by Terry M. Smith
Without the Western Gospel Mission movement, the EMC would not be as welcoming as it is today. It was one of the most significant periods in EMC church history (1946-1961).
In 1946 the churches that now form the EMC had recently emerged from a challenging period—World War Two had ended the year before. Mennonites were not held in high esteem by some other Canadians for clear reasons: Mennonites then were mostly German-speaking pacifists who had retained their language, often preferred a measure of isolation from broader Canadian society, and frequently chose not to fight to protect Canada.
It might seem odd, then, for members of these churches to gather and then decide to engage in church planting evangelism in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and (later) NW Ontario, deliberately targeting non-Mennonite areas.
The WGM effort, which went on with the later participation of EMMC members, reached communities of people with roots in Ukraine, the British Isles, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. It resulted in churches being started. Pelly Fellowship Chapel, for instance, has members who because of the WGM can see four generations of their family following Christ within the EMC.
The WGM era was a time of sacrifice for workers. They were volunteers or received a small income. They were discouraged from getting jobs, likely for fear of them being distracted. This seems rather curious, and unfortunate, because most church leaders at this time were self-supporting; they had to work to provide for themselves and their families.
WGM workers Henry and Ramona Klassen once had a visitor who asked for butter at a meal; they couldn’t afford it. Ben Friesen took a job to support his family and was told that he was risking his church position. Ben and Luella Andres served a congregation, a member said decades later, that was “naïve” about properly caring for a pastoral couple.
The Western Gospel Mission folded after just 16 years, yet the vision for outreach developed within the EMC and has continued.
Today, the EMC’s outreach extends to Latin America and the Orient—and without leaving Canada. Spanish-speaking congregations contain members from various parts of Latin America. Among recent happenings, the EMC has three pastors who were born in South Korea, a pastor from Taiwan, pastors from Latin America, and a minister born in Germany. Relationships are developing in Edmonton and Toronto with MKC Christians from Ethiopia. This is exciting!
Would this have been envisioned by those who gathered in 1946 to form the Western Gospel Mission? It might surprise even Ben D. Reimer, WGM’s director, who was a passionate evangelist.
In the EMC’s case, leaders are coming from the east and the south to proclaim the gospel in western and central Canada. There is, in a way, another western gospel movement afoot. And, just as the original WGM did, it is enriching the EMC, challenging us, and changing us.