Earl Unger: We Plant Churches Because It Matters

by Earl Unger, Vice Chair, Canadian Church Planting Task Force

Reporting on church planting is like a Jets fan talking about his young, but improving hockey team. Following them still hurts sometimes, but increasingly their swift skating, fancy stickwork, and deft puck handling thrills even the most jaded heart.

So, it is regarding our efforts at extending the Kingdom through church planting. Here’s what I mean.

We currently have ten church plants and outreach ministries, in varying degrees of maturation, stretching across Western Canada.

We have church plants in Redcliffe/Medicine Hat and Two Hills, Alberta, both reaching into what are primarily Low German-speaking communities.

Among our other church starts, we have two Spanish churches in Calgary and Dauphin. The latter has not had a full-time church planter since January 2018 because of a lack of growth and sustainability after four years of ministry.

Meanwhile, Iglesia Emmanuel of Calgary, a young church itself, is working hard at establishing another Spanish church in the city of Airdrie, just north of Calgary. We also support a Spanish outreach project emanating from the Aberdeen EMC in north Winnipeg. This is currently led by Angel and Blanca Infantes. It has grown to around 60 people.

These are all exciting ventures, but there are more. The Many Rooms Church Community in the Spence community of Winnipeg continues to grow, effectively reaching the inner city through a network of six house churches.

A further indication of God’s blessing is the recent addition of the Logos Church of Winnipeg, a Chinese church plant. They have hired Jabez Lee as their pastor. They are receiving significant support from our Fort Garry church, as this is where the Logos church meets; and associate Pastor Len Harms is mentoring Pastor Lee and the church leadership. Len also preaches there monthly.

It should be noted that the Canadian Church Planting Task Force also provides funds to Fort Garry EMC to support an outreach project, led by Pastor Len, on the campus of the University of Manitob.

Another exciting outreach project we are supporting is the work of Simon and Joy Kim, members of the Pelly church. They are actively reaching out to two nearby First Nations communities, Keesekoose and Cote. This began through the vision of Pastor Frankie Kim at Pelly Fellowship Chapel.

Beyond the ten ministries already mentioned, we are also excited about what is happening at Ste Agathe, Manitoba. For the past number of years the Rosenort EM Church has been reaching out to this neighbouring community. This work is progressing and Pastor Scott and Debbie Dyck of the Rosenort EMC are praying about relocating to Ste. Agathe to aid these efforts.

As you can see, the church planting efforts under the EMC umbrella are expanding and increasing in influence. I hope this report has provided an increased understanding of the exciting, ethnically diverse, and ever-evolving scope of our church planting in Canada. We are looking and praying and seeking the Lord to send us more workers because the need for people to know Jesus is huge (Luke 10:2).

pic-of-Earl
Earl Unger

We know you care. But still you may be wondering how you can do more to assist in this important work. Here are a few suggestions. For one, you can pray. Pray for our church planting coordinator Charlie Koop and our Church Planting Task Force, but, most importantly, pray for these churches and ministries and the people who lead them.

And secondly, if you would be so led of God, consider financially supporting the work of the Canadian Church Planting Task Force through giving to the Church Planters and Training Fund.

Dr. Rob Reimer: Discerning God’s Voice– Two Diverse Approaches, Three Key Characteristics

By Dr. Rob Reimer, SBC president

The past few weeks have been filled with conversations regarding the SBC Leadership Conference. This article is a response addressing some of the concerns and support expressed regarding the conference. This article is not intended to exhaustively address the issue. Authors have written many books on the topic. This will not be a book, but a short overview.

There are few things that bring a bigger smile to my face than when people earnestly seek after God. It is one of the greatest joys that I have as President of Steinbach Bible College to see students grapple with faith issues. One of those faith issues that has recently garnered much attention is in the area of hearing from God.

Two Diverse Approaches

As I listen to people talk about this faith issue, I sometimes hear two diverse approaches. The first approach says that all I have to do is become quiet, listen for God’s voice for a few minutes and then whatever impressions I receive must be what God is telling me to do. The formula is simple: become quiet for a short time, and then God will give me an impression that is absolute.

