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Crossroads:
profiles in giving

Planting Seeds of Change

Henry and Charlotte Graber RosenbergerWhen Henry (C 70) and Charlotte Graber (C 65) Rosenberger of Blooming Glen, Pa., were students at Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU), they were convinced that they and their generation would change the world. "Everybody was involved in social work. We thought we were going to fix the plight of the poor," Henry said, while noting that he was one of around 10 to 15 people majoring in business at that time because "it was so unsavory to be in business when we were going to solve the social problems of the world."

Charlotte noted that even before the days of EMU's crosscultural program there was a "mandate" to serve the community. In addition to attending several small, local congregations, both Henry and Charlotte sang at the Harrisonburg prison, and they can still sing, from memory, "Jesus Sealed My Pardon," a song that the inmates often requested.

Though Charlotte graduated with a nursing degree, she went on to earn a masters degree in counseling. She still sees some clients but devotes most of her time to church programs, including consulting, mediating and leading workshops. Together, she and Henry are "building bridges" and planting seeds of "global justice," which they define as Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine does: "When everyone has a roof over their head and their own fig tree."

This passion has most recently taken the Rosenbergers to Guatemala, Central America, where they can build 500 homes for the same price of one extravagant home where they presently live. Henry called that disparity "a gross injustice." The Rosenbergers’ interest in Guatemala grew out of a philanthropy workshop they attended several years ago, and the connections they established there introduced them to an organization called "Agros" (www.agros.org) which helps destitute people in Central America to buy land, organize into villages and set up markets.

Henry noted that a simple cement house, without a cement floor, costs about $900, and that "cement blocks are carried six to ten miles up a mountain, three at a time. It takes 720 blocks to build one home." When a family is done building their house, have water piped in, an outside latrine, five acres to grow crops and one-acre plot for their garden, "They feel like they’ve arrived in heaven," said Henry. Charlotte described their work with the poor as their form of protest, their way to do what they would like to see happen in the world. Henry said that he and Charlotte desire to "walk with the poor" on behalf of those who are alienated and without basic resources. Their work takes them to Guatemala several times a year.

Charlotte and Henry are able to work in Guatemala and with churchwide programs because of lifestyle choices they have made in their efforts to "live reflectively." Even before selling most of his business, Rosenberger Cold Storage, in 1998, Henry began his transition from businessman to gentleman farmer. He farms 500 acres in Bucks County, Pa., with a goal to establish "sustainable models of agriculture in an urban edge."

The couple has also preserved 300 acres of land in an area that is quickly being swallowed by urban sprawl.

Globally, Henry and Charlotte would like to see "a collaborative United States, working with the world, engaged together around the common good." Charlotte believes strongly that the Mennonite Church is still learning and "re-learning" how to build bridges, and that mission is changing in that we are "becoming much more mutual," realizing that people in any country have as much to teach us as have to teach them.

Missions, they believe, will also have to involve more people than just "our token missionaries." One of Henry’s personal hopes is to get young people to experience developing worlds in their formative years of junior high and high school, to "expose them and make them vulnerable," so that they realize how needy the world is.

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He learned that as a 20-year-old EMC student when he spent two semesters at University College in Nairobi, Kenya, an experience he called "life changing."

The Rosenbergers are faithful supporters of EMU, both with their financial gifts and their advocacy, encouraging students they come in contact with to consider studying at EMU. Henry concludes: "If we can seed something that suddenly takes off, we say, Wow!" And they invite others to join them in their planting.

—J. Eric Bishop (C 78)