Mary Ella Stauffer was born at home on October 31st, in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. The eldest of seven children, she is third generation Mennonite, her family originally hailing from Switzerland/Germany area.
Many people wonder what the difference is between Mennonites and their close cousins, the Amish. Both stem from the same Christian movement called the Anabaptists, founded in the Netherlands during the European Protestant Reformation in the1500’s. Anabaptists further endorsed a life of simplicity and austerity as they felt the church had strayed from away from these key principles. Their daily practices of faith were based explicitly on the Bible with the emphasis on practice, an ideal that still holds true for both the Amish and Mennonite communities. However, the Mennonites do not eschew all worldly ways and technology whereby the Amish adhere to a stricter code of living life simply. One of the more well known tenets of the Mennonite faith is their aversion to violence. There is a well known association of the Mennonites in the USA as being,’The Quiet in the Land’. As missionaries, they spread the word of God in a quiet non-violent way.
While considered somewhat liberal, Mary’s family has a long history of missionary work, her Great Uncle worked at a mission in Africa, an Uncle spent many years in Central and South America. A tradition Mary upholds.
Mary has always cherished a strong relationship with God, sometimes not entirely in harmony with her Mennonite faith. As a young person, she was questioned by the Pastor re not wearing her head covering, her Kapp, to Church. She stated, “That God is more interested in what is in her heart rather than how she dresses.” After leaving school, Mary opted to go to a non – Mennonite college. This caused some concern amongst the more orthodox members of her family and community, however it led her on the spiritual path she still travels today. She attended Oral Roberts University, an eponymous private evangelical university in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although already practising as a Nurse, Mary decided to work towards her RN and Masters. During this time, with help from a local church, she had the opportunity to join a mission to India, she instantly fell in love with the people and the culture. It was this trip that inspired her to return one day. Quite how though remained elusive until she became pen pals with a young man of 35yrs of age, Trevor Edgeworth, of Raglan.
Remaining true to her unorthodox orthodox ways, after a year and a half of pen-pal writing, she agreed to meet Trevor in Oklahoma. He was enroute back home to India from Japan where he worked for a Christian Not For Profit organisation called Youth with a Mission. Her only previous sighting of Trevor was a well thumbed photograph a friend had, she knew then that, “She could look at this man for the rest of her life…”
After a five day whirlwind courtship, Trevor proposed marriage. He felt that their relationship was, “Like crystal glass, it could easily be broken” and they needed to get to know each other more as he was thinking to return to India. He felt very strongly that this was the word of God. So they married in 1993, travelling to Chennai, India the next year after Mary graduated to work as missionaries.
Originally Trevor and Mary worked in one of many slum clearance initiatives set up around Chennai, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Trevor with a background in maintenance,… “He’s a ‘fixit’ man, he really can’t sit still,” helped the inhabitants by rebuilding homes for their families. After many attempts to get the project underway, Trevor and the team he was working with, realised the only way that it was going to work was to involve the community and work alongside to empower them to improve their lives. Although not a Mennonite, he unwittingly embraced their mode of assistance, ‘Quiet in the Land.’ The homes, extremely modest by western standards, were one small room to house a family, mamma, papa, kids and grandparents. Trevor and Mary have two daughters, oldest Esther was born in India and youngest Rebecca in the USA. While working in the slums, Mary, as a mother of two girls, saw how poverty affected women and children’s health especially and decided to do something about it. With the age old caste system still firmly in hold, it is near impossible for the poorer castes to ever rise above their station. Most vulnerable were the women and girl children. Assisted by the Church and YWAM, Mary set up all she needed to do health clinics in impoverished areas in the south of Chennai. She would take off 3 afternoons a week on her scooter with her assistant /translator and child on the back, a fishing tackle box on the front full of basic medicines; antibiotics, paracetamol and bandages. Equipped with just the basic equipment she was a beacon of hope to the impoverished villagers who were suffering from malnutrition, Giardia and illnesses borne by the worms that infested their undernourished immune deficient bodies.
After 10 years, Trevor and Mary, with their two daughters, Esther and Rebecca decided to move to Ooty, Udagamandalam, a summer retreat in the mountains, Northern Tamil Nadu, for the girls to attend Hebron Christian school, an international boarding school. They worked at the school, which had 350 students, Trevor in the maintenance department and Mary as head of the school clinic. Ooty, once a retreat for heat-addled Europeans during the halcyon days of British rule, still enjoys the reputation of a calm, cooler oasis away from the damming heat of the cities.
During the sixteen years Mary spent in the region, she made lifelong friends, attending weddings and ceremonies usually closed to westerners. However there was a calling for change. They decided to come back to New Zealand as Esther wanted to finish her degree at a New Zealand University, all agreeing that Raglan would be a special base because of Trevor’s close association to the land, the Peart family and Surfside Church. Arriving in Raglan in 2016, Trevor became the maintenance guy for Surfside Church, returning to the Church that had supported them while in India. Mary started working at Raglan Rest Home and Hospital as a Registered Nurse. She had hoped to return to her family in Pennsylvania but her girls, Esther and Rebecca were adamant they wanted to continue their lives here. Esther, now married, is a nurse while Rebecca is studying Animal Husbandry at Wintec. Mary muses that Esther stated she was ‘never’ going to be a nurse, like her mother.
When asked what is the thing you miss most about living in Southern India, Mary is quick to reply… the breakfasts. “Masala Dosa, Poongal (rice porridge with cashews and spices, Sambar curry and Idli’s, little sourdough rice cakes for dunking in the Sambar.
Not the hot humid weather though, she couldn’t say she missed that one bit.