Reading the history of Tabor reveals far more than its facts and figures. Most importantly it allows us to see the values and commitments that both led to its founding and which continue to guide and sustain the organization to this day 50 years later.
And no person better exemplified those commitments than Grace Wenger who passed away in her 93rd year in 2012.
As I learned about Tabor’s history when I joined the organization, the first name I heard was that of Grace Wenger. I read the story of how she had been deeply troubled by the racial discrimination in housing a member of her family had experienced in Lancaster; how that led her to gather some members of the Mennonite community of which she was a part and discern what they could do about such discrimination; that out of those discussions came the formation of a corporation known as Menno Housing which would renovate and lease residences to people with low incomes and who were victims of discrimination; and how a year later in 1968 these same individuals would establish a separate non-profit organization to minister to the needs of the people to whom their corporation provided housing; and how they would draw on the Old Testament reference to Mount Tabor and call it Tabor Community Services.
At the time of Tabor’s founding, Grace wrote “Anyone who thinks the only responsibility of Christians is to speak God’s message should restudy the life and teachings of Christ. His acts were a demonstration of what God’s love is like. He fed, healed, and comforted.” And in her typically direct manner, she went on to say, “The Gospels of Mark and Luke would be thin indeed, if we kept only the preaching part and ruled out the record of the deeds by which Christ proved the father’s love. Of course, it is much easier to talk about the love of God than to demonstrate it in action. But how much value is there in all our witness activities when we don’t care for people as persons?”
It was very clear in that passage and to all who knew her that for Grace her deep and life long spiritual faith was not only a source of guidance, enrichment and comfort to her but a calling to demonstrate her faith in actions that served others and especially those who were in need.
Soon after joining Tabor, I went to Grace’s home and met her for the first time. She extended to me the warmth and graciousness so familiar to those who knew her. But I remember too her saying that day, and every time thereafter I visited her, that she had no idea when she and others established Tabor that it would grow into the organization that it has and that she marveled at all the good it does today.
Grace was a very modest person, always sharing credit with others for Tabor’s establishment and she was right when she said no one, including herself, could have foreseen 50 years ago what Tabor would become. But the initiative she took then as a calling from God and the grit and determination with which she followed it is a reminder to all of us of the difference a single act can make and that we can never know how far the ripples of our answering a call will go.
Grace’s life in this world is now complete ... and we are deeply grateful to have been touched by it. And it will continue to be a model inspiring us to do God’s work in the years to come.