Have knowledge, will travel
Ex-executive now a globe-trotting volunteer
Steve Steiner started easing himself out of the corporate world about 10 years ago because it felt like the right time to change his focus.
From his home near Dalton, Ohio, Steve now has visited dozens of countries. He has volunteered with several church organizations – Mennonite affiliated, for the most part – to do whatever was needed to help the people who live there.
By now, the organizations know they can call upon Steve when they need someone who understands farming, manufacturing, organizational development or the hospitality field.
For Steve, sharing his knowledge overseas fits his philosophy. He said, “What we have has been placed with us, and we’re stewards of it. What does that look like?”
Steve, 58, grew up in a farming family and has done plenty of farming as an adult. He also worked in corporations from 1978 to 2004 – first with Steiner Corp., a family-owned tractor-making company, then with a British company that acquired Steiner Corp. and finally, with Dutchman Hospitality Group as executive vice president of operations. Dutchman Hospitality Group operates restaurants, inns, bakeries and shops.
He and Beverly, his wife of 35 years, weren’t sure at first that it made sense for Steve to devote his time to the wider church. “We had some fears about this,” he said. “Our kids had just graduated from college. Could we afford to do volunteer work for all these years?”
But then he thought about his parents and how they did something similar when they were about 50 years old. They volunteered with the broader church, working on relief sales and with Mennonite Disaster Service, among other things. “They took six weeks off during the summer, and we were farmers.”
As the Steiners considered Steve volunteering full time, their home church, Kidron Mennonite Church in Kidron, Ohio, was studying the Rick Warren book, “The Purpose-Driven Life.” The book challenged him.
And overseas service was not a new concept because Steve had spent nearly three years in Chad in the 1970s, working in rural development with Mennonite Central Committee in the midst of a severe drought and famine.
He pushed aside any doubts about becoming a full-time volunteer because it all boiled down to this: “I think i my own journey, I was challenged to give back. How long should you keep working and when is enough enough?”
So after starting to pull back a couple of years earlier, Steve officially left Dutchman Hospitality in 2004. He worked on the family farm, taking over from a son who’d accepted an MCC assignment in Central America. He also continued his volunteer work for several local organizations.
A disaster on the other side of the globe prompted MCC to call Steve for help. On the day after Christmas in 2004, an earthquake and the tsunami that it triggered killed more than 150,000 people in 11 countries. The destruction and loss of life was worst in Indonesia, especially in Banda Aceh.
Steve and two other volunteers spent 90 days in Banda Aceh, assessing the situation and implementing MCC’s long-term plan to help. “It was a tough time,” he recalls, with hundreds more bodies discovered every day. “Everybody had a story and everybody had a loss.”
He traveled to Nazareth Village, Montenegro, Kosovo and Afghanistan within the next few years. Nazareth Village is an attraction in Israel designed to give visitors a sense of what the city was like in Jesus’ time. “They wanted someone to look at it through the eyes of a Westerner, as someone who’d been in the hospitality field,” Steve said.
In Montenegro, he worked on agricultural issues, including studying a proposal to open a slaughterhouse. He visited Kosovo numerous times to help create a milk collection and processing system. “Farmers with small herds needed an outlet for their milk,” he said.
One of the men Steve took with him quickly figured out how to improve the udder health of cows with mastitis – inflammation usually caused by infection – much to the delight of the farmers. “To see the expressions of gratitude and acceptance on their faces – it broke down barriers.”
Steve went to Afghanistan to visit Al Geiser of Kidron, who was supported in his humanitarian work by Kidron Mennonite Church. Al built and set up hydroelectric generators, providing villages with badly needed electricity and irrigation capabilities.
“I went up into the mountains with him,” Steve said, “and the tribal leaders came up and greeted him with a hug as a brother. They treated me the same way because I was with Al.”
Al was shot and killed in rural Afghanistan on July 23. Two Afghan associates were killed as well. Steve said, “People have been blessed by the people I’ve been around,” with Al Geiser as a prime example. “That was a tragic ending, but I don’t think the Lord’s finished with that situation yet.”
Steve especially has enjoyed interacting with Arab and Muslim people around the world. “They are very warm people. When you show an interest in them, they open their arms to you.”
He learned Arabic when he was in Chad many years ago, and when he traveled to Sudan with MCC in 2009, “I could understand the people in the market quite well.”
There aren’t many regions of the world Steve hasn’t visited – he’s been in more than 70 countries for business or church work.
Back home, Steve is the longtime chairman of the board of SpringHaven Counseling Center, which serves Amish and other local people with facilities in Mount Eaton and Rittman, Ohio.
He helped establish an Amish-only facility at SpringHaven called Woodside Rest. “We helped them develop their own care facility,” he said. It’s a home where Amish people with serious emotional/mental health issues can stay temporarily while they’re being treated.
The farm keeps Steve busy much of the year. He has 130 dairy heifers and bulls, 200 sheep and about 200 acres of crops, which is why most of his overseas travel happens between late fall and early spring. He tries to keep his trips in the two- to three-week range rather than several months at a time.
Family time is important too. Steve and Beverly had two children and adopted four. They have nine grandchildren. They’ve also cared for a number of foster children over the years.
Does he have doubts about his commitment to volunteering or a desire to go back to the 9-to-5 world? In a word, no. Beverly, a state-licensed counselor, is very supportive of what Steve’s doing, he said, and farming is good therapy for him when he comes home from a tough assignment.
“Do we have enough reserves put away for retirement? Those are things you think about,” he said. On the other hand, “I want to be faithful to what the Lord has laid upon our lives.”
Steve’s assessment? “I’m very much at peace with where I am.”
Steiner is national Journey Award recipient
Steve Steiner of Dalton, Ohio, is the recipient of the Everence 2012 National Journey Award, which recognizes people who model Christian stewardship.
“He has literally organized his career and life around the principle of making sure that he has the time and flexibility to be able to respond to situations which he is called upon,” said Terry Shue, Steiner’s former pastor. “The stories which have grown out of these experiences are a testimony to a life lived for Christ and for others.”
As a part of the award, Everence will make a $5,000 donation to the charity of Steve’s choice.
We are always looking for nominees for the annual Journey Awards. You may read more about the awards and find a nomination form at everence.com