Founder’s Message

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Founder’s Message

Zollikon Institute’s Vision and Mission:

Norita Yoder Zollikon Institute

The words of Christ recorded in John 12:24-25 read, “….Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it; and those who give their life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”

This call to die is in fact a call to love. A call to find out a quality of life and love for which we would willingly die. When that love changes us, it is then a willingness to sow that love into the soil of other people’s lives rather than to grow our own empires.

The Zollikon Institute vision states “Equipping individuals with steadfastness of faith, integrity of character, and excellence of skill through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Zollikon Institute mission says we are building this “community of scholars on a foundation of historic Christianity made manifest in a two-kingdom theology, and the Priesthood of all believers.”

This core and heart of Zollikon Institute’s vision & mission is then threefold: Post-secondary education specifically for the (plain) Anabaptist community, built on two-kingdom theology, and the Priesthood of all believers.”

The foundation for this vision and mission is the powerful Gospel of Christ. What is this powerful Gospel on which we are building?

Background story:

Before I began attending university as an adult, the words in Hosea 4:6 called to me. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you….” At the time it was not clear to me how attending college and stepping so far outside the normal boundaries of my community would permit me to give back; I only knew it was a place my soul was calling me. Was it from God? I was a married, veil-wearing, conservative Mennonite pastor’s wife. My husband and I had spent 10 years at a Mennonite Bible school engaging with young adults from all across the U.S. and places internationally, and we had loved it! I knew of no other woman like me attending university. What was this desire?

So I did what many good Mennonite’s do; I sat at my mother’s kitchen table and posed the question to her, “Mom, what would you think if I went to college?” There ensued a long silence and then my mother answered most unexpectedly, “If you want to go, I think you should go. I always wished I could go.” I was stunned! How could I not have known this about my mother? She even knew which majors she wanted. Somehow, I knew that in stepping so far over the expected line I would need the support of my mother, who I so much respected. I could not have imagined where the path would take me.

The path took me to graduate summa cum laude with my undergraduate degree in History from the Ohio State University, then on to Yale University for a Master’s in the History of Christianity. At the time of acceptance into Yale University I wrote, “It’s like I’ve been handed the moon and I don’t know what to do with it.” How would a little Mennonite girl with pigtails conceive of attending Yale? She couldn’t. Similar to the moon, I knew it existed, but landing on it never occurred to me. Suddenly, I was gazing at the possibility in my hands, curious, intrigued that this had landed with me. To attend meant stepping far outside of the normal lines for my community.

A two-fold vision and mission built on the “Power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”:

I became acutely aware in my first semester at OSU that the Christianity I was taught growing up was not the Christianity much of the world knew. If I was convinced of the value of our Anabaptist heritage prior to attending college, my foray into the University world solidified my conviction that the two-kingdom theology is a message our world is dying to know. I think of “Sam”, the 19-year-old girl who slept in her car due to her home situation. She was just entering college and could not recall ever having a meal prepared for her, nor had she ever been inside a church. This was in rural central Ohio. There are many more such examples.

On Ohio State’s opening day of classes there are city blocks packed with young adults. The atmosphere is electrifying! And we are not there with this message. Why? Because we do not possess the skills to engage in these places. This knowledge forged a passion in my soul that we must equip our next generations with the skills, the faith, and the heart to take this powerful two-kingdom gospel of Christ into the places where the next generation is being formed.

On our return from Connecticut, my husband and I settled in Holmes County, Ohio. I worked part-time at the Behalt cyclorama. There are two scenes in the Behalt painting that depict in stark contrast what this two-kingdom theology is, and what it is not. These images speak to the John 12 passage and reveal two very opposing kinds of power.

The first scene is that of the Crusades. It was a time in Christian history often referred to as, the “Dark Ages”. It was a time when the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church worked together and ruled much of the then-known world. It was a time when empires were built in the “name” of “Christianity”. This is a kind of power that brings death and destruction.

It’s a kind of power that says I want this,
and I will have it even if it means I will run over people,
I will hurt people, steal their things, and I will kill in order to have it.
This is
a kind of power that is evil.

