J. Lawrence Burkholder, Recollections of a Sectarian Realist: A Mennonite Life in the Twentieth Century. (AMBS/Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2017), 272 pp. $22.45 USD. Reviewed by Henry Friesen (The ConneXion), MPhilF, and former member of the BCM.
This is a fascinating story of a life well lived. Burkholder’s early years were in unincorporated settlements in Pennsylvania, but his life includes years of relief work in India and China, and studies as well as teaching in Goshen, Princeton, and Harvard. Interspersed with these international and cosmopolitan experiences Burkholder recalls self-supporting pastoral work in his early years, a rich family life that sadly includes the death of a son at age 25, and an enduring fascination with flying.
A noteworthy and delightful feature of this work is the way that reflections on the philosophical and theological implications of mundane matters are integrated into the biographical account. Reminiscing about a childhood Sunday School teacher includes a recognition of the significance of clearly defined terms to philosophical discourse, and an astonishingly accessible excursus into ontology, generally encountered only as a highly abstract philosophical concern. Regrettably, Burkholder did not elaborate on his eminently justifiable and repeated refusal to sign Goshen’s statement endorsing inerrancy.
This biography ranges over an immense range of theological practice from pastors required to leave ministry because they married a person from another Mennonite congregation, to a requirement that Burkholder himself relinquish a life insurance policy in order to retain a pastorate, to making potential life or death decisions for others while engaged in relief work.
The book concludes with Burkholder’s “Musings on the Pressing Issues of My Time.”
Recollections of a Sectarian Realist offers something for almost everyone. It is a biography that includes intriguing cerebral detours instigated by experiences in daily life.
PANSY, Man.—A winter baptism on Jan. 14, 2018, planned for six people turned into an impromptu baptism for an additional 16. After the six candidates (Sarah McQuade, Ginette Morgan, Sandy Gobeil, Brad Wiebe, Jordan Reimer, and Aaron Barkman) had been baptized, as per our custom of many years the invitation was given to anyone else who would like to take this important step.
It didn’t take long and people starting coming forward and, upon confession of their faith, an additional 16 received baptism that morning, a mix of regular attenders and some visitors. As the stage became littered with towels, shoes and dripping clothes, and people went home in dry shepherd costumes, it made us wonder what it was like in Acts 2:37-41. When 3,000 were baptized in one day, there must have been a lot of wet clothes and shoes lined up on the beach. Our hearts were full. What a privilege to be a part of the work that God is doing.
Our baptisms typically take place in summer (including a five-week New Life Class leading up to the service) when the creek behind the church property can be used. This winter several people expressed an interest in winter baptism, so with the use of a baptismal tank (thanks to Urban Life) a winter baptism was planned.
There are, of course, many other ways God is working in our midst. We could tell about the pre-Christmas rush of sending shoeboxes in record numbers or of the regular Christmas concert that turned to a highlight this year. Or we could describe the seven-week Hearing God study that amazed us. There is so much to learn about hearing God throughout the Scriptures as well as in life.
One surprise happened with that that none of us could remember seeing before: a midweek traffic jam on Road 21N. Plus the sessions may well have been the catalyst preceding the unusual service on Jan 14. Who knows what God may do?
Or we could recount the Ensenada Missions stories involving YUGO and building homes for the needy in Mexico. It thrills my heart to think that God is able to use us to go build house after house for someone deserving and waiting. And again, that God could use us to help certain other groups who did not yet have the blessing from their own church to go, but together we could make it happen. Wow! I remember a time way back when our churches were not blessing missions yet and someone helped us move forward, and look to where we have grown. So now it is our turn to help move others forward.
The thought of missions makes me wish I was young again and I could go. And do more. Perhaps I would choose to go to Cuba with ASSIST. Their needs are so great. Wouldn’t it be neat to get involved hands on?
Did you know that your local church is a Missionary Search Committee?
Pastoral search committee members often find the process to hire a pastor to be a difficult responsibility. It is a time of celebration when the local church has processed a candidate and has hired a pastor for their congregation.