The second approach says that God doesn’t speak to me personally, but only through the written Word. This formula says that for every decision I need to make, God will automatically give me a verse and somehow that verse will fit my situation. So, what happens is that I read a verse for my devotions and somehow try to manipulate that verse to fit my personal situation.

Both perspectives have components that I need to incorporate into my life as I hear from God, and both have cause for concern. To throw out either perspective would short-change the process while seeking to hear from God. I believe that a better alternative would be to incorporate both and seek a more balanced approach to hear from God.

 How Do We Hear From God?

I believe that there are many ways that God speaks to us today. We typically have our “go-to” methods. Subsequently, it can be easy to assume that the way God speaks to me is the only way or ways that God speaks to all of us today.

As I think of a list of ways God speaks to us, I realize that some of these methods I have experienced personally, while others I have not experienced at all. However, just because I have experienced them, or not experienced them, does not make them right or wrong, or the only way to hear God. The reality is that God speaks to his children in a variety of ways.

There are three characteristics that I personally have experienced as I have sought to hear God. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. This is simply sharing my experience.

Time Seeking God

The first characteristic deals with the amount of time I spend in seeking God (1 Cor. 2:9-16). There seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of time I wait on God, and how well I hear from God. When I only spend a few minutes or a short amount of time listening to God, I tend to “mishear” Him. Maybe it is just me, but that has been my experience.

However, when I dedicate myself to prayer and wait patiently on Him for direction and discernment, I tend to “get it right” more often than not.

Have you ever wondered why that seems to be the case? I think the answer lies in the fact that a big part of hearing from God is simply the process. God wants us to spend time in communion and fellowship with him. Our goal for hearing from God is more about the relationship that we have with him than simply getting an answer on what to do next.

God seeks a deep and vibrant relationship, not a vending machine approach to answered prayer. When we become silent for 10 minutes and expect to hear a word from God, we risk turning this relationship into a formula. That does not mean that spending 10 minutes in silence is a waste of time; far from it. However, I believe a better way is to focus on building our relationship with God over a lifetime.  Then we will be amazed at how God continually speaks to us.

The Body of Believers

A second characteristic involves the body of believers (Col. 3:16). My experience has been that I tend to hear God better when I do it in the context of other believers. That is not to say that God only speaks to me when I am with others. I do sense God’s leading when I am alone.

However, for the key decisions of life, I find that I hear God better when other believers are involved. I ask them to join me in prayer. I share how I feel God leading me and ask for their input as they join me in prayer. I invite them to pray with me over a period of days and weeks, not only for 10 minutes.

My home church is in the process of setting direction for the future. As a whole church we are committing to 10 weeks of prayer. We are encouraged to write down our thoughts over this 10-week period. Then we will look at these thoughts and see where the Holy Spirit is leading. I really believe this is a healthy way of listening to God. We are working at building our relationship with God and with each other as we join together in hearing from God (Matt. 22:34-40).

The Use of Scripture

A third characteristic involves the use of Scripture (Romans 10:17). My personal experience has been that when I immerse myself in Scripture, it has a profound impact on my hearing from God. To immerse requires more than reading a chapter and pulling out one verse that seems to stand out. It means reading large portions of Scripture in one sitting. It means reading passages repeatedly.

As a former pastor, one of the most profound challenges I gave to the congregation was to read through an Epistle or Gospel every week for a seven-week period. It was not uncommon for individuals to tell me that Scripture came alive for them, and that God spoke to them in powerful ways. Hearing from God involves reading Scripture, lots of Scripture.

So, how do we hear from God? I believe a biblical approach is to put less focus and emphasis on a formula, and more on relationships. Let’s commit to spending a significant amount of time developing our relationship with God. Let’s involve others who are godly and mature believers. Let’s immerse ourselves in Scripture. If this becomes our emphasis, I truly believe that we will be better “hearers” of God.

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Dr. Rob Reimer

I want to invite you to join me in further study and dialogue as we earnestly seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in becoming more attuned to hearing from God.

Rob Reimer, MDiv, DMin, is the president of Steinbach Bible College.

