Betty Koop: Love is Action!

by Betty Koop

“This isn’t the end of the World
…but you can see it from here!”
La Crete, Alberta

I chuckled as I held up the T-shirt with this caption on it. My husband Glen and I were Christmas shopping, and this had caught my eye. As I stood in this store in the community of La Crete, located only 150 miles from the North-West Territories, I reflected on all that had transpired since we had made that 1,400-mile trip to the far north some four months ago.

We had received a call to pastor the La Crete Christian Fellowship (LCCF) early the previous year. Glen had taught at Steinbach Bible College for about 20 years and felt it was time for a change. After much prayer and discussion, we decided to move and take up this new challenge.

Resignations from our jobs, selling the “dream house” Glen had designed and built, and getting our grown children used to the idea of their parents moving so far away were all traumatic signposts on the way to the move.

Finally all was settled. We would leave immediately after the EMC Convention in July. Our goods left for northern Alberta three weeks earlier and we moved in with my hospitable sister and brother-in-law.

Sadness

At the Convention’s first session Glen’s brother informed us that their mother had been rushed to a city hospital. In the busy emergency room we talked to her briefly, holding her cold hands in ours, feeling helpless in the face of her obvious pain. The shocked family consented to a surgical procedure that was done that afternoon. We went back to the convention with the assurance that all was well. But the Lord took her home later that evening. Our stay in Manitoba was extended so that we could attend the funeral and grieve with our father and family.

Impressions

The trip North some days later was a quiet time of grieving, as well as of anticipation as we wondered what our new life would be like. The drive seemed endless through miles and miles of open prairie and farmland, forests, and marshes. A ferry took us across the wide, swirling Peace River.

More farmland, interspersed with fragrant woods of spruce and aspen crowded the road. Then La Crete, a town of about 1,000 at that time, popped into view. Agriculture and logging-related businesses, various dealerships, and a few restaurants lined the main street. We had certainly reached a frontier town, which appeared to be self-sufficient, growing and vibrant. There were mobile homes everywhere, although many permanent buildings had been erected and many more were under construction.

Emptiness

In the next few days we moved into the manse—a trailer, naturally! But an unusual one, since it had been set on a basement, providing welcome extra space. Our church people were very much involved with moving in our furniture, helping us unpack, bringing food and generally making us feel welcome.

LCCF had an attendance of around 375 in winter with at least 100 less in summer when many people went “out” for vacation. So the smaller numbers helped us to sort out names and faces, although it was still a bewildering challenge. Everyone knew us and we didn’t know anyone!

Inevitably I felt the emptiness of leaving our children, the loss of a very dear mother-in-law, and the feeling of uselessness since I had “no job” while my husband reveled in his new work and daily challenges. Homesickness set in.

Glen wrote in his journal for Wednesday, 24 July 1996: “Betty is very lonely…tomorrow will be a different day!” Little did he know how “different” the next few days would be!

An Injury

Since we were so far north, daylight extended well into the night. So, rather late Friday evening we took our tennis racquets to the courts near our home. I am not a good player, but running after the ball and even getting it across the net occasionally was a good workout.

But I tried too hard! While backing up too fast trying to reach the ball, I lost my balance and fell. I put out my hand to break my fall and felt an excruciating pain in my wrist as my body hit the pavement. At the hospital in Fort Vermilion, my badly broken wrist was set and pain became my companion.

But I also had another Companion. As news of my accident spread, our new church family swung into action as they personified the love of Jesus in wonderful ways. It was heart-warming and humbling to welcome the many new friends who dropped by, always with love and usually with food.

They organized bringing suppers four times a week for most of the summer; they brought fresh garden produce and goods for the freezer; they came to help with cleaning and offered to help in any way that was needed. Their prayers and their love carried us.

Glen was preparing talks for the church’s Youth Retreat to be held in three weeks, but helped as needed. He so appreciated the meals that came.

A Fall

I spent most of the day and a good part of each night in our recliner. The pain seemed worse when lying down, and so I would sit up and try to fall asleep before a painkiller wore off. Bathing and dressing were an ordeal that left me soaked in perspiration.

