Welcome Neighbor Sign Inspires Thousands

By Steve Carpenter

Have you seen the “Welcome Your Neighbor” sign with its three bright colors in three languages?

There are now more than 100,000 signs in yards and storefronts across the U.S. and Canada. Its message of welcome and hospitality, started by Mennonites in Harrisonburg, VA, has been inspiring thousands. It showed up on HuffPost, NPR, Relevant Magazine, and scores of local news outlets. There was even a news outlet in Spain reporting on the sign’s popularity.

 A United Church of Christ congregation in Lancaster, PA celebrated Pentecost by transformed the image of the signs into doves representing the Holy Spirit’s descent.

  When the Democratic and Republican primaries were just beginning in the summer of 2016, my small congregation, Immanuel Mennonite Church (IMC) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, decided to put up a sign proclaiming our shared value of welcoming foreigners. The wording for the sign came from our pastor Matthew Bucher and it was hand painted by another member of the congregation, Melissa Howard.

IMC’s neighbors speak many languages, but primarily English, Spanish and Arabic. Matthew said, “I hope that the sign is a marker to the community. And, I hope that folks leaving IMC after a service are reminded of who we are to be.”

Mennonites, as followers of Jesus, have traditionally refused to take up arms in self-defense or in national defense. Some have also chosen not to vote, deciding rather to remain separate from the political process. During the 2016 election Pastor Matthew Bucher at IMC, encouraged those in his faith community to put out a “We are glad you’re our neighbor” sign rather than a politically partisan sign. My wife and I put one in our front yard in August, 2016 and its still there.


While some in the U.S. government continue to press to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, fear of immigrants continues. Yet, others refuse to give in to fear but rather reach out in love. Matthew 25:35 reminds us that when we welcome others our heavenly Father will reward us. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The sign is now available in 16 different language combinations. All are free to down-load and can be printed locally without infringing on any copyrights. You can also buy these signs and other “Welcome Your Neighbor” products online. Click here to link to the “Welcome Neighbors” site affiliated with Immanuel Mennonite Church, who originated this idea. 

If you have a sign in your yard and a story to tell post it here on the official “Welcome Neighbors Sign” FB page.

In January, 2018, we at MennoMedia will be publishing a Herald Press book on immigration titled Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World, by Sarah Quezada. We hope to encourage people to look beyond their fears and respond to immigrants, even undocumented ones, with love.

Blessings in your work, worship and witness,

Steve Carpenter
Director of Development and Church Relations

David Shenk’s book shared with Islamic leaders by Emily Jones, Eastern Mennonite Missions

Last year, an Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) team that works in Christian-Muslim relations was invited to hold the only booth representing a Jesus-following witness at America’s largest yearly gathering of Muslims.

And this year, EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team (CMRT) was invited back to the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA’s) annual convention—this time with a special request.

Dr. Sayyid Syeed, the recently-retired national director of ISNA’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, suggested that the team return with 3–4,000 free copies of A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, a book co-authored by CMRT founder David W. Shenk and his Muslim colleague Badru D. Kateregga in 1980.

David Shenk, Sayyid Syeed & Andres Prins

Syeed hoped the book could be given to a significant number of the projected 20,000 people who would attend the convention.

“​As Muslims, we believe what the Quran (3:113) teaches us about believing Christians and requires us to look for those Christians whose lives are true representatives of those values. I have known and respected Dr. Shenk and his team, who are wholeheartedly dedicated in building bridges of understanding between Muslims and Christians,” said Syeed. “This year I invited Dr. Shenk to bring his wonderful book and offer it as a gift to hundreds of participants at our 54th annual convention in Chicago.”

In response to Syeed’s request, the book’s publisher, Herald Press, offered a bulk order of the books at one-third of the original price.

“It’s great to work on a project like this where there is direct ministry impact,” said Joe Questel, director of Sales and Marketing at Herald Press. “The challenge for us was to be able to supply (the books) at a price that would allow (the team) to afford that many, and to do it in a very tight time frame. We had done this once before on a smaller buy, so we had a great working relationship in place to be able to scale up for this opportunity.”

“I was very impressed … with how quickly they raised the funds,” added Questel.

Community members gave toward the bulk purchase through an online fundraiser held by EMM.

The CMRT was able to arrive at the June 30–July 3 convention with 2,500 Christian-Muslim dialogue books in tow.

“It was really a step of faith to carry all those books in,” said the book’s co-author and CMRT member Shenk, who made his first appearance at the convention this year.

His teammate Andres Prins agreed. “We were in a sea of booths, and I had little faith that the 2,500 books would all be taken by people who happened to pass by our booth,” he said. The CMRT’s booth was one of over 400 stands representing various Muslim-oriented organizations.

To the team members’ delight, however, the book was specially promoted throughout the convention. Syeed, this year’s ISNA Community Service Recognition Award winner, even mentioned the book’s importance in his acceptance speech.

Throughout the convention, the CMRT distributed all but 300 copies of A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, each containing a welcoming and explanatory letter from authors Kateregga and Shenk.

Syeed said the book was a valued gift at the convention. “Our people appreciated this kind gesture and cherished (Shenk’s) book as a powerful tool for advancing better understanding and partnership between the two faith communities. We will continue to build solidarity against destructive hate and mutual demonization, and devote our resources to shaping a world of love and mutual respect,” he said.

One of Shenk’s favorite moments at the convention occurred when an attendee said his 12-year-old son had picked up a copy of the book the day before and read it for hours late into the night. “That showed that the book is written with the simplicity that allows a 12-year-old to find it interesting,” said Shenk.