Review: Awesome Kidmin Conference 2018

By Ruth Friesen

On March 2-3, 2018, I had the privilege of attending the Awesome Kidmin Conference. Hearing a conference described as “awesome” in its title made me a bit hesitant, but, after checking out the website and seeing the variety of sessions available, I decided it would be a good investment of time. I was not disappointed. In fact, I came away from the weekend encouraged and excited to try some of what I’d learned. It was an incredible experience to be at a conference with 200 other people doing kids’ ministry. A group of children’s pastors from churches in Regina had driven to take part.

The conference brought in a top-notch speaker David Rausch who, by God’s grace, has started a new children’s church curriculum entitled “GO!” He challenged us to think about the long journey of faith and to teach our kids that faith is not all about life being easy and happy when we follow God, but that it is an adventure. He admonished us that we do a disservice to our children if we don’t prepare them to face the doubts, questions, and challenges that living by faith brings. We were also encouraged to look for opportunities for our kids to serve; they they can do much more than we think they can, a message that was reinforced in a breakout session with Lydia Stoez on teaching our kids to pray.

There were five opportunities for breakout sessions with four to six options at each session, leaving many of us wondering how we were going to get to everything we wanted to hear when our top choices were at the same time. Leadership labs on Friday focused on gender and sexuality, volunteer recruitment and retention and basic training for those new to children’s ministry. The Friday night options were all focused on personal development, which was an important opportunity to be fed. On Saturday we had choices of looking at how to develop our storytelling skills, how to include kids with special needs, pick curriculum, teach our kids to pray, help them process pain, come alongside families and many more options.

Looking through the program I was encouraged to see how many EMCers were involved with the conference. Steinbach Bible College was a sponsor. Teresa Enns Zehr (Aberdeen), Arlene Friesen (SBC), Michelle MacGibbon (Fort Garry), and Lisa Schau (St. Vital) were presenters at different breakout sessions, and Lorna Kroeker (St. Vital) and Lisa Schau were on the planning committee.

Ruth
Ruth Friesen

I left the weekend with new curriculum ideas, resources, contacts, and an invitation to join the network of children’s ministry workers that meets regularly in Winnipeg. More importantly, I felt that I had met God, been challenged, encouraged, and refreshed. I hope to see many more EMCers at next year’s Awesome KidMin Conference (www.awesomekidmin.com) on March 8-9, 2019, for an awesome experience.

Ruth Friesen says, “Besides trying to disciple my own three kids, I am currently the midweek children’s club coordinator at our church and have been involved in children’s ministry and work in various forms (children’s church, Sunday School, VBS, camp, daycare, group home) for much of the past 23 years.” She has a BA in theology (Providence) and a BSW (U of M), and is part of Fort Garry EMC.

Layton Friesen: Tracking the Un-Guessable Lord

by Layton Friesen

For the first centuries of the Church’s life, there was much debate about exactly who this Jesus was the Church found itself worshipping and following. One of the simplest and most profound truths it discovered was this: you will never predict who Jesus is by thinking profound and lofty philosophical thoughts, hoping that your rational concepts somehow coincide with Christ.

The mistake that was so hard to overcome for these early Christians was the belief that by thinking philosophical Greek thoughts about natures and essences, eventually they would figure out who this God-man was. That never worked.

So if not by thinking, how else? By looking. By watching to see what he does, how he lives, and the manner of his speech. What kind of choice does he make here? What does he refuse there? How does he act in this situation here? The mystery of Jesus appears in the manner in which he takes the days his Father gave him, and weaves an utterly unique, never-anticipated tapestry from them.

Jesus arrives and lives so freely, with such dashing improv, that no human could ever guess what he would do next. When the Church finally came to this basic discovery in the 7th century (thank you, Maximus the Confessor) they arrived at a beautiful vision of who Jesus was that has never been surpassed. When you watch Jesus acting, the humanity and divinity appear in matchless unity.

Thus, the basic act of the disciple is looking. Staying alert. Watching intently. Noticing the subtle change in his bearing. Disciples do not predict where Jesus will go by trying to be super-smart—they can only follow.

Once we see Jesus, we can think about it. We can try to appreciate with our intellect something of the love we see unfolding. First we look and then we treasure up all these things, pondering them in our heart. For example, after Jesus lived, the disciples saw the Old Testament as full of references to Christ. Before Christ came and lived however, no one could have guessed his life would happen as it did.