As we drove out to the Youth Retreat with friends, I looked forward to the change of scene. We moved into our cozy quarters. And, very soon, Glen was busy studying. I decided to go for a walk and relished the beauty of the lake with the loons calling, the lush green beside the trail, and could almost ignore the pain in my wrist.

Returning to camp, I missed seeing a depression in the grass and went down. I was thankful that I had not hit my arm and the cast was intact. My right ankle hurt and I was annoyed that I had sprained it. As soon as the pain subsided, I would get up and hobble back to our cabin.

But I couldn’t!

When we returned home, X-rays revealed that a bone was broken. I listened in unbelief as the doctor said I would need another cast. Because the foot was badly swollen, I was told to ice it for a few days, then return to the hospital.

More Grief

The phone woke us early on the morning that my leg cast was to be applied. We received the shocking news that my much-loved older brother back in Manitoba had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and was not expected to survive till evening.

As the second cast was put in place I felt a swirl of emotions: anxiety, helplessness, a deep sense of aloneness, interspersed with a desire to giggle at my awkwardly funny dilemma. But practical reality hit hard when I tried to maneuver from the wheelchair into the car and up the steps into our home.

Since the two casts were on opposite sides of my body, crutches were useless. I was not to put any weight on my injured foot for several days. A wheelchair did not fit into our compact trailer’s floor plan.

In addition to the physical pain, there was a sense of loss and the deep hurt of not being able to be with my family during this time of grief. Pain seemed to envelope me.

A Church Family

But again the church family was there for us. Because I was unable to move from our home, some 30 of them squeezed into our living room for a time of Scripture reading, prayer, singing, and sharing.

When I looked around through my tears, I saw the tears on their faces as they grieved with us, even though they had never met my brother. This was our family! The love present in that room was like feeling the loving arms of Christ around me. I was not alone!

Epilogue

Glenn-and-Betty-Koop
Glen and Betty Koop

Now, even though the above was almost 21 years ago, it is still a joy to celebrate my mobility. Physiotherapy and exercises did wonders for my wrist and ankle. A patient, understanding husband helped me work through my feelings of uselessness and into a meaningful niche in our ministry. But the greatest joy of all was being part of a church that personified the love of Jesus by their actions in everyday life.

Betty Koop (EFC Steinbach) has served in many roles: as a secretary for many years, as the wife of a college professor and pastor, as a mother and a grandmother. She previously served as a columnist and in the national office as an archives worker.

 

Gord Penner: Inviting Healthy Change

by Gord Penner

Convention 2017

Change is inevitable! It is all around us, in our family, our churches, and in our country. In times of change, how can we ensure that the changes we make are healthy and aligned with the will of God?

Three Old Testament stories help us recognize keys to healthy change: Joshua, Jephthah, and Esther.

Joshua: Remember God is Faithful!

The transition in leadership from Moses to Joshua was a time of crisis. Imagine following a successful leader like Moses. His was a tough act to follow, to say the least! “For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all of Israel” (Deut. 34:12).

The Lord assured Joshua of His continued presence, just as He had been with Moses. The changes ahead were monumental and unnerving. The Lord admonished him, “Be strong and courageous!” Sometimes change is thrust upon us; sometimes we look for it because the old ways are not working anymore. But knowing how God has been faithful in the past can help us to move forward with confidence.

The change in leadership came at a crucial time. Israel was moving from wilderness wandering into a land with walled cities. They needed to shift their victim mentality from the days in Egypt to heirs of the promised land, one which God said He would give to them. Their hope rested in His promises for their future.

At a personal level, we also need to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. We need to recall God’s protection and direction in our past. These stories help to prepare our children for adult responsibilities and decisions as they leave our “nest.” They help us to be strong and courageous. The Lord’s faithfulness does not change. Joshua and his generation were successful in taking the land. 

Jephthah: Choose Scripture Over Relevance

However, after Joshua died, “another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals” (Judges 2:10-11). How was it possible to forget God so quickly? Very simple. By failing to pass on the faith and knowledge of God to their children, the next generation did not know Him.

As the people forgot God, they continued their downhill spiral throughout Judges until the end of the book states that “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Jephthah was one judge who led during this dark period of Israel’s history. His story illustrates the result of anchoring change to well-intentioned enthusiasm rather than God’s Word. As the Ammonites rose to attack Israel, Jephthah mustered an army and went on the attack.

