Breathe in Bible School

What do you do with energetic, eager children over the summer? What will keep them busy and encourage faith development all at the same time? Vacation Bible school is something most children love: fun activities, stories, snacks, friends. What’s not to love?

Bible schools began around the turn of the last century when several denominations created summer programs that included worship, Bible stories, crafts, cooking, games, and other activities. According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), Mennonite Bible schools cropped up the 1920s in Wakarusa, Ind.; Hesston, Kan.; Elkhart, Ind.; Portland, Ore.; and Scottdale, Pa. Interest increased and there were 150 Mennonite summer Bible schools in 1938. By 1963 there were 835 Mennonite Bible schools attended by 100,786 children and taught by 11,033 teachers.

GAMEO notes that as Mennonite Bible schools increased, curriculum was developed by the Mennonite Publishing House (forerunner to MennoMedia). Writers, artists, and editors were hired to create experience-related materials that were centered on the Bible. This VBS curriculum was used not only in Mennonite programs, but more than two-thirds was sold to other denominations. It was translated into German and French for Bible schools in Europe, and into Spanish for Bible schools in Puerto Rico and Latin America.

Though numbers have declined and are no longer near the amounts cited for 1963, there are thriving VBS programs concerned with children’s spirituality and faith formation. MennoMedia continues to develop quality VBS materials that focus on the Bible and children’s experiences. Written from an Anabaptist Mennonite perspective, materials are appreciated by many. Approximately one-third of the purchases are by churches of other denominations.


MennoMedia’s VBS 2013 materials focus on an essential aspect of life—breathing. Take a moment right now and focus on your own breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Next time you breathe in, say silently: “Let everything that breathes” and when you exhale, say: “praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). You have just said a breath prayer that children who participate in VBS will pray.


Breathe It In: God Gives Life focuses on Bible stories of breath, air, and life. At the beginning of Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth. God takes dust, breathes the breath of life into it, and a person is created! And in Acts, God breathes life into a young church. These are just two of the stories covered in the materials, each one acknowledging God as the source and giver of life.

Veva Mumaw at Olive Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., appreciates the MennoMedia materials. She said, “This VBS curriculum contains Anabaptist theology and fits our view of instilling faith in our children. It is exciting and offers creative and flexible activities.”  You can see learn more and see Bible memory videos at


We’re already hard at work on VBS 2014 materials, Welcome! Give and Receive God’s Great Love, which features stories of hospitality. It will be available in October so be sure to look for it for NEXT summer.

Get your church and community involved in Bible school and join the tradition of spreading God’s love during the summer months. And we’d love to hear stories/see photos from your church’s VBS program.


Mary Ann Weber
Managing Curriculum Editor



The Winning Recipes—and People—of Extending the Table

MennoMedia is proud to be releasing a new edition of Extending the Table in Spring 2014. Extending the Table is the second cookbook in the World Community Cookbook series, commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee, that also includes the More-with-Less Cookbook and Simply in Season.

As I reported in a Mennobytes post in March, the new edition of Extending the Table will include more photographs, a few new recipes, and many of the recipes, stories, prayers, and proverbs from around the world that you have come to love.

Today I’m happy to report on two types of “winners” with regard to the new edition of Extending the Table: recipes and people. First, the recipes.

RECIPES: The results are in! More than 120 people responded to the Extending the Table survey, to help determine which recipes appear in the new edition of the cookbook. Thanks to all of you who spent time paging through your copy of the cookbook and voting for the recipes that you and your household find yourselves preparing again and again. We are taking your responses very seriously.

Right now we are working to determine exactly which recipes from the current edition will appear in the new edition of the cookbook. Seven people are serving as an advisory group for the process; they are weighing in on these questions over the next several weeks. So while I can’t reveal a list of which recipes will make the final cut, I can report on which recipe received the most votes in each category. It’s safe to assume that the recipes listed below will definitely make it into the new edition. (Note: We did not include beverages, grains, and dried beans in the survey.)

So the winners are . . .

  • BREADS: Tied for first place were Indian Flat Bread / Chapati from India (p. 48) and Pita Bread / Khubiz Arabi from the West Bank (p. 51)
  • SOUPS: Spicy Lentil Pot / Shorbet Addis from Egypt (p. 98)
  • SALADS AND VEGETABLES: Thai Stir-Fried Vegetables / Pad Pak Rooam from Thailand (p. 130)
  • EVERYDAY MAIN DISHES: Curried Peas and Potatoes / Mattar Alu Kari from India (p. 180)
  • FESTIVE DISHES: Spinach Pie / Spanokopita from Greece (p. 218)
  • POULTRY: Bang Bang Chicken / Bang Bang Ji from China (p. 228)
  • FISH: Fish with Mango / Samaki na Embe from Kenya (p. 235)
  • MEATS: Groundnut Stew / Nketia Fla from Ghana (p. 244)
  • APPETIZERS AND SNACKS: Chick-Pea Dip / Hummus from Turkey (p. 259)
  • CONDIMENTS: Garam Masala from India (p. 289)
  • DESSERTS: Flan from Spain (p. 303)

There you have it: dishes from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe top the list. (Don’t worry: we will include recipes from South and Central America and Canada and the United States, too!) Since collating the results of the survey and discovering which ones rose to the top, I’ve found myself trying out these recipes in our home. I figured that since so many people voted for these, they must really be winners. You may want to do the same.