But this order of first looking and then thinking is sure hard for us modern people. We have a hard time believing that after all these centuries we still need to keep tracking Christ’s every move. We constantly seek the “key” to Jesus’ life. We try to detect a pattern or principle that we can detach from Jesus and put to use in our lives.

I see this mistake happening often. We say for instance, Jesus showed hospitality; we then go and detach hospitality from Jesus and make it a kind of free-standing principle or idea in our lives and tell ourselves that we are still following Jesus.

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

It’s a lot easier just being generally hospitable than it is following Jesus. I can get hospitality. But you cannot be a disciple by following general principles like hospitality (or leadership, or counter-cultural resistance, or honesty, or nonviolence, or whatever other detachable principle). Jesus is simply unpredictable and he will always bust open my lousy principles and concepts. In order to be Christ-like I have to track his footsteps through the gospels in daily looking and attentive curious waiting.

What this means is that we must keep going back to the words, the phrases, the sentences in the Bible that tell the story of Jesus. Nothing can ever substitute for contemplation, for sitting with Mary at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he says next.

Wally Doerksen: Skills and Tools Needed To Help People

by Wally Doerksen, Steinbach, Man.

In the March 2018 issue of The Messenger, Irene Ascough writes an article called Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Church. It seems to focus mostly on the benefits of mental health and that it is easier to stay healthy than to treat or look after people who are not well. While the church is a potentially positive place for mental well being, it also fosters a culture of shame and expectation (if we could be what we should be) and “sinlessness” that is not conducive to mental health. This is a great area of potential growth for the church to change those kinds of attitudes.

What a mental health seminar/workshop needs is teaching about skills and tools that help people from the pits that they are already in and a safe environment in which to tell their stories. Research shows that stories make up about half of the effective ways in which to live and cope with mental illness. People with mental illness are not inferior people; they are not their “disease,” but people who for various reasons have encountered things that have overwhelmed them. Just like some physical diseases for which there are no cures, mental illness is not necessarily solved by being “cured,” but individuals can have productive lives by learning to cope and recover from their situations.

I have lived with depression for over twenty years and have learned a lot about this and continue to learn. I am always willing to share from my experience.

I hope also that the upcoming mental health session will deal with the recovery part of the process that teaches people how to get there.

 

Terry Smith: Silence Does Not Fit Francis I

by Terry M. Smith

It is disappointing that Francis I, whom we respect, will not yet apologize to Indigenous peoples in Canada for the residential school legacy. This does not sound like the worldwide pastor that he is. Perhaps legal reasons posed by the Curia, the Vatican’s administration, are behind this unfortunate abundance of caution.

It’s a tremendous expression of grace by many Indigenous people across Canada that they remain Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, United Church, and members of many other parts of Christ’s Church—despite the residential school history of isolation, indoctrination, and abuse. It’s a work of the Spirit that’s seen ultimately not because of the residential school system, but despite its inner decay and collapse.

Francis I could have said that children should not have been taken from their parents and communities or abused physically, mentally, sexually, culturally, and spiritually. That the Church and government erred in their process of assimilation. That the Church erred in its missionary strategy. That God was present and working among Indigenous peoples before missionaries arrived.

He could have said that Jesus gets angry when his disciples interfere with young children coming to him (Mark 10:13-16). That leaders deserve rebuke when they shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces or ignore “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:13, 23).

What Francis I need not apologize for is the Gospel itself. It remains Good News needed by all peoples of the world (John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:3-6). The relationship between Christianity and other religions in the world, though, isn’t a simple one. That’s an error of the past. If we are to give Christ his proper due, the relationship is to be recognized as complex. It’s reflected in natural and special revelation, in common and special grace (see, for instance, Acts 14:11-18, 17:22-31; Rom. 1:20). A few words here are not enough.

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Terry M. Smith

Francis I’s silence, and its communication by Catholic bishops, will be hurtful to Indigenous Catholics across Canada, and it will affect how the Christian Church as a whole is perceived in our country. His silence is ironic given that his recent Easter message included concerns for justice and that people live in dignity.

It need not surprise us if we hear from him yet.

Irma Janzen: Supporting People Who Live With Mental Illnesses

Mental Health Initiative 2018

by Irma Janzen

People who live with a mental illness have been my teachers! I have learned a lot about life from what they model and what they say. Almost everything I have learned about how best to support them I have learned from them, and that is what I pass along to you.