Before going, he made a vow to win God’s favour: “If you [God] give the Ammonites into my hands whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31). After Israel’s victory, Jephthah’s daughter ran out of the house to welcome her victorious father. Jephthah kept his vow and sacrificed her. Tragic!

Jephthah should have known from the Torah that God forbids human sacrifice. Israel had been told, “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods” (Deut. 12:29-31, emphasis added).

Jephthah‘s enthusiasm trumped faithfulness to Scripture and the result was costly.

What do we learn from the story of Jephthah? Change can be motivated with a desire to be “relevant.” But when relevance is disconnected from a correct understanding of Scripture, we end up looking like “the world” and become like salt that has lost its flavour, good enough to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matt. 5:13).

Healthy change takes place when the Word provides a solid foundation for how God wants us to live as a distinct society in the world. Healthy change must be anchored on a clear understanding of the Word.

Esther: Place Others Above Self-Interest

Esther’s story provides a third key to healthy change. When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, some remained in Persia, including Esther and her cousin Mordecai. When Queen Vashti refused King Xerxes’ demand to attend a feast, she was deposed and Esther won a beauty contest to become her replacement. Esther followed Mordecai’s advice to keep her Jewish heritage a secret.

One of Xerxes’ officials named Haman suffered from low self-esteem, which is shown by his request to the king to issue an edict that everyone bow down to him. Mordecai refused, and this irritated Haman. Mordecai explained that as a Jew he would not bow down to any mere human. This further incensed Haman and he devised a plan that would kill not only Mordecai, but all the Jews in the country. He drew up an edict and the king signed it.

When the Jews heard of this new law they were appalled and they fasted and mourned. Mordecai, through servants, made Esther aware of the crisis. She replied that she could not enter the king’s presence without his invitation. To do could result in death. Esther’s loyalty was put to the test. What cost was she personally willing to risk for the sake of her people? Here is her dilemma: if she approaches the king, she risks death. If she does not plead for her people, they will be killed.

Mordecai advised her: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house that you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Esther chose the needs of her people above her own. Esther survived and not only were the Jews are spared, but “many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them” (Esther 8:17).

We all come to defining moments in our lives. Maybe not as dramatic as Esther’s, but ones that are very important in God’s plan. We are given a choice how we will respond.

Healthy Change

Joshua teaches us to move forward with confidence, based on God’s faithfulness in our past.

Jephthah illustrates the result of forsaking a biblical foundation in order to pursue relevance. Esther teaches us the value of seeking wise, godly mentors and committing to fervent prayer in times of change. Sacrificing self-interest for the sake of the community is key to furthering God’s mission, and may result in growth we might never have imagined.

Gord-Penner
Gord Penner

So long as we live, we will keep changing. We need to ensure that the change is healthy. Change that is connected to our past and anchored in God’s Word. To do this, we must have a faith that lays aside personal preferences to advance the kingdom of God—in our own lives, in our churches, and in our conference.

Gord Penner (Ridgewood), BRS, MDiv, ThM, is an ordained EMC minister who serves as a professor of Old Testament studies at Steinbach Bible College. This article is his own summary of the three messages he presented during the 2017 EMC Convention.

Book Review: Anabaptist Essentials

by Pastor Jacob Enns (Leamington).

Anabaptist Essentials: Ten Signs of a Unique Christian Faith, Palmer Becker (Herald Press, 2017). 180 pp. $12.99 USD (paper). ISBN 9781513800417.

In a time when culture seems to increasingly dissect and compartmentalize faith and practice, a message of faith and life integration is welcome. Palmer Becker in his book, Anabaptist Essentials, gives a very clear picture of what Anabaptism is at its core, where it is different from, and what it has in common with other protestant and catholic faith expressions.

From reading his book I have come to the conclusion that much of what we take for granted as Anabaptists has already been lost to the young generation and needs to be brought back to the table. The book is not written for the purpose of pointing out flaws in other faiths.

Palmer focuses on giving a very detailed rationale for the Anabaptist distinctives, and about the social and cultural impact they have made in various places and times in the past and are still doing today. It was these Early Church distinctives that the 16th century Reformers rediscovered, took as their own, and lived by often at great cost.