EMC Missions does not form a search committee as we “search for and engage” missionaries. Yet, in a broader sense, we have sixty-four search committees, each one of the churches in our conference.
Churches are encouraged to actively search for potential missionaries in their congregation who have the spiritual character, witness, and preparation to serve cross-culturally.
But what might be improved is how intentionally some churches look for missionary candidates. Church mission committees should see that one of their primary responsibilities to be to look for missionary candidates within their congregation?
How does it work? Well, it works similarly to our Pastoral Search Committees. Each congregation looks for people who could effectively serve. The job description and position are advertised and the search committee begins to discern who is the right applicant for their local church.
Although churches may vary as to specific job descriptions, search committees are united in that the chosen candidate one who is strong in their spiritual character and Christian witness. This is the first requirement, stated or unstated, for all candidates. Standards are high! This requirement is the same for both pastor and missionary.
One mission agency says, “If you are not convinced that the (missionary) candidates exhibit the level of spiritual character that would qualify them to join your own church staff, then don’t recommend them for missions!”
EMC Missions is looking for gifted people with spiritual character to serve in one of more than twenty countries in which the EMC is ministering. The job descriptions vary, but include those who are qualified to serve in both ministerial and professional disciplines and who are gifted to serve, among others, in one of the following professions:
Radio/Media Business for Mission
In 2018 the EMC Board of Missions is praying and discerning for a new destination point for EMC missionaries to enter under its full administration. With an emphasis in church planting, a four- to six-person team is being recruited. We are inviting each one of the 64 church search committees to ask who in your congregation is gifted to be a part of this new team.
The EMC has been blessed as a conference. Within our churches we have ministerial, professionals, and blue collar workers who love the Lord and who are gifted to serve.
Although most positions require a Bible college background, there are positions where this is not a necessity. For some mission opportunities, the candidate will need to work cross-culturally in a language and setting unfamiliar to them.
Search committee work is hard work, but it is rewarding when the church selects and engages both pastoral staff and its missionaries. A Missionary Search Committee can help us do this well.
After working with youth for 15 years in ministry and then in social services, you get used to hearing a lot of the same questions. The first questions I hear usually go like this. From parents: “Why won’t my child listen to me?” From youth: “Why won’t my parents listen to me?” Even from other youth workers: “How do I get parents and kids to listen to each other?”
One of the next questions I frequently encounter after working with someone for a time is, “What is a mental illness?” My answer is this: mental illnesses are real, complex disorders of the mind that affect an increasing number of Canadians each year. They are not the result of bad decisions, a weak mind, or personal sin. In many cases a person who is experiencing a mental illness can get help. However, there can be severe consequences if youth don’t get the help that they need. These consequences could include difficulty living a normal life, relationship problems, or even suicide.
I eventually hear interested persons ask me another important question. And it isn’t just parents or youth who ask it. It comes up at my workplace, at my church, at the grocery store, and anywhere else that my fellow believers can manage to corner me. And I love answering it! “Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness?”
Youth and Mental Illness in Canada
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? Perhaps because adolescence is the most likely time for the development of mental illness. If someone is going to get depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, or more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, chances are they will begin to have symptoms in their teen years.
Between 10 to 20 per cent of teens in Canada are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. The number of adolescents in Canada who are at risk of developing depression is over three million. About 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth will or have experienced a major depressive episode. Youth mental illness issues are the second highest hospital care expenditure in the country—and we aren’t even treating half of the people who need help.
Suicide in Canada
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? We need to talk because suicide is among the leading causes of death for adolescents in Canada. Canada is a great country, and we have many freedoms and benefits of which to be proud. Despite this, our suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world.
When I worked in professional ministry, many teenagers told me their thoughts or plans of suicide. It was terrifying, but the fear I was experiencing at hearing their words was nothing compared to the fear they lived in every day. It was the fear that no one could understand how they felt, or could help them to get better. Chances are someone you care about in your church or family has felt this way.
Mental Illness and the Church
As a church, we have a responsibility to work toward the healing of our beautiful, but broken world. And healing is definitely needed in a timely manner when it comes to youth. Research shows only one in five youth who experience a mental illness will actually receive any help.