However, before we begin with those kinds of tips, let’s think a little bit about love and how that includes treating all people with dignity, respect and sensitivity. As Christians this is our starting place and let’s let 1 Corinthians 13 be our guide.

I know that it is not always easy to treat people with dignity and respect, and this may be even more difficult when a person’s thinking is distorted, delusional, or hallucinated because of an illness. The person may simply not be able to think rationally or logically, and if we have not experienced this ourselves it is hard to understand what that person is going through.

A Willingness to Learn is Essential

First, be willing to learn about mental illnesses. Local mental health services, medical clinics and self-help groups have lots of resources. Articles, podcasts and many other resources are available on the internet. Here are some good places to start:

www.mbwpg.cmha.ca/document-category/understanding-mental-illness,

www.ourdailybread.org/conversations/grace-for-troubled-minds-christian-perspectives-on-mental-health

www.edenhealthcare.ca/spiritual-care/resource

Second, learn to listen and be willing to learn from the person with the illness. Listen attentively and non-judgementally. I do not know how the other person is feeling and I may not understand. I need to be the learner. I also need to listen to what may be under the words. I need to listen to the tone and observe. I need to be okay to sit silently, to see the tears or to hear a tirade of anger. I need to be ready to listen for a while. It may not be enough to give only half an hour while watching the clock.

Be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak

Be slow to speak. I must not think I have the answers or that a quick, short, simplistic solution will be helpful. If and when I ask questions they need to reflect back to the person what he or she has said. Or I could ask open-ended questions to encourage them to say more. Comments like, “Tell me a little more about what you just said,” or “You said you were really feeling down” are examples of questions that can encourage further talking.

There may come a time when I encourage someone to find more resources or to try something but that needs to wait until I have really heard and listened. Be careful of the attitude of “You can fix this if you just do this or that.”

There are times when it may be appropriate to divert the direction of the conversation. Continuing to listen to stories and incidents that repeat consistently may not be helpful. Some people can get very emotionally engrossed in talking about what they experience as reality through delusions or hallucinations. Changing the topic to another emotional topic may break the pattern and turn it in another direction.

Tips on Being a Good Friend

One thing I still sometimes forget is that when we meet casually I need to say, “It’s good to see you” rather then saying, “How are you?”

Many people who live with serious mental illnesses have already been disappointed with people who seem to be really good friends for a while and then disappear. They don’t need more of that. However, you may need to pace yourself carefully so as not to over expend and then drop someone when you are exhausted. Agreeing on a next time to meet and putting it into our calendars is often good. In that way we don’t forget, but it’s also a way of setting healthy boundaries.

It is often helpful to gather a small circle of people who will all be part of the person’s life. No one person can meet all my needs, so I should not try to be the person who can meet all the needs of someone else.

Being remembered is important. A quick text to say, “I love you,” or a note saying, “I was thinking of you today,” or (if appropriate), “I am praying for you,” are quick ways of letting the person know that he or she is not forgotten.

Some people would enjoy a party for their birthday or being invited to a Christmas party. Some might prefer a one-on-one visit. It’s easy enough to ask what they prefer.

There are times to take a meal, do the laundry, offer childcare or go to an appointment.

It is also good to invite people to contribute with their gifts. I remember a woman who hand-drew beautiful bulletin covers. I know that was in the pre-computer days, but maybe some people would enjoy hand-drawn bulletin covers in 2018 too. That’s just one idea to start you thinking creatively.

Spiritual Support

This is very important for Christians. When God seems far away, as sometimes happens when a person has a serious mental illness, some people want us to be praying with them. Others don’t. Some want a comforting Bible verse; some don’t. Let’s never assume that because a person does not want prayer at a certain time that they are not in a solid relationship with God. Maybe their faith is even stronger and more meaningful then mine. Maybe they are tired of platitudes when their prayers are cries and laments. It is appropriate to ask, “Would you appreciate a prayer or a Psalm or would you just prefer to sit in silence or to chat?”

The same caution applies to touch. Do we hug or shake hands? Ask. See what the person wants and go with that. People who have been hurt by touch may pull back if you seek to touch. Others are hungry for physical touch because they hardly ever experience it.