In a Christianity where people can decide to be “saved” but not serve Jesus as Lord, Palmer points back to the life of early Anabaptist faith where there was no such separation and compartmentalization. It was either people were “followers of Jesus” or they were not. To be saved, but not serve Jesus was not part of their understanding. In Anabaptist faith, faith means obedience. Faith and works cannot not be separated and compartmentalized. He mentions that his father was perplexed by the question, “Are you saved?” His answer was: “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.” It was all one unity. He was baptized on that confession of faith.

At a time when personal autonomy is gaining ground, the Anabaptist view draws people together into community in all aspects of faith expression, from Jesus being the central focus of our love, and radiating that outward to serving one another, being accountable to, and holding one another accountable, sharing ourselves with one another, and even suffering for one another. I suggest this as a good resource for Sunday School classes and small groups.

 

Terry Smith: Questions Asked Near a Mirror

by Terry M. Smith

Q. Which early Anabaptists influence you the most?
A. Menno Simons and Balthasar Hubmaier.

Q. Do you believe climate change, caused by humans, is real?
A. Yes. It’s a serious problem with victims current and future.

Q. What’s the key issue for the EMC today?
A. Since 2000 we’ve plateaued in membership numbers. We need to grow. More urgency, prayer, workers, and money will help.

Q. What are your favourite periods in Anabaptist history?
A. The sixteenth century, the Western Gospel Mission era (1949-1961), and now.

Q. How do you describe yourself?
A. A flawed Christian. A displaced mainliner re-rooted through Evangelicalism and enriched by Anabaptism.

Q. Are you a neo-Anabaptist?
A. No. That’s a person influenced by Anabaptism who attends a non-Mennonite church.

Q. Do you support same-sex marriage?
A. No. We need to be sensitive, though, to people struggling with sexual issues, whether same-sex or other.

Q. Are you a theistic evolutionist?
A. No. The Earth is older, but secular evolutionists use too many zeros and the missing links are still missing.

Q. What do people overlook about your role?
A. The range of my work: being a minister who serves as a full-time administrator in education, publication, and archives.

Q. What’s your heart’s desire?
A. That more of the United Church of Canada would return to a historic proclamation of Jesus Christ as God become also man, Saviour and Lord.

Q. Does the EMC need to plant more churches?
A. Yes. Churches are made of people helped through Christ. Numbers matter because people matter.

Q. What does being an Evangelical mean to you?
A. It means being privileged. And disturbed by what some Evangelicals think and do.

Q. After journalism studies, why did you study at college and seminary?
A. Because of a call to be of service to the Church.

Q. What question stands out from your formal studies?
A. If a person is awarded a degree while married, why is it called a bachelor’s degree?

Q. Which of your degrees is most important to you?
A. My first MA—Mary Ann.

Q. Why don’t you write about some topics?
A. If the focus shifts from the topic to me, does this help the discussion?

Q. Do you believe everyone will be saved in the end?
A. I wish I could say yes, but no.

Q. Do you believe the Church is called to both evangelism and social justice?
A. Yes.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Q. Which task in your work is most important to you?
A. Preaching, a joy and solemn privilege.

Q. What most surprises you about your work?
A. The wonder and grace of Jesus Christ.

Q. Do you think the EMC, the EMMC, and the CMC (formerly Chortitzer) should merge?
A. Yes. Soon.

Terry Smith: How Creative Will We Be?

by Terry M. Smith

We need more churches in Canada of various cultures and languages. Overall, our EMC membership numbers have been flat since 2000, according to general secretary Tim Dyck. In response, how creative will we be?

Certainly the EMC has the background, skill, and responsibility to develop churches in Dutch-German circles. The movement of DG Mennonites from other countries presents this opportunity. Most recently, Living Faith Fellowship (Two Hills, Alta.) has started.

Further, churches have been developed within Hispanic circles. The latest activity: Emanuel (Calgary) is working within Airdrie, Alta.

At the same time, despite our Western Gospel Mission history, church planting has slowed among some cultural and language groups. Still, some plants have happened. In communities near Winnipeg, Rosenort Fellowship planted Oak Bluff Bible Church and Rosenort EMC is now reaching out to Ste. Agathe.