However, while adolescence is the “prime time” for the development of mental illnesses, it is also the time when interventions for these disorders are most likely to produce successful results and alleviate or eliminate the distressing symptoms.
Returning to a Normal Life
With proper help, about 80% of youth who are experiencing depression can return to a normal life. This help could be seeing a counsellor, a therapist, or a community mental health worker. It might mean talking to a doctor about taking special medication that can help correct some of the problems in the young person’s mind.
The church can also be a big part of this help. While the counsellors and social services in our country do a great job, statistics show most young people will not receive help for the mental illnesses they deal with. I’ve spent seven and a half years in the social services field, and I can tell you there is more than enough work to go around.
A Message to Volunteers
I have a message for youth pastors, youth workers, and volunteers: All of you have an opportunity to help contribute to the solution. You spend more time with the adolescents in our churches than I think anyone realizes. This means when symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses begin to appear, you are poised to be a significant help to the young people of your congregation.
How great would it be if youth pastors and youth workers in our churches had the necessary training to recognize symptoms of mental illness in adolescents? How useful would it be if they knew of appropriate resources to connect with these young people in order for them to get timely, qualified care? And how amazing would it be if these professionals and volunteers could walk with the youth as they received care, being a community of support to them as the Body of Christ?
We Open the Door!
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? For me, the most important reason is this: Because by talking about it, we open the door to talking about mental health and the best ways in which we—youth workers, parents, members of the church—can support our young people though the challenges they are facing in an already challenging world.
I am excited to be a part of the conversation in the E M Conference. Please keep reading The Messenger for further articles this year about understanding different mental illnesses and promoting positive mental health in our churches.
Daniel Dacombe has worked with youth for nearly fifteen years, including at Youth for Christ. He has attended Providence College and Seminary for Social Sciences and Counselling education. He attends Heartland Community Church and lives with his wife, two daughters, and a very large dog.
AFGHANISTAN—It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to be unable to provide for their child.
For 35-year-old Omar, whose last name isn’t being used for security reasons, that nightmare was a reality. His son Shakeb was under-nourished and very small for his age because of chronic drought and persistent conflict in their area. “I wasn’t able to sleep because every night my son was crying the whole night,” Omar explains.
Omar brought Shakeb to Medair’s mobile clinic every two weeks to receive a progress check-up and enough Plumpy Nut, a high-energy nutritional supplement, for the following two weeks. The difference is remarkable, he says.
For the last year, Medair, an MCC partner in Afghanistan, with support from the Government of Canada’s Global Affairs department, has delivered maternal and child nutritional supports to people like Shakeb to address the high levels of malnutrition and preventable illnesses in Afghanistan.
“Since he was admitted into this program he is becoming better and my mind is now at ease. I’m very thankful for these services,” Omar says.
According to Jacob Hale, one of MCC’s representatives in Afghanistan, this project addresses different needs in different parts of the country. In Kandahar, where the ongoing conflict is most severe, Medair and MCC are focusing on providing nutritional supports for mothers and babies.
“Food costs are noticeably higher in Kandahar because of the difficulty in getting food to the markets there. Traders are less likely to want to take the risk to move goods to the area and when they do they have to pass through armed opposition group-controlled areas where they are taxed,” Hale explains.
Shakeb is just one of more than 62,000 children screened for malnutrition in rural Kandahar and Kandahar city and nearly 6,500 children admitted into Medair supported treatment centers. In the last year, more than 5,000 were discharged as cured.
Part of the three-year project includes education. More than 26,000 men and women across the country were reached with messaging about good family nutrition, especially for pregnant or nursing mothers, infants and young children.
In the Central Highlands area where there is relative peace, but the land is arid and sanitation is a problem, Medair is able to work towards long-term solutions.
Nearly 2,000 women took part in a gardening class where they learned about seed planting, irrigation and management of pests and diseases. MCC and Medair are providing seeds, shovels, fruit trees and watering cans to get them started.