If we seek to be supportive and the person does not seem warm to our friendship or does not reply to a message, let’s not take that too personally. If we have made a mistake or done something unkind we need to apologize, but it may not have been a good day or there was a reason they couldn’t reply. Try again later.

As with any relationships supporting and learning from people who live with a mental illness takes love, time and sensitivity. I already referred to 1 Cor. 13. A metaphor that may be helpful is the one about the body in 1 Cor. 12 where we have the idea of the faith community being one body and all of us significant members of that body. If some part of our body suffers we all suffer. If the whole body functions well and together we have a strong and healthy body.

Irma
Irma Janzen

While this article speaks specifically about supporting people with mental illness, we all need support, sometimes more, sometimes less. Let’s accept the gifts that people with mental illness bring to our community so that indeed we are one body and that people around us recognize us by our love for each other.

Irma Janzen, MEd, MA, has served in education, as the coordinator of MCC Canada’s Mental Health and Disabilities Program, and as a pastor. She is part of Fort Garry EMC.

Phil Hamm: Paraguay, a Prayer Trip Beyond Description

Editor’s Note: This article has been republished due to some corrections being made. 

By Phil Hamm

Leaving the cold north of Canada behind, the prayer team of nine led by Ward and Janine Parkinson flew to Paraguay on March 6 and 7. Chris and Revita Kroeker were our country hosts. Gilbert and Margaret Penner, Ward and Janine, Jake Peters, Phil and Lydia Hamm, and Abe and Mary Hiebert made up the prayer team.

After the long overnight flight finished off a day and a half of travelling, we stepped out into the 75% humidity and 35+C temperatures in Asunción. This heat wave became the norm for the two weeks we travelled to many places to pray. At Primavera, a hotel donated to the Alto Refugio HIV/AIDS ministry, we tried to catch up on our sleep in a new country. Thursday morning we awoke to new sounds and some unique tastes for breakfast. Our taste buds were tantalized throughout our trip, taking in many new delicious local foods in Paraguay.

Our first stop of the day was Alto Refugio, an HIV/AIDS support centre across from the hospital which treats HIV/AIDS patients. The centre was started by EMC missionaries Dave and Judy Schmidt and is now run by Bertram and Elsa Hein and its board of directors. The centre provides counselling, a children’s daycare, daily noon meals, and distributes donated milk and medicine to HIV/AIDS patients.

After a wonderful lunch and praying for the couple running this oasis of hope we travelled three hours east to the Caaguazu Book Store, one of the ministries of Good News Ministries (Ministerio Buenas Nuevas, MBN). We saw the bookstore and purchased souvenirs. We prayed over Richard and his wife Zuny who direct the ministry and also Cristina, the receptionist and clerk for the store. They cut down a beautiful bunch of fresh bananas for us.

By nightfall we finally reached Minga Guazú, two hours farther east, where EMC is planting a church with Chris and Revita Kroeker, Joanne Martens (who is retiring in the fall), and Travis and Rosie Zacharias with Zippy and Moi. They were amazing hosts to our team. After five years of ministry here, the missionaries are known to people. People are open to the gospel, but it has taken time to connect with them and win their trust.

As a team we came to pray for and with these missionaries as they shared from their heart, to support and encourage them as they give so much of themselves to serve people in the community. The team met and prayed with many people who have connected with this fledgling church.

Donations are welcome for three projects:

Santa Teresa church building construction project   $5,000

Alto Refugio project for milk, medicine, and diapers $8,000

MBN Radio Mensajero daily program costs $2,500

Please send to EMC Board of Missions, designating the project. Thank you.

On Sunday morning the team went on a prayer walk through the area where the missionaries live and prayed that God would tear down the walls in this community like He tore down the walls of Jericho. Revita and a couple other ladies went to a family that was struggling with some issues to pray for them. Shortly after they arrived, one man told Revita that he needed to become a Christian. She led him to the Lord as the other ladies prayed.

The church had a fundraiser for a family who lost part of their house in a wind and rain storm several months before. They had never been to the church before, but knew the church people. After the service, the husband of this family committed his life to Christ. We were rejoicing at the moving of the Holy Spirit that day.

