Living cross-culturally: Experiencing a feast of delectable tastes, objects and sounds

Most of us live our lives within tightly controlled comfort zones, whether staying in our air conditioned or well heated homes, or avoiding “the other” in our midst. However, I have learned from and admire those hearty souls who travel to distant lands and interact with locals, whether as missionaries, pilgrims or simply life long learners.

Recently, my wife Chris and I have come to know an Iraqi couple, Zeid and Sundis who came to the U.S. seeking political asylum. They settled in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and were quickly granted asylum because of death threats they experienced in Baghdad. They are Sunni Muslims who formerly lived in a Shia controlled area of Badhdad. Zeid is a successful businessman but, because of religious intolerance and greed, according to Zeid, he was twice kidnapped and held for ransom.

Last spring they hosted us in their home for a sumptuous feast of goat and traditional Iraqi dishes. Sundis is a wonderful cook and baker. We reciprocated and had them over for dinner. Zeid remarked, “This is the first time I have been a guest in an American home.”

On Labor Day my wife and I hosted four other couples, including Zeid and Sundis, for a traditional American cookout. However, in respect of their Muslim customs, we used halal beef to make the hamburgers. We invited friends who had visited Arab countries, including the former Mennonite Central Committee Middle East regional director, to join in the cookout. Zeid enjoyed meeting our friends and had such a good time that he said, “I want to host another party, for everyone who is here, at my home.”

I facilitated that event and five couples gathered in Zeid and Sundis’ home for an Iraqi feast of several fresh fish roasted whole, with the head and tail intact. There were no utensils but rather, we were invited to eat with our hands. The fish was supplemented with Middle Eastern flat breads, served with za’atar and olive oil, as well as dates, and salad. It was obvious that much care, time and love went into preparation of the meal. Sundis, who always wears the hijab, was draped in a particularly colorful garment for this special occasion.

When we had eaten our fill, the guests retired to the living room for a short time while the table was cleared and reset with an array of sumptuous sweets: baklava; Jordanian sweets made with walnuts, pistachios and dates; and fresh fruit skewered on a spit like shish kabob. Of course dessert was accompanied by Arabian coffee and a spiced tea served from decorated pitchers into small but elaborate cups.

After the meal, while still gathered at the table, Zeid asked us what we thought of the Muslim requirement for women to wear the hijab. Each of us answered in turn. Comparisons were made to Mennonite prayer coverings. One young woman, who grew up in China and experienced gender liberation under Chairman Mao and the Communist revolution, brought another distinct perspective to the dialogue. We spoke freely of our faith and love for Jesus even while we listened to the Muslim call to prayer emanating from Zeid’s smart phone. It was a rich time together.

Mennonite are not new to such experiences. Mennonite volunteers, from those who served in a relief program, PAX, during WWII, and those working with Mennonite Central Committee doing development and peace work around the world, embrace love for neighbors from other countries.

I suspect there are Muslims living in your region. MennoMedia produces resources which help equip individuals and the church to interact with their Muslims neighbors. I think specifically of the DVD, Waging Peace, and David W. Shenk’s trilogy of books: Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church, Teatime in Mogadishu, and A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. There is also a whole section of Third Way Cafe dedicated Waging Peace and helping people understand the Muslim faith and peaceful interactions.

I recommend these materials to you.

Steve C 2012

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development

Can you be a soldier and be a Christian?

How does a Christian veteran deal with the horrors he or she witnessed in war? How can a Christian reconcile faith and killing?


When I first saw we at MennoMedia/Herald Press were publishing a book by a veteran of the Iraq war, I thought, oh wow, that’s interesting. I assumed it would be all about how war is terrible and soldiers can’t be Christian and the military is a giant industrial complex, right? And the world would be much better off if people were all pacifists like most Mennonite-Anabaptists.

I mean, MennoMedia and Herald Press are supposed to be Anabaptist-Mennonite media producers and that’s what we do, right?

In For God and Country (In That Order): Faith and Service for Ordinary Radicals, ForGodAndCountryLogan Mehl-Laituri has compiled quite a remarkable roster of what he calls “soldier saints and patriot pacifists” from the “front lines of church history.” He himself has been a soldier, a patriot, a Christian, and now, a conscientious objector to war—but wants everyone across great divides to try and understand each other.

A press release for the book calls it “likely the first book written by such a recent war veteran published by the Mennonite/Anabaptist/pacifist publisher.”

Earlier he told his own fascinating story, Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism and Conscience by Intervarsity Press, 2012. It earned a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

Here Logan tells some of his story.

The book, with some engaging elements of images and design (especially for Herald Press) tells quick short stories of nearly 50 biblical “warriors,” soldier saints, pacifists, and pacific patriots.

If these intriguing labels don’t whet your appetite, maybe this will:

“This book is like a Hall of Fame for Christian soldiers and peacemakers, written by one of my favorite veterans for peace.  Logan reminds us that making peace is as costly as waging war, and if we aren’t prepared to pay the price for peace like the folks in this book, than we should sadly confess that we never really believed that the cross is an alternative to the sword.”  –-Shane Claiborne; author, activist, and Christian peacemaker


If you believe that we must come together across the many divides that cross Christians (and society) up, you owe it to yourself to buy, share and tell others about this book.


What do you think? Do you feel a conflict between being a faithful follower of Jesus, as well as loyal to the country in which you live? Where do these feelings and experiences get discussed? Do you feel alone in your positions?

Logan Mehl-Laituri’s blog can be found here.

Posted by Melodie Davis, staff writer and editor.



Pow! Bam! Radical! A MennoMedia employee’s journey with comics and Radical Jesus


I’ve been a passionate fan of the comic and cartoon arts for as long as I can remember. I grew up reading everything from Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes to the adventures of superheroes, and spent a lot of my free time doodling my own creations and telling stories from my own imagination. I even learned a great deal of the Bible stories I knew at that age from a series of comic book adaptations that my grandparents owned, and that I read over and over.

As I grew older, I was introduced to a whole other world of comics–people telling stories that spanned from current events studies like Joe Sacco’s Palestine to gripping personal narrative like Art Spiegelman’s Maus or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

The great joy for me in reading comics is their ability to capture both the fantastic and the very personal. The combination of art and text allows for powerful storytelling that is unique to the medium.

So, when I learned that Herald Press had received a proposal for a graphic novel that connected Jesus’ social message to stories throughout history, I was very excited. The proposal was brought to us by Sandra Sauder and Paul Buhle, and they had recruited three accomplished comic artists in Sabrina Jones, Gary Dumm, and Nick Thorkelson to help with the project.


Radical Jesus front cover. Artwork by Sabrina Jones

Sandra and Paul’s vision for the Radical Jesus project came from the desire to find a way of telling stories of faith in a format that could reach a youth audience. They planned for three sections–”Radical Gospel,” stories from Jesus‘ ministry; “Radical History,” telling stories from the Radical Reformation through abolition; and “Radical Resistance,” which would cover stories from abolition through the Civil Rights movement and of modern peace and justice activists from around the world.


A sample page from Part 1 of Radical Jesus. Artwork by Sabrina Jones.

I was invited to take part in an early meeting discussing the book proposal. That meeting took place in Cleveland in September 2011. During that day, Amy Gingerich, Paul Buhle, Sandra Sauder, Gary and Laura Dumm, and I began planning the scope of the book and started a list of stories to include.


A portion of the Dirk Willems story. Artwork by Gary Dumm.

There was quite a bit of dialogue still to follow as we narrowed down the selection of stories. Soon after, the process was started of writing scripts, editing, re-writing, further editing, seeing initial designs and sketches, and at last watching as final pages arrived from the artists.

This was a new process for all of us at MennoMedia. Comic books have not been our traditional market! But Paul and the artists were gracious in working with us. And the final product reflects the amount of hard work that was put into it by everyone involved. It is a beautiful book, and stands out as a unique piece in our long Mennonite publishing history.


“Radical Resistance” and Martin Luther King, Jr. Artwork by Nick Thorkelson.

While Radical Jesus is intended as an introduction for youth, I would strongly encourage readers of all ages to give it a chance. Even if you have no familiarity with this genre, I think the book has much to offer anyone interested in how Jesus‘ radical message has made a dramatic impact throughout history.

When I was spending my days as a youth scouring the comics pages, I never imagined I would someday get to be part of telling the stories of my Anabaptist heritage in the art form I love so much. It was a great thrill for me to have been involved in this special project. And I hope as readers that you will enjoy being able to experience these remarkable stories in a fresh and exciting new way.



Joshua Byler is Marketing and Sales Manager for MennoMedia, and still dreams of having the power of flight.



If you’re interested in more about Radical Jesus and are in the New York City area on Sunday, November 17, please check out this event at the 15th Street Friends Meeting. It starts at 12:30pm and is hosted by artists Sabrina Jones and Nick Thorkelson, who will discuss the book. Get your books signed by the artists!