This project also addresses sanitation. Through the partnership with Medair, MCC constructed 25 safe water supply systems benefitting more than 3,500 people in rural Central Highland villages and areas of Kandahar city previously without a safe water source.
In the Highlands region, MCC constructed 22 household latrines and eight school latrines, providing improved access to sanitation facilities for 176 people and 300 school children.
MCC’s partnership with Medair, an organization with years of experience in the region, is vital to earning access into Afghan communities.
“Afghanistan is a complex place to work. After decades of war, trust is hard to build. These are places where Medair had already done the challenging work of building relationships and making connections,” Hale says.
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man.—The year 2017 has passed. Many things happened and were celebrated. We welcomed children born, adopted and dedicated to the Lord. We celebrated weddings, graduations and baptisms and so much more!
One highlight was Dec. 24, 2017, when three young ladies asked to be baptized at Christmas time. It was a great time to remember for Clara Baer, Rebecca Wiebe, and Hailey Wieler. May God guide and bless each one of them for the decisions they made. They all shared their testimony and their mentors were there for their support.
As we continue to seek God and support one another we can find our hope being ratified by faith-building memories of God’s unchanging character and dependability. As we look ahead to the New Year 2018 let’s remember that God has always been and always will be faithful.
A winter walk is different from a summer walk. It takes planning. The first thing you must do is check the weather. How cold is it? Is a storm coming? This will determine everything else, what you wear, where you’ll go, what you’ll do.
You’ll be happy longer, playing outside, if you dress appropriately. A sweater over your indoor clothes will keep the cold out. Wear long socks and cozy snow pants and you’ll feel toasty warm. Winter boots will keep out the snow even if it’s deep. Wear water proof mitts to keep your hands dry and warm. Pull a warm toque over your head and ears. You don’t want frostbite. Keep your neck covered with a scarf so the wind won’t blow in. And zip up your parka against the cold air.
There, you’re all set. Now step outside. Take a big breath. Isn’t that refreshing?
Where will you go? To a park? Into the forest? Around your neighbourhood?
Look around. What do you see? Snow has turned everything white and sparkling. The trees are bare. Paths are covered. Did any birds stay for the winter? Do you spot any other animals? Even if they’re not within sight, there may be signs they were here. Look for bird tracks, or rabbit paw prints. There may be the hoof prints of a deer around a tree trunk or going into the woods.
How does the sky look? Is it a winter sky? Any signs that a wind is blowing? Look for branches swaying or the rustle of dry leaves still hanging on.
What can you hear? Are the sounds natural, like birds singing, or the chatter of squirrels? Or are they man-made sounds, cars going by, an airplane overhead, a train whistle or a siren? You may even hear children shouting.
Touch the bark of a tree trunk. How does it feel? Can you find something soft, like moss, or smooth like a stone, or a bench? Is it warm or cold?
Can you taste the air? What does snow taste like? Make sure it’s clean snow.
What do you smell? What does a tree smell like? Choose a spruce or a pine. Sniff a small branch with needles and describe its smell.
Walking outside is good for you. It’s good exercise. It builds muscles. It will keep your bones and joints healthy. It lowers your body’s blood pressure. Walking among trees and breathing the cool air will make you feel refreshed and light. You’ll be ready to relax indoors, eat a good supper, and sleep well.
Remember, all the things you enjoy God has made. Remember to thank him.
Read Psalm 65:9-13.
Activity: Things to do on a walk.
Take a sled. You can ride it, pull it, or slide down a hill, if there is one.
Make art with twigs and berries. Make shapes. Notice the texture (bumpy and lumpy, smooth or prickly). Draw with a pointy branch. Make a snow angel.
Look for animals or signs of them, like tracks, animal droppings, bark nibbled off tree trunks, digging or scraping for hidden food, tunnels in the snow.
Bring a camera. Take photos of your nature art, animal signs, trees, shapes, light, shadows, and angles.
Name as many plants or animals as you know.
Caution: Always go with an adult. Stay on the path and stay away from roads, fences, or water. Never put your tongue or lips on metal outdoors.
