When something small makes a big difference

For Johanna Sutter, receiving a Christmas bundle from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) as a child in Germany changed her life.

Sutter and her family lived through the realities of World War II. Shortly after, Sutter vividly remembers the details of the package she received as a 12-year-old which included clothing, school supplies, hygiene items and a toy among other things.

“I still have the little blue and white eraser nub,” she said.

Two of Sutter’s aunts, who had lost their homes during a bombing in the city, lived with her and her family during the war. This meant that Sutter and her sister had to sleep in an extra room in the apartment downstairs. The feather bed they slept in would get matted down in the middle of the night, and for years, Sutter would wake up cold and uncomfortable.

The local pastor heard her telling this story to some of her friends and later presented her with a comforter from MCC. Sutter remembers well the blue and pink plaid comforter, but what drew her attention most was the little orange tag that said, “Mennonite Central Committee: In the name of Christ.”

“I had never heard of anybody doing anything in the name of Christ,” she said. “When I wrapped myself in this comforter at night, it made me feel really warm and hopeful that there are people who cared about us and sent us comforters instead of bombs. That’s when I decided, that’s who I want to be, too.”

When Sutter was 16, she began working at an MCC children’s home in a nearby city. The home took care of children while their displaced families worked to get their lives back together after the war. “I learned a lot about MCC during that time,” she said. “Everything in the children’s home came from MCC – bedding, clothing, shoes and food.”Three years later, she came to the US as part of a year-long MCC exchange program and spent time in Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska. She returned to work at the MCC children’s home in Germany for three years before going back to Indiana in 1956. She earned her teaching degree at Goshen College and a Master’s in Education from IUSB in the early 1970s.

For the next 34 years, Sutter taught first and second-graders in the public school system. She remained connected with MCC and regularly donated items for Christmas bundles and other kits.

Upon her retirement from teaching in 2001, Sutter has dedicated her life to volunteering at the MCC Material Resource Center at The Depot in Goshen. She spends hundreds of hours each year helping prepare for groups, sorting through donations, putting together kits and speaking to groups. Not to mention the countless shopping trips to get the best deals on kit supplies.

“The area stores know me when I come in,” she said with a smile. And she’s always sure to make certain the items are of high quality for those receiving them.

Joanna Sutter will be speaking at the Hudson Lake Mennonite Church on Sunday, June 18 at 10:00am EDT.

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