After being in Minga Guazú, we travelled extensively to see other ministries the EMC has been involved in. Just north of Campo 9, a prosperous Paraguayan town, we met with the director and counsellor at Centro Vital (Vital Centre), an addiction rehabilitation and counselling centre that is getting started. The Mennonite community, both German and Paraguayan, is funding this much needed ministry in this area of Paraguay.

The rain came down almost horizontally with the fierce winds as we learned how the Centro Vital plans to minister in the area. The rain made travelling on the red dirt roads even more treacherous as potholes filled with water and the slippery clay became slick.

In Tres Palmas we stayed at Camp Lucero, a ministry of the Tres Palmas church missions committee (Miśon Viva). Camps for both the German and Paraguayan communities provide nourishment for many people each year. Miśon Viva also does ministry in Santa Teresa, an Indian settlement located a short distance from Tres Palmas. We were able to see and hear about the work in Santa Teresa and the concern for the Guarani Indians in the area. Recently two of the 12 shamen in Sainta Teresa area have become strong believers in Jesus.

Miśon Viva has just dedicated a church building in Santa Teresa, and the government is expanding the school where about 220 children, attending kindergarten through grade nine, are taught by Paraguayan teachers. This church grew by 25 percent last year with 24 people being baptized and added to the church. It looks like there could be another 24 people added this year.

We also enjoyed sharing with Benny and Esther Goertzen, serving as EMC associate missionaries with Action International in radio ministries, and Erna Plett, an EMC missionary who has retired in Paraguay. Each one assists the church work through vision and prayer.

Phil-Lydia-Hamm
Phil and Lydia Hamm

There is so much more we experienced that words cannot describe. For all of us this was a deeply spiritual journey for which we are truly grateful. Will you be next to experience this awesome journey of prayer and see God at work?

Phil and Lydia Hamm are a ministerial couple with Leamington EMC, and Phil is a member of the EMC Board of Missions. They previously served as cross-cultural workers in Japan.

 

 

Obituary: Albert Klassen

1927-2017

Albert-Klausen
Albert Klassen

It has pleased our Heavenly Father to take home his servant, Albert Klassen, at the age of 90.

Albert was born near Gouldtown, Sask., on Feb. 24, 1927, to John D. and Margaret (nee Schellenberg) Klassen. He was raised on a grain farm until age seven, then moved to Carrot River, Sask., in a covered wagon. At age 10, he moved again in Dec. 1937 when his parents took up a homestead at Orley, Sask..

He attended Motion School until age 14. Then he went to work cutting cords of wood at home in the morning, and brought wood to the store in the afternoon. He did this in exchange for groceries.

Albert met Marie Doerksen when he was 17. They were baptized, then married in the Anglican Church on Oct. 5, 1946, in Tisdale, Sask. Albert and Marie raised five children: Audrey, Rosalie, Donald, Marvin, and Glen. The family moved to Burns Lake, B.C., in 1953 and this was home for the rest of their lives.

Albert accepted the Lord after attending revival meetings and served his God faithfully. He enjoyed a variety of jobs. In retirement spent many hours volunteering at the Pines Care Home and picking up litter in town. He took pride in clean streets. He also enjoyed woodworking hobbies such as building birdhouses and windmills. He spent many hours helping cut blanket squares for MCC.

Albert’s 90th birthday was initially celebrated with his family, and then again with his church family the next day. On April 15, 2017, he broke his hip and had surgery. He never really recovered from the accident and spent six months in hospital while waiting to move into the Pines. His health deteriorated until he passed away on Oct. 27, 2017. Albert was pre-deceased by his wife Marie on Aug. 5, 2012.

His Family

 

Dr. Stephen Farris: Don’t Put Family First, Give That Spot to God

by Dr. Stephen Farris

Sometimes punctuation matters. “Family first?” is a question worth considering. “Family first” as a statement is a problem. Other than a phrase meaning that healthy families of various sorts are immensely important for human well-being, or that Christian worship should be welcoming to all ages, “family first” can be idolatry.

This does not mean that the family is not a good thing and a great blessing. Most idols represent things that are good in themselves but have been put in the place of God and are then frozen into lifelessness as graven images.

