reminded that our perspective may be limited, or incomplete. Those of us who teach and preach are particularly guilty of being too serious and of seeing our work as perhaps God's most important work, and that means we also are often the butt of jokes — and rightly so. We need some of this humbling.

And if this isn't enough of an affirmation for humor, we also should be aware that humor is good for our physical health. "Laughter is about the best medicine known," one physician said. "A hearty laugh will stimulate your chest, thorax, and abdominal muscles, as well as your diaphragm, heart, lungs and liver. Your pulse can double during laughter, and your blood pressure may shoot up from 120 to 200. An increased supply of oxygen courses through your bloodstream. Once your giggles go away, the pulse and blood rate dip below normal. Skeletal muscles become deeply relaxed. Other muscles relax as well, which often relieves headaches. All of these processes reduce stress and hypertension."

Laughter's chemical effects upon the body have led some scientists to believe it can serve as a natural tranquilizer. Laughter stimulates the brain to produce catecholamine, a hormone which then causes the release of endorphins, the body's natural opiates. These endorphins then function as internal painkillers by decreasing the laughter's perception of discomfort. Laughing is particularly effective for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and gout, or for chronic allergies, research suggests.

Goshen College physician Willard Krabill would confirm that laughter is healing and contributes to wholeness. "If we aren't able to laugh," he wrote in the Bulletin's first humor issue, "a segment of our wholeness is missing. Someone once wrote, 'Humor and honesty are among the most important signs that God's grace is among us.' I believe it's true."

But doctors of the last several decades are not the first people to recognize the healing power of laughter. Three thousand years ago a wise soul was able to say in Proverbs 17:22, "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones."

May we seek such cheerful hearts as we continue our quests toward good faith and good health. And may we recognize God's grace in such humor.

— Keith Graber Miller


The Virgin Mary died and went to heaven. When she got there, Saint Peter didn't let her in right away, although others waiting in line were pondering why on earth he didn't just let her pass through. After all, she was the mother of Jesus! But Saint Peter said, "There is one thing I need to process with you, something that has puzzled me for years. Throughout history in paintings, icons, sculpture and every other form of art, you are always depicted as looking so sad. Why is that?"

Mary replied, "It's a secret I've been keeping all these years, but I see no need to keep it any longer. I really wanted a girl."

A man, good all his life, never had any of his prayers answered. So God granted him three wishes. For the first wish, the man said, "I want to go hunting. Please provide me with a bow and arrow, hunting clothes and a forest to hunt in." The wish was granted.

For his second wish, the man said, "I wish for a bear to hunt." With that, a large black bear instantly appeared.

The man got up in a tree and pulled back the bow, but as he did, it slipped and dropped to the ground where it clattered at the feet of the bear. Remembering that he had one wish left, the man said, "I wish the bear were a Christian," thinking that the bear wouldn't charge and kill him if it were a Christian.

With that, the bear got down on its knees, saying, "Thank you, Lord, for this bountiful meal I am about to consume."

A pastor was using I Corinthians 12:17, where Paul uses the various functions of the members of the body to illustrate the church, the body of Christ. After running through the biblical contrasts, she inadvertently made a humorous contrast of her own: "What if we were all feet? How would we smell?"

Cartooning in the Record over the years

1951 While the GC Record has been in print since 1898 in some form or another, the development of cartooning dates back only to the 1940s. Previously a novelty, during this decade the Record began to feature a number of graphic icons for weekly columns, such as the "Culture Vulture," a caricatured carrion-eater poised above a column of text. Perhaps surprising at a peace-church school, the weekly column of science trivia was identified by a mushroom cloud exploding behind the text: "Up n' atom."

Though still disputed, scholars generally agree that the first bona fide cartoon to appear in the Record was "Little Man on Campus," which became somewhat regular in 1950. The syndicated "Little Man" not student-drawn was true to its title and era: it generally featured male students, each week finding new ways to bemoan the rigors of cartoonist Bibler's generic 1950s academic setting.

1963 The 1960s, the decade that ushered in the Civil Rights era and Woodstock, also brought us "The Gadfly." Though not a hand-drawn illustration, "The Gadfly" qualifies as the first series of student-created Record cartoons.

A regular feature in the spring 1963 Record, each week "The Gadfly" featured a different professor, spouting a caption bubble in which a made up quote was scribbled. To the modern MTV audience, these bubbles seem to range from prosaic to puzzling. (When asked, retired Professor of English John Fisher couldn't remember why he was pictured saying "toot, toot" in the March 29 issue.)