The book has 12 chapters by Kateregga sharing a Muslim witness, followed by Shenk’s twelve chapters sharing a Christian witness. Shenk said his and Kateregga’s goal in writing the book was to represent each faith as accurately as possible.

“There are so many misunderstandings. This book has a commitment to faiths being communicated faithfully and understandably,” he said.

The CMRT felt that their book, and their presence, received a warm welcome at the convention.

“The hospitality was amazing! We felt so welcomed. People would ask what the books were about, and we had wonderful conversations,” said David Shenk’s wife Grace Shenk, another CMRT member.

One such conversation involved a sincere attempt to convert Grace Shenk to Islam. A visitor to the CMRT’s booth quoted numerous biblical proof-texts to convince her that Christianity didn’t make sense. She assured the man that her faith fully satisfied her.

Jonathan Bornman, another member of the CMRT, said the ISNA Convention makes space for difficult conversations like these. He’s observed that many Christians are very hesitant to have their faith challenged or to face difficult questions when interacting with Muslims.

Whether easy or challenging, Prins found each conversation he had at the convention to be enriching. “Attending events like this ISNA Convention, experiencing once again the generous reception of our Muslim hosts and their sincere questions regarding the gospel and concern for better relations, convinces me more than ever that these encounters are ones that all Christ-followers should be actively seeking out,” he said.

Project 606 has a new website

We at MennoMedia recently launched a website to share information and allow individuals to contribute to the creation of a new song collection which we are developing for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. The site is http://hymnalproject606.com/

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Project 606 is the name of the fundraising aspect of the development phase of the song collection. It was so named in recognition of the significance of the anthem version of the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” prayer, affectionately known as “606” from its designation in the red 1969 Mennonite Hymnal.

Mennonite Hymnal

The 13-person hymnal committee, whose work the funds being raised is underwriting, is comprised of five Canadians and eight U.S. citizens and will met for the first time on September 22-25 in Harrisonburg, Va.

About hymn “606,” Russ Eanes, MennoMedia’s Executive Director notes he has been asked more than once, “When you do a new hymnal, can you put ‘606’ back it its place?” The goal for Project 606 is to raise $606,000 to pay for the Project Director’s salary, the travel, lodging and meal expenses for the 13 person hymnal committee over three years, administrative and other staff support to develop a new hymnal for the next generation of Mennonites. We need to raise these funds because MennoMedia is a small publisher without the financial reserves needed to undertake such a big project ahead of sales.

Some have asked “Do we really need another hymnal?” to which I reply, it has been 24 years since Hymnal: A Worship Book (HWB) was released, a longer gap than the 23 years between the red Mennonite Hymnal (1969) and HWB (1992).

Hymnal A Worship Book

Churches have been asking whether they should replace their worn hymnals or wait for the next one. MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada have asked MennoMedia to produce a new hymnal. While at Mennonite World Conference in August, 2015 I noticed 60% of the music in the songbook was not in HWB, Sing the Story or Sing the Journey. These new songs greatly enhanced the corporate worship at MWC. The church is asking for a new song collection. We owe it to our faith communities to give them the best music resources available.

The “606” song, in a cappella form, continues to inspire, with stories abounding. On May 2, 2015, Garrison Keillor hosted his Prairie Home Companion radio program live from Goshen College. The show, which is broadcast nationally to an audience of four million, opened with the thousand-member, mostly-Mennonite, audience’s a cappella rendition of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” When the singing ended, Keillor said, “Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. You’re stunning me.”

In March of 2016, Eastern Mennonite High School in Harrisonburg, Va sponsored a concert of the British a cappella music group Voces8. Their mix of sacred and pop music entertains audiences all over the world. Toward the end, as is customary, the again mostly-Mennonite audience sang a cappella for Voces 8. This year the EMHS crowd sang “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” As Eanes related, Voces 8 listened on stage in quiet appreciation. When the echoes of the final “Amen” receded, Voces 8 gave the crowd a loud ovation.

Eastern_Mennonite_School_Logo

One member of the group, Ollie, was in tears. He later explained, “Sorry I was blubbering. Last year I was in a serious car accident, totaling my car. Amazingly, I wasn’t injured, but I blacked out. While I was unconscious, I had a strange sense of being taken care of in a special way. I felt held and looked after. It had a profound impact on me.” The audience’s singing of “606” again moved him, reminding him of God’s care.

Mennonites sometimes take beautiful singing for granted. “But we should never forget what a gift it is and that this gift is so readily obvious to outsiders,” reminds Eanes.

To date more than $235,000 has been given or promised representing nearly 40 percent of the goal. The www.HymnalProject606.com website accepts credit cards; those who give as little as $500 over the next 3 years can be named, or honor a loved one, with a line in the back of the hymnal. In addition to donations, people can recommend favorite songs for inclusion in the new hymnal. The committee has promised to consider each submission.

My wife and her five siblings have given a gift to honor their parents with a line in the back of the hymnal saying: Honoring our parents Russell & Gladys Alderfer, “Oh for a 1,000 tongues to sing.”

I encourage to honor your loved ones with a line in the new hymnal. Those in the U.S. can fill out the paperwork online, and both U.S. and Canadians can give using a credit card. Click here to visit the website HymnalProject606.com

I will personally contact those Canadians who give through Mennonite Church Canada’s website – click here – to record their dedications for the back of the hymnal.

MC Canada DoveWM

Thank you for your gifts and support. It is much needed and greatly appreciated.

Blessings in your work, worship and witness,

Steve Carpenter

Steve Carpenter Director of Development and Church Relations

Director of Development and Church Relations