In the culture in which we find ourselves it is popular to be critical, cynical, and to complain about the deficiencies we see in the world around us. All too often we as the church simply follow suit. While in favour of accountability and honesty, I am also in favour of being encouraging. So even though I do more than my share of complaining, I felt it was high time for me to share some things about the EMC that I have come to greatly appreciate:
The EMC takes theology seriously. That is, the leaders take seriously the responsibility to correctly handle the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15). While there are always different interpretations of what a particular passage may mean, I have yet to meet another EMC pastor who does not take this responsibility seriously. Furthermore, as someone who has come to love Anabaptist Theology, I find that the EMC holds to those faith convictions that are deeply important to me. Things like spreading the Gospel, taking care of the downtrodden, and understanding the Bible in the light of Jesus. It includes recognizing the dignity of humanity as image bearers of God and how that applies to views against violence and against a culture of death.
As a life-long churchgoer, and now as the pastor of a church, I know how easy it is to become incredibly busy with all the events, struggles, and joys of one’s own church. Yet we as a local church are only one expression of the global body of Christ, and we as churches need one another. Through our connection to other EMC churches, it gives a sort of pre-existing relationship with others where we as leaders can go to for fellowship, friendship, advice, or teamwork for local and global projects.
These connections with other pastors and with conference leaders help provide a framework of accountability. We as leaders and churches are accountable to other churches and to the wider conference for the actions we take. How this works itself out varies from one situation to another, but it is there and it is helpful for us as we seek to serve the Lord together.
Support in Troubled Times
When churches go through difficulties, the EMC is there, willing to send in mediators, advisors, and to pray for and with churches as they experience conflict. I know that not everyone has experienced this. I have on occasion heard various complaints about the EMC for not providing this support. After listening to those criticisms, the first question I asked was, “That sounds hard. But did you call EMC leadership and ask for help?”
Each time I’ve heard that criticism and asked that question, their answer every time was “No.” The leaders in the EMC are human beings, just like you and I, not some magical, psychic, all-knowing beings. Only God is all-knowing. Thus for the rest of us we must learn how to communicate and ask for help. I will say, however, that for myself and others I know who have asked for help, it was given. Was it perfect help? No. But there was love and support in the times we needed it the most.
The New Beginnings
There are always new church plants on the go within the EMC. The church I pastor is less than 20 years old and is the result of the EMC having the vision to send a church planter to our community and start something new. I greatly appreciate the vision of the EMC leadership to see beyond what simply is and onward to what could be or will be. Could we do more of this? Absolutely. Could we do it more efficiently? Sure. This, however, takes people. People like you and I to be bold and brave and to step out and do something new.
For as long as I have known the EMC, more than half of the budget is spent on missions. Another significant portion is spent on Canadian church planting. The remaining minority of the budget is spent on ministering to our existing churches and administration. I appreciate the emphasis on serving and giving instead of hoarding. I mentioned theology earlier, and the budget is where we “put our money where our mouth is.” Generally speaking, the EMC does this well and is fairly consistent between what we profess to believe and what we do with our money.
I appreciate how the EMC does missions and cares for its missionaries. I know things have changed over time and will continue to change, however there have been countless missionary efforts that have done some pretty amazing things. Ministry in one part of Mexico was so successful that a number of years ago the EMC actually stopped working there because the local people caught the vision for themselves and now do their own work. It was empowering and life giving. I get nervous when ministries seem to be more about expanding their own base of power, instead of about how to empower others. From what I have heard and seen about EMC missions, it does quite well in this regard.
I will speak as a pastor for a moment. There are certain realities about being a pastor that are difficult to live through and hard to explain to those who have not been there themselves. Please understand that I am not trying to belittle the struggles of others or put pastor’s up on a pedestal. We struggle along like any other human beings. What the EMC has given to me, however, is a network of other pastors, many of whom have become close friends, and who have been there for me through everything from my birthday party to theological questions to advice when in times of conflict.
Speaking to other EMC churches, or any church for that matter, encouraging your pastor to spend time with other pastors, even just as friends, can do great things for your congregation. It gives your pastor much needed support and when things get tough, they will be able to do a much better job during those times if they have trusted friends.