Though nowadays it is possible to convincingly morph professors' heads onto various bodies, in its time both technologically and socially "The Gadfly" pushed all the limits except one: Professor of Biology Jonathan Roth was referred to then, as now, as "Dr. Roth."

1977 On March 4 the Record printed an eight-page insert titled "From Adam's Rib?" featuring a variety of articles relating to gender issues and the roles of women at GC. Then and now, the opinion board has frequently served as the forum for such debates.

1978 The tension between separatism and the interest of youth in participating in activities of the broader world has been a hallmark of Mennonitism, a perfect illustration of which appeared in the March 3 Record. Though the page facing this cartoon (at left) contained a short article announcing that students had voted for, and President J. Lawrence Burkholder had approved, flying the United Nations and United States flags on campus, it wasn't until 1987 when the GC Board of Overseers agreed to allow dancing on campus. During that nine-year span, dancing would find its way into the Record cartoon on several occasions, most notably an '87 cartoon depicting Menno Simons doing the "Watusi." Here Record cartoonist and future "Pontius' Puddle" creator Joel Kauffmann '79 broaches the dancing topic with a jab at a classic Mennonite foible.

1982 Over the years the Record cartoon has often been critical of campus and society, including when, during the 1980s, consumerism and "affluenza" gripped the nation. The 1980s also brought to the fore a host of national political figures who lent themselves to parody; the nation's president, for instance, appeared in 1981 as "Reagan Hood," holding up a beggar at knife point. This cartoon (at right), which appeared courtesy of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal in the Oct. 29 Record, is evidence of GC student activism alive and well. Mark Schmucker '84, then a senior, finished his trimester via correspondence course while working at Emmaus Home, a facility for mentally handicapped adults, after being one of the first men in the nation prosecuted for refusing to register with the Selective Service.

1984 The GC campus is known for its black squirrel population, an animal which proved convenient for several cartoonists to rely on heavily in past years. Mark Turney (attended the fall of '94) went out on a limb and created the Goshen Gopher, who appeared disguised as various professors and celebrities. President Emeritus Victor Stoltzfus was another campus figure regularly lampooned, appearing as "Vic the toothbrush" in Matt Smucker's '94 "Zwingli Carnival" in a style reminiscent of Doonesbury, who chose, for example, to portray U.S. President Bill Clinton as a talking waffle.

1994 It wasn't until around 1987 that the Record began to consistently print a weekly student-drawn cartoon. This new enthusiasm for cartoons brought an explosion of styles, from simple line-art boxes to large, complex photo-collages. I regard the fall of GC's centennial year as the golden age of GC's cartoon renaissance, with Gen X-ing and Comics for the Masses appearing weekly, side by side. Both Lowell Brown '95 and Matt Eberly '95 had a gift for seeing potential of the zany, both on campus and in the world around them.

1997 With the introduction of the floating eye and non- sequitur dialog, Jim Strouse's '99 cartoon amused and confused GCers for three years, longer than any previous student cartoonist. While too soon to see what lasting effects Strouse's style will have on the GC cartoon community, his characters were also commissioned for use in GC admissions and public relations paraphernalia. While Strouse's cartoons rarely pertained to campus or world issues, the post-modern college student could identify with socio-cultural anomie implied by Strouse's cartoon.

1999 After Strouse's philosophical bent, Luke Jordan steered the cartoon back toward campus issues. Perhaps no campus facility has been more discussed over the years than the cafeteria. In the 1980s, while under control of Saga Foodservice, the cafeteria's strict entrance policies were critiqued in a cartoon titled "Saga Vice"; more than a decade later, Jordan responded to Sodexho-Marriott and its anti-backpack policy instituted to discourage food theft. (at left)

Into the next millennium. . .

The nature of Record cartooning has evolved greatly over the years, from clip art-like illustrations to imported creations to full-blown student cartoons. In the student work, three themes prevail: campus, world and silly. At their best, cartoonists have combined these themes seamlessly into a humorous package; at their worst, they are just plain dumb, but even then we sometimes laugh. Alongside the once-per-semester spoof issue, the Record cartoon has played a vital role in lightening campus issues by combining the power of visual metaphor with that of humor in a way which can add civility to any debate. May this never change.

Senior Tim Godshall of Mt. Joy, Pa., created the Record cartoon (left and others) with senior Chris Kennel of Harrisonburg, Va., during the fall '99 semester.

