On Oct. 8, as mainstream communities in the United States were preparing to usher in Columbus Day—a non-celebration for Native people—and the Standing Rock standoff continued in North Dakota on land where many tribes have converged to voice their fears for the earth by opposing construction of an oil pipeline, North American Mennonites gathered in Clinton, Oklahoma, to thank Lawrence ’61 and Betty ’57 Hart for their decades of service to the Mennonite church.
Iris deLeon-Hartshorn, representing Native Mennonite Ministries of Mennonite Church USA, and Michelle Armster, director of Mennonite Central Committee-Central States, planned the program, which included songs and testimonies brought by Cheryl Bear, who also closed with an honor song. The Harts’ children and grandchildren all attended and helped in the program.
Among the many who came to show their appreciation to the Harts for their decades of service to the broader Mennonite church were Willis Busenitz, part of a delegation from the Northern Cheyenne; Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, for the Return to the Earth repatriation project Lawrence helped to initiate with MCC; Edith and Neill von Gunten, from Canada’s Native Ministries (First Peoples); Dorothy Nickel Friesen ’69, for Western District Conference of MC USA; and Doug Penner ’69, representing Bethel College.
Raylene Hinz-Penner ’70 thanked the Harts for the time they gave her when she was documenting Lawrence’s story in Searching for Sacred Ground: The Journey of Chief Lawrence Hart, Mennonite (Cascadia, 2007).
Writing for Mennonite World Review, Hinz-Penner said, “All who spoke mentioned the Harts’ tireless mentoring and their service to their peoples—tribal and denominational. I am most grateful for their … prophetic peace voices calling the Mennonite and Cheyenne/Arapaho communities to new understandings of peacemaking and restorative justice, through Lawrence’s prayerful understandings of Scripture alongside Cheyenne justice and peace traditions.
“My own journey of understanding began when Peace Chief Lawrence Hart delivered the commencement address at Bethel in 1998 and linked the destinies of the Mennonites and the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples as they settled and worked together in Oklahoma.
“He saw his own service to Mennonites and tribal people as a divinely ordained destiny that brought together two peace traditions and two rural peoples. Mennonites continue to need [Lawrence and Betty’s] peace witness and their strong voices on behalf of creation care.”