Idolatry

Idolatry is more than adoring a statue, however. It means putting something other than God first in our lives. It is getting our relationships out of proportion so that something other than the love of God comes first. It that is so, the most common form of idolatry in our churches and wider society may be precisely the one that puts “family first.”

Lots of people say it quite bluntly: “I come to the church for the family.” Attending church is like a ballet or minor sports (though not usually as important). We think we should take or send the children so that they can grow up morally straight and strong.

Lots of Canadians, including folks who profess to be Christians, are at minor sports rather than church on Sunday morning, however, because they do put “family first.” And if family really is first, how can we argue with them?

A Rewritten Catechism?

It is as if we have rewritten the catechism: “What is our chief end? Our chief end is to produce a healthy well-adjusted family and enjoy it forever.” If we think God helps achieve that end, we will send or even bring the family to church.

God is merciful and can draw people through less than theologically spotless means. If we insisted that people should come to church only for the right reason, attendance would be even lower than it is now! But in the end, God does not tolerate being a means to an end. Our spiritual ancestors got it right: our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.

As the church, we hope to provide good programs for families and draw people in, but not dishonestly. We can appear to enable idolatry or to practice a bait and switch: “You think it is about family, but really it is about God.”

Listen to My Mother

Once, as a small boy, I asked my mother, “Do you love me best?” Mom replied firmly, “No, I love God first, then your father, then I love you and your brother and sister equally.” I thank God that I was raised by a mother who didn’t put me or the family first. Listen to my mother, if you won’t listen to me.

Saying “God first” does not mean “Church first” or “Church business first.” Active church people are sometimes tempted to put church first. Church may then become an ugly and destructive idol.

Allan’s Imitation

Early in my ministry I allowed myself to get too occupied with church business. My sons were three and one-year-old, respectively. One morning I was sitting on the sofa while the boys played at my feet. Three-year-old Allan picked up a book, showed it to me, and said, “I’m Daddy. This is my Bible.”

“How cute,” I thought. “He’s imitating me.”

“I’m going to a meeting!” Allan announced.

Accurate maybe, but not nearly so cute.

Allan put down his book, looked me in the eye, and said, “But maybe tomorrow I’ll stay home with my boys.”

I felt as it I had been stabbed through the heart. I got up from the sofa, found my appointment book, and drew lines through many of the events. The church did fine without my presence at every single meeting. And the family did much better.

As with all areas of life, if we put God first and, by God’s grace, got that relationship right, all the other relationships have a good chance of falling into place. It’s not a guarantee. We all know that faithfulness to Jesus Christ can produce anger and discord in a family, especially from those who do want to be put first. There was, after all, troubled in Jesus’ own family. See Mark 3:31-35.

Shaped for Good or Ill

Family is, however, “first” in one respect. It is in our families that we are shaped for good or ill. Veteran pastors and psychiatrists all know that what we are, for good or for ill, comes through the family. We talk about “stranger danger”; but, too often it isn’t the strangers you have to worry about. It’s your family! Trouble of every kind will work its way through the family.

But so can good. We begin to learn “all we really need to know” well before kindergarten. We learn it in the family. By all means we should create family friendly programs and worship to draw people into church. But that is only the first half of the job, at best.

If people want to hand the Christian education of their children to the church, don’t let them! Hand it right back. No, that’s not quite right. Enable and motivate families to teach the faith within the home.

Church as Family

Family can be a way of understanding the church. It is not “first” in this respect. Understanding the church as the Body of Christ remains primary. But family is up there among the key ways of understanding and living out the idea of church.

The church is like an extended family where young and old, families of many sorts, and those who otherwise would have no earthly family can come together. Strangely, that kind of extended family, that “village,” may then become, as a side benefit, the best place to raise a child.

God who came to us in Christ, as part of a very human and very fallible family, whose love is imprinted on us by the Holy Spirit, that Triune God can redeem the worst of us and the worst of families—if we put Him first.

Stephen-Farris_SML
Dr. Stephen Farris

Dr. Stephen Farris is a long-serving minister and professor (Knox College and Vancouver School of Theology) who served recently as moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He currently lives in Ontario. This article first appeared in the Presbyterian Record (March 2016). It is used with his permission.