Tim Godshall

A new addition to the handbook

Like any community, Goshen College has it's own sense of place as well as a unique niche in the geography of the church and the local area. GC also has a distinct lingo and atmosphere to get to know. Not that GC is a difficult place; there is a warm, welcoming environment here unless it's the time of the autumn monsoons, the midwinter outbreak of seasonal affective disorder or spring's vacillation between the glory of studying-on-the-lawn-on-a-blanket weather and the return of . . . well, midwinter.

The trick to understanding any community is to know the unwritten idiosyncrasies, the things that don't appear in the student or faculty handbooks. Here's a start:

Ad Building: Administration Building (duh).

The Archives: The Archives of the Mennonite Church, official repository for the records of Mennonite Church agencies, conferences and congregations; John Sharp, director. Contains no X-Files, right John?

BALD: Bald Alliance of Leaders Debonair. Official student club for the bald/balding and proud. Not to be confused with "The Hair Club for Men"; BALD is open to both genders.

Broken Shield: Not the campus crest, but points to GC's Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition in peace issues. A striking red-orange sculpture by John Mishler, assistant professor of art, located in the middle of campus.

Bib Lit: One of many abbreviated names for GC classes, this one is "Biblical Literature," often taken as a general education course. Other abbreviations include Human Sex, Ed Psych, Kid Lit and Brit Lit, Bio Chem, Euro Civ, Comp Theory and Comm Theory, Chem, Lib Theo, Senior Sem, Marine Bio and Biz Law.

CAC: Campus Activities Council, responsible for good, clean fun.

Chez Goshen: House or home base in each SST (see entry) host country. Refuge.

Cheerleaders: Like Captain Maple Leaf, we enjoyed them for a season.

Dating: What's that?

Frisbee Football: If you've never played, you will by the time you graduate; games run practically 24/7 in all kinds of weather. Players are known for their green soles (not to be confused with members of EcoPax, the environmental arm of Pax, the student peace club.) There will be no entry for frisbee golf, sorry '90s grads.

GSWA: Pronounced "Gee-swah." Goshen Student Women's Association; they sponsor the chocolate houses.

Hour After: Don't ask, just get in line for tickets (and bring your sleeping bag and study materials; borrow a cell phone, in case you have to call out for sustenance.)

J-Board: Just follow the Standards (see entry) and you won't have to know.

Lanyards: Not just a fashion statement, but an important symbol connected to the $24,000 fundraising effort for earthquake relief in Turkey initiated by students, faculty and staff (see page 26).

Maple Leafs: We are the Leafs, and yes, we are aware that the plural of "leaf" is "leaves."

MHL: Mennonite Historical Library. Located on the third floor of the Good Library (darn right, it's good, 'With a Name Like Smuckers' in its heritage), MHL is one of GC's hidden treasures and a valuable resource for the Mennonite Church.

NC 19: Newcomer Center, Room 19. "NC" does not mean "No Charge"; campus events held here sometimes have a fee. Newcomer Center is not to be confused with the place where people coming to campus for the first time are to go that's the Welcome Center, located at the south end of the Union building.

(The) Rot: Not a fungal disease picked up in the dorm showers; our showers are quite safe, thanks to the 'Service for Culture' teams from Phys Plant (see entry). The Rot is actually a reference to the student cafeteria, run by Sodhexo-Marriott; not a reflection on the actual state of the food or what, without proper dental hygiene, that cafeteria food will do to students' teeth.

Paxi bell: A costume in the shape of a bell worn by Pax members at public events; photogenic, mutable; makes appearances on Earth Day and at activism activities.

Phys Plant: Physical Plant, the department that deals with all things physical on campus (facilities that is, not contact sports or the sexuality packet) from cleaning up to issuing parking tickets to fall leaf-drop control.

Postmodernism: Supposedly banned in "the Hub" where the Record (newspaper) and Maple Leaf (yearbook) are created.

RFC: Recreation-Fitness Center, formally the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center. Also known as Gingerich Center or Rec-Fit or "the Rec." Never worked out? Don't sweat it (though you can't help it in the summer); classes are available just ask Hartz.

SST: Study-Service Term. A must-know in GC-speak. Results in patterns of predictable international comings and goings every three months; time for natural "breaks" in relationships. Responsible in part for the heavy volume of foreign mail flowing through campus post office. More than 6,000 students and 200 faculty members have gone to 15 countries around the world on SST for the challenge of figuring out the ingredients in dishes, enjoying the giddiness of getting lost on a bus system in a foreign capitol and experiencing immunizations at the health center. See www.goshen.edu/sst; web page does not include packing lists, which varies from country to country (advice: don't pack salsa in your bag on the way home from Costa Rica).

