Grace is a wonderful gift — pass it on!

My wife and I own and manage several apartments in our home town. We do our best to see it as a ministry, not just a business. Often we lease to persons with a poor credit rating because we think everyone deserves a decent place to live, no matter what their circumstances in life.At times we seek out tenants receiving Federal assistance (Section 8) from the local housing authority.

Recently one of our tenants moved out creating a vacancy. The townhome needed extensive cleaning and renovations. We did the cleaning and painting ourselves and hired contractors to replace the kitchen cabinets, counter tops and bathroom vanities. Another professional steam cleaned the rug. By the time we were done the place looked pretty good. We refuse to become ‘slum landlords,’ fixated on costs, unwilling to make repairs. Rather, we keep our properties clean and well maintained.RentSign2

Over the weekend I set out two “for rent” signs and placed a free ad on the local university’s e-classifieds. Two hours later I started getting calls and emails. Within 24 hours I had shown the apartment to three families, who each filled out an application. However, I was drawn to one family in particular. Dawn (not her real name) is a single mother with two teenage children, a 13 year old daughter April and an 11 year old son Jack. She owns a home in an adjoining county but when her husband left her 18 months earlier, she began to struggle financially. Eventually, she could not keep up with the mortgage payments and the credit card debt he ran up before he left. On the advice of her lawyer, she plans to foreclose on her home and declare personal bankruptcy. She is hoping for a fresh start.

I checked her credit and references. Her credit score is abysmal but her character references were excellent. After some discussion of the various interested parties, we decided to rent her the apartment to help her get a fresh start. When I called to tell her this, she fell silent. I could hear her crying on the other end of the line. Finally, after regaining her composure, she said, “Thank you. This is an answer to prayer.” I explained I too had come through a painful divorce and understood her situation. Again, she choked up. We agreed to meet the next day to sign the lease after she got off work.

The next morning, I stopped by the townhome to mow the lawn one more time and to square away a few small items. When she arrived at the townhome that evening everything was in order. I oriented her to her new home and introduced her to her next door neighbor. She then signed the lease and paid the first month’s rent. When the formalities were over, I gave her a housewarming gift, a copy of Fifty Shades of Grace. I told her my story of divorce and deliverance was in the book. She was genuinely pleased and took it with her when she left to pick up her children.

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I have given away more than a dozen copies of this wonderful book which contains amazing stories of God’s grace in the lives of 50 different authors. I’ve passed it on to friends, relatives and this tenant. I’ve given it as a birthday gift, a housewarming gift and just because I thought the person needed to be encouraged by inspirational stories of God’s grace. I just ordered three more copies and plan to give them to our neighbors. I’ve found that Grace is an amazing gift, both to give and to receive. I think you will too.

Steve C 2012

Steve Carpenter, MennoMedia Director of Development

Going home hungry: A summer editorial intern spills all

Kendra Litwiller of Hopedale, Illinois, spent May through July 2013 as an editorial intern at MennoMedia. Kendra is a rising senior at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., majoring in English with minors in Writing and Art. She is a member of Hopedale Mennonite Church.

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Everyone knows that dinner follows work, for most people. You leave work and start thinking about what you will make. Chicken? Enchiladas? Chicken enchiladas? It’s most likely a given that there is food in your fridge and probably a family waiting to eat, hungry.

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Chicken enchiladas from Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog, used by permission.

While working as an editorial intern for the past few months at MennoMedia, I went home hungry nearly every night. Keeping information up-to-date is an essential step in maintaining fresh materials, and this is no different for the staff at MennoMedia. This summer, updates were necessary on both Extending the Table and Simply in Season, and I had the pleasure of taking both of these cookbooks in my hands to help with the changes.

Het Fang Sai Khaai

One recipe from the forthcoming revised Extending the Table cookbook,
a Thai egg/rice dish called Het Fang Sai Khaai
.

Hence, I was working with recipes for extended periods of time, all the while thinking, Oh, that sounds good. Recipes like Apple Spice Waffles, Fresh Summer Salsa, and Rhubarb Sorrel Crisp made my mouth water. By the end of a day, my stomach would be emitting growls that could compete with bears’, and my mind would be racking itself to remember if I already had ingredients to try something I had seen that day.

Blush

But more than the gnawing hunger pangs, I left each day with a desire to know more.  Whether this resulted from searching for an article about peace to post to Third Way Café, reading endorsements for Shirley Showalter’s upcoming book, Blush, or editing worship resources for Mennonite Church USA’s Women in Leadership Project, I was constantly aware that I was doing work that I loved but knew little about its technical details. Working with Melodie Davis and the rest of the editorial staff gave me the opportunity to put the skills I have to use in a new setting, and at the same time learn more about the role that editors play in making a company like MennoMedia a success.

