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  • APPA Intern / Sungwon Chung

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the Korean War

Joe Navarro, a former FBI profiler, counter intelligence officer, and nonverbal behavior special agent said during a seminar, “It doesn’t matter what you own, it doesn’t matter what you make… the one thing that I’ve learned, the only thing that matters is how you treat those who can do absolutely nothing for you.” Never before have I come across an individual, yet a whole organization live in synchrony with these words as much as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

The MCC was founded in July of 1920, and operates in more than 50 countries with the purpose to spread love and support to those in need. The MCC provides three phases of aid. During or after a crisis, the MCC responds to provide much needed help to those who are affected. Then, MCC volunteers begin to develop the region, educating children and adults in order to make themselves self sustaining. Once the country have fully developed, they are taught how to maintain peace in order to avoid any future conflicts that may lead to violence.

Every year, over 1,000 volunteers join the MCC and help organize aid programs as well as make items to be sent to the poorest nations, and each year, more than 100 of the participants go to another country to help locals develop the necessary skills to become self sufficient. With their non-profit help, about 125,500 canned food items have been sent to North Korea, and thousands more to other places around the world. Approximately 20% of the 77.6 million dollar budget is provided by independent organizations, while much of the rest is from selling recycled materials such as paper and cloth. Having went to the Materials Resource Center in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, I realized how much the MCC truly gave to the world, and how those places improve as a result of the MCC’s actions.

At the Materials Resource Center (MRC) in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, items are organized, packaged and shipped all over the world. At the MRC, aid packages are categorized into eight groups. These are: 1. Relief kits include common hygiene items such as nail clippers, soaps, towels and more. 2. Food boxes include foods that have a long shelf life, and can be shipped overseas. Meats, vegetables, and dried fruits can be donated. 3. Hygiene kits provide soaps, shaving materials, to help people keep clean and safe from diseases. 4. Comforters include blankets and clothing which can help people survive cold winters. 5. Infant care kits include infant clothing, socks, and other items for young children. 6. Prisoner care kits provide basic comfort and hygiene items that are given to prisoners in countries without proper prison reform laws. 7. Sewing kits are given to people in order for them to self sustain by sowing and selling clothing to raise money to support their families. All of these items provide a new opportunity and life to the people receiving them. All of these kits provide the basic necessities that no human could fare well without, and through the MCC, opportunities and hope is presented to destitute people, and they are blessed.

Of the aid packages, the one I find the most valuable is the sewing kit, as it holds the potential for a whole new family and country to prosper. During the aftermath of the Korean War, 158 widowed families were given these sewing kits and taught how to use them. This was meant to help the families become financial self sufficient, for the fathers, who perished as a result of the war, had been the only source of income. The effort however did more than just help the families become self reliant. As they opened businesses, the country itself began to experience economic growth, and today, South Korea is among the top 15 global economies.

After seeing all the efforts and work done by the MRC, I realized that nothing should be prioritized over the opportunity to help those who can do absolutely nothing in return. Unlike many Inter-Governmental Organizations, the MCC has no expectations to receive monetary compensation for profit. What I found most surprising is how none of the members are paid for what they do. Nor do they look at the legacy they leave behind. Instead, every volunteer works with the sole purpose of helping other humans become successful. Through them, I learned that trust is one of the most important factors in a community such as that of the MCC.

Volunteers at the MCC are some of the very few people who put complete trust in others, regardless of who they are with. At the MRC, I met a volunteer in his personal shop and learned that he does not stand at the cash register, or even stay in the store, but rather puts trust in his customers to make the correct payments for what they take. Prior to meeting these absolutely phenomenal people, I had never imagined that such men could exist; yet here they were. The trust and faith that all of the volunteers have towards humanity is what made it possible for the MCC to donate more clothes to South Korea than any country in the whole world in the wake of the Korean War. From 1958 to 1962, over 1.25 million pounds of clothing was sent to South Korea from the MCC alone. This brought me to understand the true value of trust, its potential being so great, that whole communities and countries prosper from it, and if I trust my companions as much as I trust myself, much work could be done in a faster time. With the same thought in mind, if all businessmen, scientists, and politicians trusted each other, the world in its entirety would flourish at a scale never before seen.

Prior to my visit at the Ephrata MRC, “the meaning of life” was nothing more than a loose term that I came across in books and speeches. Now, with a new perception of the world around me, the meaning is a simple lesson: never lose faith in anyone, and love those who I do not know, as well as those who do not know me.


<Reference Books> -Sang Jin Choi, A History of Mennonite Workers’ Peace Mission in Korea (1951-1971) (Washington, D.C.: Action for Peace through Prayer and Aid), 1997. -

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