Isn't it interesting that Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, all presented humanity with what an alternative approach to life? Our natural bent is “it's all about me.” Conequently, we take their teachings and use them to justify our fear based greedy, selfish, mistrustful, power hungry, violent approach to the world. But they quietly insisted that if we really want to excell, be powerful, even just maintain what we already have, we have to love the stranger and “our enemies.” We are to do good to those who use and abuse us. To give respect, hospitality, and opportunity because in so doing we turn those we fear and misunderstand into partners and friends, thus, in the end, making us all safer!
For 55 years the International Gift Festival has transformed little Fairfield Mennonite into an international marketplace of fairly traded pottery, jewelry, baskets, toys, textiles, Christmas decorations, paper products, soaps, Oriental rugs... all made by fairly paid artisans from over 30 developing countries.
But what does that have to do with loving our enemies or practicing the golden rule? Everything. By creating dependable jobs and a secure market, by having Muslims work alongside Christians, by teaching the uneducated how to advocate for themselves, Ten Thousand Villages has gone into destitute areas of the world and created pockets of respect and financial stablility, creating trust among neighbors, as well as for the United States and the larger church. Something very needed in today's broken world.
OK. I agree that what we do as individuals often seems insignificant. Even if Ten Thousand Villages is one of the largest fair trade organizations in the world, the millions it sells is a pittance in our trillion dollar global market. But that's not the point, especially if you're one of the artisans they support. When Jesus told the parable about the mustard seed he was pointing to us as the mustard seeds of the world. What we do matters.
That first International Gift Festival started as an impulsive act of concern for Edna Ruth Byler who had worked with her husband in impoverished areas after WWII. There she noticed the poor and displaced creating beautiful items from the trash and rubble around them. So she tried to sell some to her Amish and plain Mennonite communities. Not being able to say no to desperate need, her basement quickly filled up with more than she could sell. None of us anticipated those first festivals designed to help Mrs. B move accumulated merchandise would strongly contribute to the fair trade movement. But they did.
Our intentional and random acts of kindness matter. Adopting a child, mentoring a struggling student, giving an ex-con a job, welcoming an immigrant may not have that fairy tale ending we desire, but if we don't try, nothing changes. And we do know that in the past 55 years the shoppers at Fairfield's International Gift Festival have purchased over a million dollars worth of crafts and rugs positively impacting over 60,000 lives! And that's not peanuts.
This year's 55th International Gift Festival runs from Nov 10 through 14, 10 am to 7 pm each day except Saturday when its 9 to 5. The Fairfield Mennonite Church is located at 201 W. Main Street, Faifield, Pa. For more info call 717-642-8936, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or check www/fairfieldmennonitechurch.org
Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church