Shoup House, Howell House, Hospital House, et al: Houses within a block of the main campus owned by the college and maintained as small group houses. Source of fond memories, community meals and, now, Internet connections by satellite.

Squirrels: Unofficial GC mascots; not for feeding or breeding.

Standards for Guiding Our Life Together: Known as "the Standards," this document contains guidelines for the community: "Can't we all just get along?"

Compiled by Christy Risser and Rachel Lapp

Laughing at ourselves:
May we never cease to be amused

Humor is often rooted in self-perception, or assumptions about how others view us as individuals or groups. As a school in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, with the majority of its students in the 18-22-age range, the college is a crossroads where institutional, theological, academic and social concerns meet and where students challenge what they know while exploring the boundaries of familiar worlds. Faculty and administrators, too, make GC a place where questions are lived; through that searching comes humor, and an opportunity to bring serious matters to the fore.

The following is excerpted from chapter five of The Cow in the Science Hall: A Collection of GC Folklore by Kyle Schlabach '96 (Pinchpenny Press, 1994):

A vital tool for shaping self-identity, humor often serves as a buffer for ideas and opinions that need to be communicated and expressed, but that hit painfully close to home.

Goshen College's [community] is no exception. A rich amount of humor enlivens the campus vernacular. The jokelore of the campus community pokes fun at students, professors, fundraising and [the] relationships of [the] Mennonite colleges.

One joke, harkening back to the time when going to movies was frowned upon in the Mennonite community, pokes fun at the distances Mennonites had to go in order to safely indulge in cinematic pleasures.

About 1960, when I was a college student or a seminary muddler, there was a saying about where Goshen students and faculty went to the movies "in the old days": college students went to South Bend (Ind.), college faculty went to Chicago . . . and seminary faculty went to Europe.

Another three-item joke made worse sacrilegious fun of prominent faculty leaders. It alludes to the time prior to the building of the Church-Chapel when the campus community met daily for chapel services in Room 28 of the Administration Building. On the platform were three chairs, filled by the leaders of the service:

Some days we were privileged to have the Holy Trinity on the platform: G.F. Hershberger, J.C. Wenger and H.S. Bender. A little unholy imagination sees "God the Father," "Jesus Christ" and "Holy Spirit" in the initials.

Yoder Dame's "Fighting Yoder" by Sr. Andy WetherillOften put in the unenviable position of pleasing both the students and the constituency, the administration is a popular target for satire. Fear of a sellout is expressed in this slightly nervous one-liner:

There is a rumor going around that a potentially big donor to Goshen College refuses to contribute until the name of the college is changed to "Yoder Dame."

The following anecdote captures the personal struggle that administrators and their spouses endure to balance the importance of their work and its effect on their lives.

Dan Kauffman spends an enormous amount of time away from home on behalf of Goshen College. One day his wife Edith told him, "Dan, I think you love Goshen College more than you do me."

Dan replied, with a twinkle in his eye, "That may be so, but I certainly love you more than I do Hesston or EMC."

Although the Mennonite colleges are bound together by their similarities and common ties to the larger Mennonite community, a slight sense of competition always remains. The points where the images of the schools overlap and come into conflict beg for resolution and clarification.

Representatives of Hesston (Kan.) College, EMC (Harrisonburg, Va.) and Goshen College came together to discuss finances and related issues. Stories at the time had to do with streaking [or running unclothed] on the campuses. There were streakers at Goshen one weekend, at Hesston later that week and at EMC the following weekend. John Hershberger's one-liner: "How did the Goshen students get to Harrisonburg so soon?"

The perceived differences between the colleges have provided the basis for many jokes comparing and contrasting the institutions and their graduates. While the implied judgements in these jokes may or may not be true, they certainly are evidence of strong perceptions and concerns within the folk community. Stories and jokes validate and interpret our experience, and our best humor gains its force from its pointedness. We can identify strongly with the truths we find there.

Excerpts from The Cow in the Science Hall: A Collection of GC Folklore by Kyle Schlabach

An enjoyable and insightful collection of GC folklore, The Cow in the Science Hall is kept in print by Pinchpenny Press, and can be purchased for $6 at the Goshen College bookstore. The volume is also available by mail: including shipping, the cost for U.S. residents is $7; for Canadian residents, $7.25; and for those outside North America, $9.50. Send check to Pinchpenny Press, c/o Linda Wilfong, 1700 S. Main St., Goshen College, Goshen, IN 46526. For information, call Linda Wilfong at (574) 535-7450 or send e-mail to lindasw@goshen.edu.