Opposite the Crusades is the quiet Seed Sower. This kind of power turns the world’s systems upside-down. The Sower is a great natural world example of how the power of a good God of love works in this world. Think about it, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it; and those who give their life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” This Gospel is about laying down power and walking together with those who have less,

less opportunity,
less wealth,
less social status,
less power.

It stands opposite the kind of power depicted by the Crusaders. This gospel is not about pushing and shoving and manipulating. “Those who give their life in this world will keep it to life eternal.… “ It’s a different kind of power altogether. It is the powerful love of God. A love so compelling that we are willing to lay down our own places of power to invest in the soil of those around us. Then, we patiently wait for that soil to nurture a vine and bring forth fruit.

Priesthood of All Believers

The second portion of the vison and mission speaks to and fits in directly with this upside-down kingdom. Our mission states that this is for a “Priesthood of all believers …..” This could be explained through academic and detailed research. Instead, there are three stories that explain this portion of the vision.

“What Changed?”

In 2015, the summer after graduating from Yale University, I was asked to speak at the women’s assembly of the Biblical Mennonite Assembly’s general convention. There were several hundred women of all ages in attendance. That year’s convention theme was peace and nonresistance. I recounted the stories of Anabaptist women’s activities during WWII. At the end of the session, the older women celebrated the stories because they felt values of importance were being lost. As I turned from speaking to one of these women, a group of young women surrounded me. They stood in a circle and gazed at me, silent. Then one of them spoke. “What changed?”, she asked. This group of young women had rightly identified something of which I had not spoken that day.

Research shows that for my particular groups, the places for women to live from their gifts have narrowed considerably since the 1940’s. We have left the early Christian and Anabaptist view of women’s roles and went in an opposite direction. If you read the actual accounts and listen to the stories, it narrowed due to power plays and greed papered over with so-called Biblical prescriptions. In other words, it has nothing to do with up-side down kingdom living or the powerful Gospel of Christ.

“Let her do it!”

In the aftermath of that conference, as we returned from Connecticut and settled into Holmes County, Ohio, I was praying about where and how I could bring back to my community some of the passion that had formed in my soul. As I was praying in 2017, four groups of local pastors, all unknown to the others, came to us and asked if we had ever thought of starting something at the Center.

The answer was “Yes!” In fact, Marcus had already spoken to the board of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center. When these groups came to us, we decided to invite all of them to sit at the table. All of them arrived and I cast a vision for Zollikon Institute. They rallied around the vison that was put forward.

I will not forget the response of those sitting at the table. In particular, was one influential leader of a local conservative church. His words still come to me, “She’s organizational, she has a vision and mission. Let her do it!” I experienced a sense of wonder that day, that these people were supporting me to go forward with the vision and mission God had placed in my heart.

And support me they did, as I began to lead this informal “working group.” I began tapping on universities, crafting the Code of Regulations, filing for non-profit status, setting up an official Board of Directors, and much more. It was nearly 2-½ years later that we held a signing ceremony with Malone University on March 1, 2021. We partnered with them for the accredited side of Zollikon Institute.

These same leaders, after these years of working together, asked if as the founder I would serve as the first President/Executive Director. They provided the space for me to live out of my gifts inside my community.

“We’re Watching”

Since Zollikon began I have sat across the table in the local shops with young women who have requested to speak with me, with tears in their eyes. They asked, “Will there be a place in the community for someone with my giftings?”

Scripture commands us to not bury our talents. Will they need to leave the community to fulfil this scripture? One remarked, “We’re watching you to see what happens.” They don’t want to leave but were not experiencing the space to live out of the gifts God has given them.

For this portion of the mission and vision to be fulfilled there will need to be more men (and women), who like these first leaders, gave up their own places of power. Those willing to make a place and say, “Let her do it!” Those willing to give opportunity to both our young women as well as our young men to grow into the unique gifts God has given them. How will we answer the questions of these young women?

At the heart, Zollikon Institute’s vision and mission is built on a two-kingdom way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is compelling, and it is powerful! Our communities and world are dying to hear this message.

If Zollikon Institute students leave with excellent skills, we will have done a bit. If they leave with excellent skills and core values in place, we will have done a bit more. But only when students leave with a willingness to lay down their places of power and serve their communities and world will Zollikon have accomplished the heart of its vision and mission.

Zollikon Institute Founder,
Norita Dawn Yoder

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