NMC Blog

Your Story - Marcy Rahner

Marcy Rahner blog

How sweet are your words to my taste,

    sweeter than honey to my mouth!

I gain understanding from your precepts;

    therefore I hate every wrong path.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,

    a light on my path.     --Psalm 119:103


I couldn’t help thinking of these verses while listening to world-traveler, free-spirit, passionate Jesus lover, and possessor of great joy, Marcy Rahner.

Her journey began in Erie, Pa. as the middle child of five children. Well, at least, initially it was five children before the adopted a local boy, Phil, whose parents had died, and a sister who came along as a late surprise to her parents when Marcy was in 8th grade. “So five became seven” That does not include the numerous refugees and foreign exchange students that would call their house ‘home’ for undetermined amounts of time at various intervals in her growing-up years. Marcy attended an all-girls Catholic school, “which was a riot. I loved it, loved it, loved it. We had so much fun!,” before heading to Happy Valley to attend Penn State University (PSU). It is here she stops. “I want to say a little bit about my parents before going further.”

Marcy’s parents, as you may have guessed, have a special love for refugee families. Her father, upon retiring from his profession as an orthopedic surgeon, decided to forgo “kicking back and enjoying life” to instead take on “this crazy mission of helping the refugees in Erie.” There were about 10,000 refugees in Erie at the time, with more on the way, and “I kind of look at them as the saints to the Erie refugee population...they opened their doors, they opened them pretty widely!” She marvels at how they didn’t stop with dropping off a few household items, they would furnish the entire house! Her parents quickly became known to the local residents and businesses, who would let them know if they had extra furniture, mattresses, etc. that they would like to donate. Her parents would “just show up” - in a beat up truck she fondly calls the “Mission Mobil” - stacked high with home furnishings, etc. And it didn’t stop with furnishings. They would find them jobs, “and not just little jobs. A couple were jobs with GE (General Electric).” The refugee families assume they were paid to do this, often never realizing that this is not their vocation, it is their passion and calling. (Read more here. See the bottom right corner of page 1)

As noted, Marcy pursued further studies at Penn State. It was during her time there that PSU began offering opportunities to study abroad. She was one of 22 students that studied in Nice, France, which opened her to the world of travel. She and her fellow students, who still get together every 5 years to reminisce, would take off on weekends exploring Europe. It was during her time in France that the 1984 Winter Olympics were hosted by Sarajevo, Bosnia - Herzegovina. “Three of us went, and they said ‘where are we going to stay?’ and I said ‘Oh, we’ll figure it out. Let’s just go! So we hopped on a train and got there, and there was no place to stay!’” she laughs. They asked people at the train station if they could stay at their house for several days. Eventually, someone agreed, and they had a memorable time meeting the bobsled team and being interviewed by a tv station. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We just showed up!” she laughs again. At the end of her studies in France, she got permission from her parents to travel throughout Europe on her own for several weeks. She smiles, “I didn’t want to travel with anyone because that slowed me down.” Using her EuroRail pass, and hopping from hostel to hostel, she saw much of Europe, including East Berlin, traveling behind the wall dividing the city. The people, she remembers, were fantastic, taking her in, giving her gifts and meals. The atmosphere, however, “was horrible. They were caged in...walled in, you know?” (Space does not allow me to share her story about entering East Berlin through the guard post. You’ll have to ask her over coffee sometime.)

After returning to Pennsylvania and graduating from Penn State, she spent some time in Washington D.C. before deciding to take a break and travel the U.S. She stopped at home in Erie for a few days to visit her family and was prepared to head out the next morning when her father suggested that perhaps she should “stay home and figure out what you want to do...And I thought, ok, yeah, that kind of makes sense.” What happened that same evening changed the course of her summer and her life. Marcy spent time pacing her bedroom floor pleading for a sign, or something, from God. That evening the phone rang, and it was a friend from Arizona who felt the nudge to call Marcy and see how she was doing. Diane, in the conversation with Marcy, helped her decide that instead of heading out on a tour of the U.S. she would head to Times Square in New York City and “go to Covenant House and live in the Christian community and work with street kids.”

Marcy worked with the ‘throwaway kids’ of the streets, hearing stories that would tear your heart open. “I thought I was there to help them. Then I realized I was the one getting helped.” It was here that prayer became a big part of her life. Covenant House workers met to pray three times a day. 

Immediately in the morning, about 6:30 a.m., 45 workers would gather in the chapel to pray while the chaos continued just outside the door. The morning prayer was a centering prayer, which sometimes involved falling asleep because it was so early! Then, at noon, the priests would come to them and celebrate mass, then at 9:00 PM they would gather again for prayer. Everything was covered in prayer. This particular part of her journey lasted 16 months.

Not sure of her next step, she and another Covenant worker made their way to Alaska, where Marcy found a job as an activities director in a retirement home. It was seven years before she moved on, living and working in Portland, Pittsburgh, Erie, and Colorado, before landing ultimately, in Lancaster. While living in Colorado she had come to this area to attend her sister’s wedding and decided to explore the possibility of a job. She popped into the Driver’s License Exam center and just observed, trying to decide if this was the place for her. The supervisor struck up a conversation with her, taking time out of his day to hear her story. Touched by his willingness to talk to her, she sent a note to him, thanking him for his time. Three years later, when Marcy was finally ready to make the move, she successfully applied for a position there that had just opened up. It was some time later that Marcy learned that hanging on the bulletin board in the supervisor's office where she interviewed for the position was the thank-you note she had sent three years earlier. She is convinced that her hand-written note of thanks played a big role in her winning the job when it became available. “Not an email. Not a text. A handwritten letter” is the best and most memorable way to show your gratitude.

Marcy now lives near Manheim and loves living in this area. the proximity to Washington D.C., the Fulton Theater, Longwood Gardens, there is so much here. "I hope you...realize what a special place you have here!" And, she also wanted you to know how special Neffsville Mennonite Church is as well. After church shopping for 8 months, she agreed to visit with her neighbor, Carren Stika (now Weidler) and loved what she found here. "I love it so much, here. You...have an extremely special place here. The music, the quality of the people, and how you are so dedicated to your walk with Christ and learning about the Bible...it's real, the way it's explained...it becomes real, you know?"

Of course, the prayer group is a huge part of her experience here. "Being a Catholic, I'm not very good at prayer, you know, how you [make it real]." But Marcy does love the strength and closeness of the group as they continually seek God's face for their community and world.

Psalm 119 states that the word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Marcy's feet have wandered down many paths. What struck me is that the light of Christ seemed to always be showing just enough of the path for her next step. May we all have the courage to take steps, even if we can't see where the finish line is.

Thank you, Marcy, for being willing to share your story.


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