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MC USA Awards Hesston College Graduate 2023 Bring The Peace Award


By Jessica Griggs for Mennonite Church USA


ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA) — Mennonite Church USA Executive Board has named two peacemakers, Jonathan Kuttab and Sydney Leah Bontrager, as the 2023 Bring The Peace award winners. The denomination gives the award to a Legacy Peacemaker and a Young Peacemaker each year. A Legacy Peacemaker is someone who has devoted their life to peace and justice work, whereas a Young Peacemaker is a young adult or teenager who has just begun their peacemaking journey, but who has already made a large impact. The award is sponsored by MC USA’s Church Peace Tax Fund.

Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, MC USA’s denominational minister for peace and justice, said, “The Bring The Peace award is a tangible way to support the church’s peace mission and recognize the work of denominational peacemakers who are actively engaged in promoting peace in their congregations and communities.”

The MC USA Peace and Justice department receives Bring The Peace award nominations from across the denomination. MC USA staff and conference ministers — or someone they designate — then choose the winner by popular vote.

Young Peacemaker: Sydney Leah Bontrager

Sydney Leah Bontrager, a 2023 Hesston College graduate, began her peace and justice work earlier this year, when she learned about the plight of the people of Myanmar, a country she said she didn’t even know existed before she went to college. Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has been under military rule for most of the past six decades, with the most recent takeover beginning in 2021. This regime has led to severe government-sanctioned violence — including burning people alive and razing entire villages — widespread poverty, an absence of basic resources and a lack of overall safety.

With the help of one of her professors, Michele Hershberger, Bontrager set out to raise money to help provide necessary resources for villages and an orphanage in Myanmar. Bontrager said the difficulty in raising money for Myanmar is that there are no organizations to send the money to, because it is too dangerous for anyone to enter the country with humanitarian aid. Hershberger has a contact who is already in Myanmar, though, so Bontrager just needed to raise money, and Hershberger could send it. In January, Bontrager took this need to her congregation, Bellwood Mennonite Church in Milford, Nebraska, and the church raised over $14,000 in the first two weeks. To date, Bellwood Mennonite has raised over $16,000 to help feed the Burmese people and support the orphanage.

The orphanage Bontrager raises funds for, which serves children who live in the local trash dump, is planning to buy their own land to build a more suitable building in which the children can receive care and education.

“It is a great opportunity to win this award! I hope it will bring more attention to what is happening in Myanmar and possibly generate more donations,” Bontrager said, upon receiving the award. “I’m very grateful for my church and their willingness to help out! I know Jesus helped people whenever he could, and I believe we should help others, like Jesus did.”