Why plant churches? They show our gratitude for Christ’s grace in our lives, reveal obedience to the Great Commission, display love for our neighbour, and reflect the conviction that Christ is drawing people to himself—so says George G. Hunter, an evangelism staff person with the United Methodists.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Our motivation is not numbers in themselves. People need the good news in Jesus. That’s what the numbers signify: more people coming to faith in Christ to serve Him. The Great Commission is a holistic calling: “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded” (Matt. 28:20).

For denominations to grow, Donald McGavran says we need to be creative. He counsels us to look carefully at our resources (there is more money out there, he says), even our self-image and liturgical style.

Source: D. McGavran and G. G. Hunter, Church Growth: Strategies That Work (Abingdon, 1980).

South Sudan: Sunday, an Orphan and a Bishop

by Gordon Skopnik

South Sudan – Sunday is not just a day. This story is about Sunday the man.  Sunday grew up in refugee camps as a Sudanese orphan.  Camp life was very difficult and as an orphan, and especially a Sudanese orphan, he had to figure out how to support himself in another country.

The culture and language were different and people often never thought of others and were consumed with trying to survive. Sunday felt like he was the scum of the earth, and that is how he thought about himself.

When he was a bit older, maybe 13, he left camp life that was too difficult only to find that city life was sometimes even worse.  A pastor in Kampala City in Uganda found him destitute and offered him a helping hand and counsel.  It was not much, but Sunday was given some food, counsel and provided some education.  Sunday believed he would never become anybody significant because he believed he was nobody significant.

The pastor taught him that he could have a position in Christ. He could be a child of God and learn and have a new identity.  Sunday could not believe that could ever happen to him. But as he grew in relationship with his new community and the pastor reinforced that Sunday had potential, he went along for the ride.

It was time for him to move back to his own country, South Sudan, and the pastor bought Sunday a ticket to fly back with Mission Aviation Fellowship.  Sunday had only seen these planes in the sky, and so, when he went up into the sky himself, he was terrified that he would fall out of the sky.

This experienced changed his life, though, and God used it to move him forward in faith.  He realized that if he could fly in the sky, he could do anything—and be anybody that God wanted him to be.  He finally grasped his identity in Christ as a child of God and brother of Christ and all its benefits, and he shared them freely with others.

It was difficult in South Sudan for Sunday but he, as a humble servant of Christ, just helped people and orphans; and the community noticed that Sunday was a spiritual leader.  Sunday is now a bishop and serves thousands of people.

There are many more details to Sunday’s story that I did not share as they were too disturbing and too graphic.  In an interview with Sunday, the last time I met him, he was living in a refugee camp in Northern Uganda because his home in South Sudan is destroyed and he is not able to go back. He said, “I was born in war. I married in war. I have had children in war, and now I may die in war.”

This may sound devastatingly negative, but Sunday serves beside Avant Ministries. He serves South Sudan within the context of Short Cycle Church Planting in the refugee camps promoting health, peace, and spiritual vitality.

Gordon and Sharon Skopnik (Wymark) serve with Avant Ministries. Sunday’s story is told with his permission.

Fort Garry: New Beginnings

by Elaine Kroeker

WINNIPEG, Man.—Our first potluck of the year was a Chinese New Year event on Jan. 29 with the Winnipeg Logos Church. We are thankful that we can share our facility and do joint events with them several times a year.

For our service that day, a man within the Logos congregation shared his story of coming to faith in God this past year and being baptized at Thanksgiving by Pastor Len Harms. He shared about the many ways in which following Jesus was helping him make changes in his life. He said he has changed from being judgmental to becoming a more gentle and gracious person.

The potluck lunch was a lovely mix of both Canadian and Chinese food. The Logos church had decorated the basement using Chinese New Year’s banners that translated read, “ We are celebrating the Chinese New Year by Praising God.”

A baby dedication was held on Feb. 12, welcoming five new babies to our congregation. Each parent read a prayer of dedication and Pastor David Funk said a prayer of blessing for the families.

We praise God for the confidence that people from all cultures, new believers, and young children can all take refuge and put their trust in the Almighty. All of us are welcome to find shelter under the shadow of His wings for life’s journey.