SST in hindsight: Catharsis and humor

For a project in Professor of English Ervin Beck's Folklore class, Gina Leichty '95 submitted a project about SST folktales. Leichty observed that humor was an important bridge in smoothing cultural gaps and in retelling SST stories that, at the time, might have caused more stress than giggles.

The folklore surrounding SST experiences has a cathartic function, Leichty proposed, stating, "While each story varied to some degree, the SST stories aided the teller's personal understanding and ability to cope with an unusual, often stressful event."

The following anecdotes are a few examples of humorous SST catharsis:

Phil Leichty '71: Nicaragua, Fall 1969
We had flown on the national airline La Nica from Miami. We landed in their airport and our host families came to meet us. I thought I would show off my Spanish and introduce my host family to other GC students. The first thing I said was . . . "This is mi madre," which is not a good thing to do in Nicaragua, because that meant, "This is my nun." A Catholic priest was "Padre" and a nun was "Madre." For mother and father, they used "mama" and "papa." My mother was quick to correct me.

Dale King '95: Germany, Summer 1994
Ray Vandersall '96 [lived with a host family with] this old Grandfather. Ray would have to be introduced to him every day for the first three weeks.

"Who is this?" the Grandfather would say.

"He's an American student who is living with us. We introduced you to him yesterday," the family would reply.

"No you didn't," [said Grandfather.]

[My host family] was seriously critical of anything the U.S. did. They would make these jokes, but since I wasn't that familiar with the language, I wouldn't know they were jokes. One time dad said, "You know America went from the Stone Age to decadence without the necessary step in culture." I was like, "Ohhh, my. Help! Six long weeks!"

I was mailing a package. I went into the post office and it took me a while to get to the right door. You had to go in the back and jump the Doberman and do some sit-ups . . . I handed [the clerk] the box; she weighed it and said, "Twenty-three dollars."

I thought she said $32 so I said, "Thirty-two dollars?"

She said, "No, twenty-three dollars."

And I said, "Three hundred twenty dollars?!" Everyone immediately turns around and stops and looks at me.

She says, "No, twenty-three dollars."

I said, "Ohhh," and laid down the cash really quietly.

Marcela Shank King '95: Costa Rica, Spring 1993
We always carried our backpacks in front so no one would steal anything. One time someone opened mine. They'd didn't actually steal anything . . . The thing that was ironic is that the only thing that I had in my backpack was a travel guide that said how friendly Costa Ricans are.

Vicki Horsch Hoylman '95: Germany, Summer 1994
When I was at the nursing home, my first service assignment, there was this old woman who was so deaf. It seemed like sometimes she would just hear what she wanted to. One sunny afternoon . . . I helped the woman get outside because she was kind of slow with the stairs . . . We were talking and visiting and she turned to me and said, "How old are you?"

I said, "Twenty-one," but she couldn't hear; I shouted it in her ear but that wasn't working. I would get her to watch my mouth that wasn't working. So then I was making the numbers with my hands but that wasn't working.

Finally she just got this look, "Oh" like she finally understood. She said, "One hundred and twenty, why you are older than me!"

Michele Nafziger '94: Costa Rica, Spring 1993
It's customary on the buses to say "parada" to let the bus driver know you need to get off at a certain stop. Usually you say it quietly just loud enough to let the driver hear you. Well, we were all riding along somewhere one day and we were getting close to our stop when [an SST group member] screams at the top of his lungs, "PARADA!" Everyone just turned and looked at us like we were the rudest things to be imported to Costa Rica. [The SSTer] learned not to scream when [needing] to get off the bus.

From a project by Gina Leichty

Top 10 rejected mottoes for GC

10. Success with humility

9. The choice of 4 out of 5 Mennonite doctors

8. Global yet provincial

7. The few, the meek, the Mennonites

6. More expensive than a state school, but a lot cheaper than Harvard

5. A little service now, a lot of money later

4. Nonresistance with an attitude

3. (Us)is (or)as (Emu)nus

2. A dull location sharpens the mind

1. The truth will set you free, within community-established limits

Editor's note: Don't worry, GC's motto is still Culture for Service.

Ryan Ahlgrim '79