PEOPLE: And last but not least, the people winners . . .

Actually, anyone who took the Extending the Table survey is a winner. All respondents to the survey will receive a 30 percent discount on one copy of the new edition of the cookbook (closer to the time of publication, a code will be emailed to you that you can use when ordering a copy).

But three respondents are winners in a special way. They will receive a global-cuisine gift mailed to their doorstep. A high-school student from my congregation, Slate Hill Mennonite Church, who was shadowing me for a morning while I was working on this project, got the privilege of choosing the winners in a random drawing of survey respondents. Here is Veronica, getting ready the pick the third lucky winner in our very high-tech, randomized selection process. (Okay, so we put names on slips of paper and shuffled them around in a little box.)


Ninth-grader Veronica Werner of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, does the random drawing of winners of the Extending the Table survey respondents.

The winners, and their global-cuisine gifts, are:

  1. One set of the three MCC-commissioned World Community Cookbooks: More-with-Less Cookbook, Extending the Table, and Simply in Season: Kay Schmidt, Walton, Kansas
  2. A basket of Asian spices and ingredients (including, among other things, Madras curry powder, lemongrass powder, coconut milk, fish sauce, and spring roll wrappers): Erin Ramer, Wellman, Iowa
  3. A box of 10,000 Villages food items (coffee, tea, olive oil, and soup mixes): Julie Hurst, East Waterford, Pennsylvania

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you to everyone who spent time filling out the survey and to everyone giving feedback along the way. We pray that the revised edition of Extending the Table will extend the witness of worldwide Christians and the use of the World Community Cookbook series to even more kitchens than before.

— Guest post written by Valerie Weaver-Zercher, contract editor for MennoMedia


Poetry for Tuesday: Dantri, friend among the Taliban


Dan Terry_BAF
Dan Terry

*Dantri was the name of affection people in Afghanistan gave to Dan Terry, whose life story is told in Making Friends among the Taliban, written by storyteller Jonathan Larson; it was published by Herald Press, Fall, 2012 and the subject of a documentary, Weaving Life, produced by college students at Eastern Mennonite University in cooperation with MennoMedia during 2012. The documentary aired on ABC-TV fall and winter of 2012-2013.

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For something very different in this blog space, we’re sharing a poem by John Alter, the poet-chaplain at Christchurch School (Episcopal secondary school). Storyteller/author Jonathan Larson visited Christchurch School earlier in May, sharing the Weaving Life documentary and from Making Friends among the Taliban. Christchurch School is an Episcopal secondary school. This poem gives insights as to how the students at Christchurch were affected and Jonathan is eager to inspire other teens and college students. Contact us at MennoMedia for information on how to get in touch with Jonathan, or visit his webpage for the book. To preview a video clip from the documentary, check here.



For my final theology exam I assigned
Who is my neighbor?  Designed

To allow each student to refine his or her sense
In whatever tense of what

We have learned together over this year.  Nobody
Shut down.  No shoddy answers.

A few swerved, a few perhaps dozed off a little, some
Mumbled, stumbled, fumbled, sure

And the moments of pure intellectual elation…
Well, vacation threatens, but

More than a few before they shut down for the year said
That Dantri the Taliban

Christian had unraveled their turbans gotten into
Their heads forced them to redo

Some obvious assumptions, an act of merciful
Sabotage long overdue.

The pull of the gospel in other words, what is true,
What is also beautiful,

And, Larson, you pulled on the rope and the great bell of
Mercy rang in the steeple.

Reminded of love the people who are my students
For a moment abandoned

What is merely prudent and self-serving, wondered what
Else they could do, might do, in

This life.  Before they shut down for the summer, looked in-
Ward a little even, knew

For a moment even that the only sin is to
Overlook your neighbor.  Here

At this school what is abundantly clear is that we
All live in a watershed

That is our history fate and good fortune.  Dantri
Got into heads already

To some extent primed perhaps, persuaded that life
Is a great journey.  The knife

That cuts through the ego’s knot is love of self neighbor
And place.  Leave the door of your

Caravanserai ajar then, knowing that more and
Less are arbitrary terms,

Understanding the great river of mercy.  Students
Squirm when reason overrides

Curiosity, is how we would like to decide
The curriculum.  Go out

Side, when pressed on the matter express some doubt that in
And out are meaningful terms.

Students squirm when sin is confused with rule-breaking, unless
The golden rule is at stake.

Then they confess to having taken some liberties
As Dantri did.  A sweet breeze

Moves through the apricot trees.  Who is your neighbor? Some
Mumbled a little, stumbled,

Nobody grumbled, and the story of Dantri claimed
A major part.   They named him

As somebody they might like to know: whimsical, sure
Footed, addicted to pure

Water, and, Larson, fire-starter, elemental tall-
Tale tiger-shooting story

Teller—we know the glory.

–for Jonathan Larson

Query: If you’ve seen Weaving Life or read Making Friends among the Taliban, how did either impact you?