When I started work at MennoMedia in May, the staff was in the beginning stages of renovating their Third Way Café website. Part of our discussions centered on the purpose of the website as a source of information on Anabaptists, who was important to reach, and why. After hearing others’ thoughts, I often left with my mind not only on the website and its purpose but on my own work and how it will affect people. My time at MennoMedia left me hungry to know how I can use my talents to provide people with great literature while enhancing their Christian lives. I left each day not only ready to try my hand at some tasty new recipes but eager to implement the knowledge I have gleaned while working this summer.

Kendra Litwiller

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You can help support MennoMedia’s work through your gifts, purchases, and encouraging your congregation to use curricula from this publisher for two denominations, Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

Part 2: What people read first at Third Way Café

Part 2 (and check the end for a free book offer)

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In Friday’s post, we looked at what events in the news or nations propelled people to check out their questions about Mennonites or Amish at a website like Third Way Café. Today we’ll look at where they go first.

WhoAreTheMennonitesPage.

The top traffic pages are ALWAYS the “Who are the Mennonites?” section, so we want to help people get to those pages easier and faster, and to help them find useful information instead of bouncing off in two clicks. But, there are additional, notable, well-used pages. The top five pages/sections accessed in the last year (July 28, 2012, to July 28, 2013) include these:

Overall, we average about 39,000 page views a month and 18,000 unique visitors, with about 80 percent being first time visitors to the site (with the resulting bounce rate of some 80 percent—common to other sites as well). The number of new visitors each month has increased; we used to average about 65 to 75 percent new visitors. I’m going to attribute that to more casual interest driven by things like the reality TV shows on Amish. (Again, comment please if you can think of other reasons: increase in interest from Mennonite/Amish romance books, memoirs, Naked Anabaptist, big names like Brian McLaren, More with Less cooking, etc.?)

NakedAnabaptistCover

Third Way Café is also there helping the general populace sort out Mennonites, Moonies, Mormons, and Muslims. And yes, believe it or not, from previous studies (not online, in archives) the general public confuses all these different faith groups that they don’t much understand, that all happen to start with “M.” There is a great four-part ditty some creative folks came up with about common confusions:

Third Way Café also helps people sort out confusion between Mennonites, Amish, Conservative, Old Order, Old Order Mennonite, Hutterites, River Brethren, Swarztzentruber Amish and many more groups. (See various FAQs here.)

Both predecessor organizations of today’s MennoMedia agency have worked at these issues for a combined total of well over a century and a half: helping people understand Mennonites, Anabaptists, Amish and more. Undoubtedly crowd-sourced information (from bloggers and aggregators like Reddit etc.) will become more important for Third Way Café.

Here’s MennoMedia’s own video take helping people sort out their confusion:

Third Way Cafe website is ready for some updating and focusing (see earlier post on new directions) with better accessibility from mobile platforms (smart phones, tablets, etc.). Thirty-eight percent of our traffic comes from mobile, a number increasing every month.

Most of this interpretation of Mennonites used to come one letter, postcard or phone call at a time, and was answered by painstaking correspondence of the various agencies. Third Way Café grew out of the ministry of Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc., founded in the early 1950s which, through its over-the-air broadcast ministries, prompting inquiries from all over the U.S., Canada and the world about Mennonites and what they believed.  Even before Mennonite Publishing House and Mennonite Media/Third Way Media formally merged in 2011, Third Way Café was handling these types of electronic inquiries for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Publishing House/Network. And yes, some of the questions are still answered personally—mostly by email, but occasionally by old fashioned snail mail and landline phone.

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Angela and Erwin Rempel, volunteers,
respond to most personal inquiries to Third Way Cafe.

Menonitas.net, a sister site to Third Way Café entirely in Spanish, also receives good views from all over the world, and especially Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, the United States, and Spain, in that order. The visitors bounce from 250-500 a month, also with observable spikes.

Third Way Café has attracted support from some small Mennonite-related foundations and individual donors; like Wikipedia and other classic but popular sites, it prefers not to host ads at present (but that could change).  MennoMedia seeks to keep Third Way Café sustainable for the long term. It attracts a few clicks to the MennoMedia store but hardly enough to pay any portion of a salary.

But there is much more than the sustainability of a website at stake here: the sustainability of reliable, vetted, quality information for the general public on Mennonites, Amish and Anabaptist. What is that worth to you? What is it worth to the denominations in an era when electronic and mobile forms of communication increasingly dominate? We believe the Mennonite churches want to maintain a strong electronic presence to help the increasingly wired inquirers who come our way!

Head on over to our Facebook page for Third Way Cafe, like it, and make a comment. (We’re pushing for 1,000!) I will personally send a free copy of Ask Third Way Cafe: 50 Common and Quirky Questions about Mennonites, (Jodi Nisly Hertzler, Cascadia, 2009) to one name drawn randomly. Tell us you read Mennobytes blog, or whatever comment you care to make about Third Way Cafe and I’ll put your name in the hat, so to speak. Deadline Wed. August 7 midnight ET.

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Melodie Davis
Managing editor