There are a number of events put on by the EMC regularly that help provide education, inspiration and support to church leaders and church people. There is the annual EMC convention, the twice-yearly Conference Council where decisions are made, the semi-annual Ministerial retreat, the semi-annual youth gathering we call Abundant Springs, and other events like youth leader retreats, spiritual gift seminars, training for church accountants and more. I have learned a lot through these various events, which have strengthened me as I serve.
There are a number of publications that the EMC produces which have educated me, made me think and re-think issues, and have helped me in my personal spiritual development. Need I say more?
It has been on my mind for a while to write this non-comprehensive list. My hope is that those in our church and those in other EMC churches will find renewed vision to continue to work together for the sake of the Gospel. What would you add to this list?
Kevin Wiebe is the pastor of the New Life Christian Fellowship (Stevenson, Ont.) and is a member of the Board of Church Ministries.
by Ken Zacharias, Foreign Secretary, EMC Board of Missions
Nancy Friesen (Picture Butte) completed her studies at the Rio Grande Bible institute in December 2017. She will be leaving for Bolivia on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, to begin her service with ministries that the EMC is involved with among Low German Mennonites. Her initial involvement will be teaching English in the Pailin school. She will also serve in administration as the MEM legal representative in Bolivia as it pertains to government reporting and helping missionaries with visa documentation work. Pray for Nancy as she begins her ministry and as she continues to become more fluent in the Spanish language.
In December 2017, the 6th Polar Bear Marathon took place in Churchill with 17 International runners. It was a challenging event this year because of the indirect effects of the railroad tracks not being in service.
We had Mohamad Ahansal from Morocco run with us. He is a long-time friend from the Sahara Desert, a true “son of the desert,” which is where I met him while running the Marathon des Sables four times. We also had three runners from Mexico, two from Germany, three from Toronto, several from Churchill, and two from Tadoule Lake.
A concern, of course, was to keep the three Tarahumara runners from Mexico safe and warm. The three, from the Copper Canyon, did really well. The father, Santiago Ramirez, ran 50 km in five hours and four minutes. Mario, son to Santiago, ran the full marathon, whereas Juana, daughter to Santiago, ran the half marathon. All were kept safe with no frostbite, even though it was -22 C with chilly wind.
The Athletes in Action dessert night in Steinbach, Man., went very well, with over 200 people coming. Some just showed up without registrations.
The Mexico connection to the Polar Bear Marathon is pretty huge. I was totally surprised to have this become such a big media event. A radio station in Toronto requested an interview with me about the Tarahumara runners. What is so special is that one runner from Mexico is a believer in Jesus, which makes the whole event of the running ministry more meaningful.
Many of you may have heard of the book Born to Run by Chris McDougall, where he writes about the Copper Canyon, the Cabello Blanco 50 mile ultra marathon, and barefoot running. Often the Tarahumara runners run in sandals and the girls run in skirts. Lorena Ramirez is another family member who is famous for her long distance running in Mexico. She could not be with us, because she was running somewhere else during that Polar Bear Marathon weekend.
David Peters was my translator for the Ramirez runners, and he came with me to Churchill to help. He has written more about what happened when the Ramirez family returned to Mexico. Their reception was huge, he says. He called it a “zoo.” The runners were met at the airport by media and government officials, and a press conference was planned with the governor at his palace. (The governor also congratulated them on his Facebook account.) Only then could they go home.
A scientist in Churchill had filmed the marathon and he put it on YouTube. This was picked up in Mexico and, in turn, shown on Mexican national television. David also informed me that Mario was given a house by the governor for all his accomplishments. Pray for Mario as his dream is to develop a Christian school for his Tarahumara people.
I have a long list of people to thank for all the help that was given to organize the marathon in Churchill to the dessert evening in Steinbach. It was a massive event that influenced many people worldwide. Thank you. I greatly appreciate your continued prayers.
Albert Martens (Steinbach EMC) serves with Athletes in Action. He has a long history of ministry and of long-distance running and combines the two in service to Christ.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference