“I’ll Try”: How a 67-year-old Storytelling Grandmother Came to Author 10 Novels

Blog post in 2 parts

Part I: “I’ll Try”: How a 67-year-old Storytelling Grandmother Came to Author 10 Novels

Mary Christner Borntrager was born the seventh child in an Amish family of ten and went on to author of a series of novels with over 500,000 copies in print.

Earlier this year I was scouring old files here at MennoMedia, where I’ve worked almost four decades under various names and structures. I was looking for photos for another project when I ran across this picture from Choice Books photo files. Choice Books used to operate out of this building, long before Herald Press moved to town.


Mary Christner Borntrager signing copies of her novels in the mid-1990s.

I knew that we were planning to bring back into print the entire ten-book series of novels, Ellie’s People, written by Mary Christner Borntrager from 1988 to 1998 (Mary died in 2002). There before me was a photo of this author busily autographing stacks of the Ellie series books at a Choice Books event years ago.

Here’s another photograph of Mary addressing an audience at the same event. The joy and excitement shows so well on her face, don’t you think?


Mary Christner Borntrager telling stories at a banquet.

Anyway, yes, Herald Press is bringing back the whole series, one book at a time, and the first one is launching today.

Don’t you think Mary is doing a little happy dance in heaven??

I love her daughter Kathryn Keim’s story of how Mary came to write her first book. Her children and grandchildren always begged for another story from Mary’s childhood, so one day she told her daughter, “Maybe I should write a book.” Kathryn encouraged her. Mary herself came to call her genre “faction”: a blending of facts from her life with fiction. See more in our news release on the book here.

Mary’s family says she always enjoyed hearing from readers and pulled a few letters they still have from their files, which I’m excerpting with permission:

“The Lord has sent Mrs. Borntrager’s lovely books to teach many things about families. My husband got me one of the books each year for Christmas. When I read the first one, Ellie, my own children were a lot like Missy’s badly behaved [children]. The Lord used Ellie to teach me some things about disciplining children. Later these books helped me to understand some problems in my marriage, and then helped me decide to make a new commitment to God. Thank you so much, Mrs. Borntrager.” (Bolivar, Ohio)


“Dear Mrs. Borntrager: I met you at the LOGO Bookstore Christmas Open House in Kent, and bought several of your books, of which I have read some and find them enchanting, family oriented, and church centered. These are gifts for my granddaughter.” (Warren, Ohio)


“Dear Mary, … I’m glad to remember you as a 7th grade student … I lost communication with you for 50 years. I went to another school system and you went for more education so you could become a teacher. In the late 1980s, I saw your picture in the paper and when I saw your name, it rang a bell. You were living in North Canton in the same mobile home park that I was. I knocked at your door and we had a nice visit and renewed our friendship. I want to congratulate you on the books you write in the later years of your life on Amish life. It has been so nice to know you as a former student and a good friend. If we don’t see each other again, I know we will meet in heaven. Your former teacher.”

But perhaps most touching of all is a reflection her oldest daughter, Kathryn, wrote as her mother was hospitalized and increasingly weaker. Kathryn helped launch her mother’s remarkable writing career at the age of 67. Mary’s books sold more copies than most writers even dream of. Kathryn had not only first encouraged her mother to write down the stories, she coached her mother into having something new written each time Kathryn came over. Mary always responded, “I’ll try.”

Coming up on Monday, Part II of this post, “And then she was gone …”


Ellie relaunches today! Get yours now HERE–buy several at this price for all the readers you know who might enjoy this book.

ellieHave you read any of the Mary Christner Borntrager books? We’d love to hear from readers and fans!

P1050565Post by Melodie Davis, MennoMedia editor, writer, producer. Also blogging at www.FindingHarmonyBlog.com

How Will Your Church Launch Shine Children’s Curriculum?

A complete worship service/celebration planning guide; blog post by Rose Stutzman

ShineLogoAt the Shine office we are hearing from churches who are planning their introduction to Shine. First use will be August 31 but some congregations are waiting to begin until everyone is back from Labor Day weekend.

A church in Ottawa, Ontario is planning to tie in Shine spiritual practices and Shine key Bible passages into their worship service on the first Sunday of using Shine. Here is a link to a PowerPoint of the verses if you care to do the same. Shine key scriptures

A church in Goshen, Indiana is doing a series on faith formation of children, youth, and adults this fall (inspired by, among other things, Shine Together). On September 7 every family with children under the age of 12 will receive Shine On: A Story Bible. (Imagine a stack of 45 story Bibles waiting to spring into use!)

IMG_9929Households with no young children will receive Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book. A basket on the table will allow households to contribute toward the cost of the books if they are able.

Other possibilities include:

  • Playing songs from the Shine Early Childhood CD during children’s time. Three MP3s are available at https://shinecurriculum.com/music/.
  • Choosing a song from the Year 1 Shine songbook and CD as a fall theme song so that the congregation is singing along with its children.
  • Doing a series of sermons on the biblical theme of light.
  • Blessing teachers and children with these words as they leave for Sunday school” “May the light of God’s presence guide you as you hear God’s story together.”

Some folks in Kansas planned a whole worship service, which follows below. This is also available at https://shinecurriculum.com/extras/ Click on Shine worship resources in the grid of Shine general resources.

Oct2013Various 040Shine Sunday Order of Worship

Bulletin Cover – see Shine graphics / logos available here.

Songs – refer to Year One Shine Songbook and CD. Some of these songs may also be available in other church hymnals you use.


Opening Prayer

Gathering Songs:“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” (p. 8, track 5); “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (p. 7, track 10); “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!” (p. 11, track 21);

Hold up the Shine songbook and explain that each Christian education room will have a copy of this songbook and CD which will be used throughout the year.

Shining Christ’s Light Together

Scripture: Matthew 5:14–16

Worship Leader: You are the light of the world. A city built upon a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Congregation Response: We are a reflection of God’s light; called to shine that light at home and beyond.

Scripture Reflection/Meditation – Pastor (four minutes)

Song: “Let Your Light Shine” (p. 27, track 1)

Known and Loved by God

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2

Worship Leader: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

Congregation Response: God’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.

Scripture Reflection/Meditation – Pastor (four minutes)

Song: “You Gave Us Hope” (p. 13, track 2)

What is congregational faith formation? (three minutes)

A Christian educator / parent or pastor can offer some thoughts here about how we are formed in our faith from cradle to grave; that Sunday School is just one way of many that we are able to pass on our faith; that everything we do as adults is modeling faith for children and youth. Look in Shine Together: The Essential Guide for Leaders and Teachers for more statements on faith formation that you could adapt for this time of informal input).

Presentation of Shine On: A Story Bible to all households that have children

Explain that Shine On will be used each week for grades K–5 and that each story includes some ideas for further conversation at home. Tell them to read the same story together as a family.

Presentation of Shine songbook and CD to all households that have children ages 5–12

—Hold up an Early Childhood Music CD and explain that parents will be getting directions for downloading free songs for the quarter on the leaflets children will bring home.

—Say that the Shine songbook and CD will be used for all year during the Christian nurture hour. One way for families to do simple faith formation at home is to play the CD in their car to and from church each week or play the downloads for younger children at bedtime!

Presentation of something to all adult households

This is to emphasize that faith formation is for everyone. Ideas could be: a yellow votive / tea light candle, a prayer book, a yellow flower bulb, a bookmark with the colorful Shine logo and a list of the scriptures that Shine will cover during the fall quarter.

Sharing Christ’s Light – God’s Shalom

Scripture: Romans 12:2

Worship leader: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Congregation response: The light of Christ transforms us and gives us wisdom to do God’s will. We cooperate with God to bring healing and hope to our world.

Scripture Reflection/Meditation – Pastor (four minutes)

Song: “Prayer of Peace” (p. 19, track 4)

Offering: “Jesus, You Fill Our Hearts with Your Love” (p. 16, track 18)


Individual sharing could be framed or preceded by these phrases . . . I am seeking God’s light or I am thankful for the way God’s light has shined on . . . or I pray that the light of Christ will transform . . .

Litany of Commitment (from Matthew 5:14–16; Romans 12:2)

Leader: Today we celebrate the greatness of our God—the one who created us with minds to learn, and who opens our hearts to understand.

People: We are a reflection of God’s light, wanting children to experience the transforming power of God’s love and to shine God’s light in the world. Arise; let your light shine.

Leader: We are thankful for teachers who share God’s story. We are thankful for children and youth who see the light of God’s message unfold. We are thankful for a congregation who encourages and supports these efforts.

People: Let us look to God and be radiant. Let us reflect the brightness, as nothing can hide God’s glorious light. Arise; let your light shine.

Leader: Together, we promise to experience God’s story and respond, as we serve you faithfully. We give you all the praise, honor, and glory.

All: We believe that expressing our faith through lives of compassionate peacemaking and service to others shows that the light is stronger than darkness.

Sending/Blessing: “Sending Song” (p. 31, track 22)

Additional options:

  • Have an older child read a story from the Shine On: A Story Bible to the younger children for a children’s time.
  • Show the introductory video about Shine found here.
  • Ask parents, teachers, and pastors to mark their favorite Bible story in the Shine On: A Story Bible before you hand them out to families.
  • Ask children or youth to write the Welcome and Opening Prayer.
  • Ask a child or youth to be the worship leader, along with an adult, if preferred.
  • Invite children to play some of the songs from the Shine songbook as a prelude on piano or other instrument. Invite children or youth to accompany the congregational singing.
  • Use one of the scriptures as a call to worship, rather than as a whole focus for one of the sections.
  • Provide paper, crayons, or markers in “Shine” colors for doodling during the service. Or use shape-prompts on the page like part of a sun, part of a candle, etc., and have doodlers complete the object and add to it. Display creations in hallway or sanctuary wall.
  • Have rhythm instruments available for folks to grab as they enter the service. If adults are too cautious, make sure the children get them. Be sure to invite them to use them during the singing.
  • Visuals – Use the Shine colors! Yellow, Royal Blue, Green, Orange.

o  Bright-colored fabric draped on a table or podium, with large pillar candle to be lit when first scripture is read.

o   Different kinds of lamps or different heights of candles representing different kinds of light can be grouped on the communion table.

o   Large mirrors can be placed behind lit candles to reflect light back into congregation. They might even see themselves in the reflection.


  • Worship outline developed by Vicki Hinz-Ensz, Shine trainer from First Mennonite, Beatrice, Nebraska, and adapted by Marlene Bogard, Minister of Christian Formation, Western District Conference, Mennonite Church USA.
  • Litany of Commitment by Pat Denno, First Mennonite, Newton, Kansas


Do you have other creative or useful ideas for launching the new curriculum?

Please do let us know what you do; comment here or send an email to roses@mennomedia.og. We would love to hear from you!

Rose Stutzman
Shine Project Director

Why You Should Read a Book of History You Don’t Expect to Enjoy

Let me just get this out in the open: I don’t read history very often. My reading tastes, in my off-work hours, tend toward literary nonfiction, spiritual memoir, and the occasional contemporary novel. Biographies and histories of people, places, and institutions are, well, a stretch. My brain is a sieve when it comes to historical details and data, and I haven’t taken a history class for more than twenty-five years.

So when Nate Yoder’s manuscript, which would become Together in the Work of the Lord: A History of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, landed on my desk a few months ago, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy editing it. I’m not a member of a Conservative Mennonite Conference congregation, so I knew I wouldn’t recognize many of the key characters and acronyms in the book. And I didn’t expect to identify with the concerns that the conference expressed with regard to the trajectory of the Mennonite group to which I belong: Mennonite Church USA. Other than wearing a prayer covering on Sundays as a young teen and growing up in Lancaster Conference in the 1970s, I don’t have much experience with conservative Mennonitism. So I thought I’d put on my editing cap, grit my teeth, and do my best not to yawn my way through my work.


Together in the Work of the Lord was published in July.

Except that’s not what happened. Somewhere in an early chapter of Together in the Work of the Lord, as I read about the heritage and witness of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, I found myself fascinated by what I was learning and eager to read more. Nate traces the way that the Conservative Mennonite Conference redefined the meaning of conservative from cultural nonconformity to evangelical theology, and the way that members of the conference defined themselves over and against people like me, members of more liberal Mennonite groups. As I read, I became impressed with the earnestness and good intentions of the people to whom Nate was introducing me, and I recognized many of my own concerns in their convictions. How do we pass on an authentic Mennonite faith to the next generation? What does it mean for an individual to be accountable to the church community? What goods and gifts from the past deserve to be preserved?

And at the basic level of what makes a book a good read, there are the stories. Nate Yoder tells a lot of interesting ones: conflicts between bishops and pastors about what it means to be in the world but not of it; the civil rights movement’s effects on Conservative Conference; differing ideas about spiritual warfare that shook Rosedale Bible College; and those flinty conversations about radios, TV, and women’s dress that fascinate me to no end.


Author Nathan E. Yoder working on his history of Conservative Mennonite Conference.

So while I have come to somewhat different conclusions about what it means to be faithful than many of the figures in Nate’s history, I found myself grateful for their witness. In an era of fracturing Mennonite Church USA identity, it doesn’t hurt any of us to attempt to view faith and praxis through the lens of another. That’s what Nate Yoder’s book did for me: helped me don someone else’s glasses for a time. Even if I ultimately set aside those glasses at the end of the book, I am the richer for having seen the world—and myself—through those lenses.

I’m proud that Herald Press, publisher for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, chose to publish this volume about our conservative sisters and brothers. This book is the 47th volume in the Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History series. It’s not just for historians or scholars or insiders to the conference who will recognize the names and acronyms; it’s for outsiders like me.

Editing Together in the Work of the Lord made me grateful for this big, diverse, argumentative, and earnest group of people I belong to: the larger family of Mennonites. We sure don’t always get along, but I’m glad that we still somehow manage to belong to each other.

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.