Charitable giving patterns have changed, we’re sometimes told. People now want to give to specific projects they support or to Christian workers whom they know. To want to be involved is positive.
We have every right to know where our money is going, how it is used, and by whom. To know the people, their work, and the differences made are all important. It makes good sense.
But then, for some people, a strange act occurs: they shy away from giving to EMC Missions. They think that giving to EMC Missions is similar to tossing coins into a deep, dark well; the money goes in, but it seems a bit murky and uncertain.
Is this image fair to EMC Missions, its national staff, missionaries from our churches, and our commitment to work together? EMC Missions regularly informs donors, churches, and individuals of its workers, ministries, and finances. You likely know of its many ways:
Missions Alerts placed into church bulletins
The EMC Day of Prayer
EMC Missionary Prayer Calendars
Missionary Prayer Corps letters
Missions displays and reports at convention and council meetings
Reporting in churches by national staff and missionaries
Prayer Teams visit missionaries on the field
A missions Prayer Ministry led by Beth Koehler
Missions reports and staff columns in The Messenger
Financial reports in The Messenger, at conference council, at board meetings, in our convention insert, and sent upon request
The EMC has 98 cross-cultural workers in 24 countries serving 115 people groups, according to info provided to Diana Peters. This workforce, serving on our behalf, takes most of our $1.9 million EMC budget. It’s worth it.
Giving to 98 missionaries in 24 countries isn’t tossing coins into a dark well—not when their faces and ministries are shared in EMC circles. Pastors, delegates, and church secretaries are key local sources of information, and even more information is available.
Also, the idea of a well isn’t fair to donors. Some people might glance into a well and see only their image reflected on the water’s surface. No, we want to look deeper.
We want what’s good for others. That’s why we give. And, yes, at times we need help to decide which is a sound ministry and which people are worth supporting.
Isn’t this why 65 years ago EMC churches together formed a mission board with representatives from various regions? It works to discern and decide about people, places, and ministries. Our fields, workers, and impact have multiplied, and your giving has permitted this. Thank you.
Let’s look again at the EM Conference line in our local church’s budget and at the EMC’s annual budget. Do we see 98 faces of missionaries looking back at us, all of whom serve on our behalf and depend on our support?
In my years of helping youth and families with mental health issues, some of the most challenging issues I have seen those families face are those involving substance use and addiction. With physical illnesses we as a church are supportive; with mental illnesses we tend to be understanding. With harmful substance use and addiction, though, some people tend to experience more judgment and shame in Christian circles.
There are a number of reasons for this, and I believe it is important to understand these reasons if we are to give the best quality of help and support to individuals dealing with substance use issues. One reason is that Christians, and the various forms of the Mennonite church especially, have historically discouraged substance use.
Passages from the Bible discouraging drunkenness are cited in support of a life lived without substances, or, at least, with only moderate substance use (usually alcohol only). From this perspective, individuals who develop issues with alcohol or other drugs may be looked down on as merely suffering the consequences of personal sin.
However, the reality of addiction is much more complex. With harmful substance use, individuals can act in ways that are damaging to themselves and their loved ones. These actions often seem out of character; individuals who are normally loving and upstanding members of society seem to become complexly different people when they are in the grips of an addiction.
They may even say that they want to change, but seem unable to despite the negative consequences they experience. Are these dangerous behaviours all really the result of poor choices? Or is there something more going on?
Substance Use and Addiction in Canada
In order to unpack these complex issues, let us first define what we are talking about for the purpose of this article.
A drug is any substance not food that can cause changes to how our body and/or mind are working.
Harmful substance use is using one or more drugs in a way that causes problems for us in our lives.
Addiction means continuing with harmful substance use in spite of the consequences one experiences, often with significant distress and failed attempts to quit or reduce use.
It might also be helpful to take a look at some recent Canadian statistics on the subject:
According to research conducted in 2012, approximately 1.4 million people or 4.4% of Canadians met the criteria for a substance use disorder.
Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience or substance use disorders than any other age group.
At least 20% of people with a mental illness also have a substance use problem.
Men have higher rates of addiction than women.
The total societal cost of substance use has been estimated to be $39.8 billion or $1,267 for every Canadian. Legal substances, tobacco and alcohol, account for 79.3% of the total cost of substance use. (All statistics are taken from CAMH and CCSA.)
The costs of substance use and addiction are not just economic. There are many personal costs as well—consequences to physical and mental health, job loss, family breakdown, even death. The fact that many people continue to use substances in a harmful way despite those costs suggests that there is more to the issue than someone simply making bad choices—addiction is real.
It is a real experience for many people in Canada and around the world, and the effects can be anywhere from debilitating to deadly. But as real as it is, it is still a mystery to many people. What exactly is an addiction, and how does it develop?
Throughout history, there have been many different models used to understand addiction and addictive behaviours. One such model is the Temperance Model, popular in the 19th century, which is a view that places the blame for addiction on the substance directly. Alcohol and other drugs are evil, or sinful, and exposure to them causes people to succumb to temptation and ruin their lives.
The problem with this view is that the vast majority of people who drink alcohol do so responsibly and with no harm done to their lives. It is a minority of drinkers who use alcohol harmfully.
A later model of addiction was the Disease Model, which was popular during the rise of Alcoholics Anonymous. This view states that certain individuals have a “brain disease” of addiction or alcoholism that causes them to develop issues with substances. One issue with this view, though, is that it ignores the complicated personal, family, and environmental issues that can contribute to someone developing a problem with substance use.
The current theory on addiction is one called the Bio-Psycho-Social Model. This model acknowledges that substance use and addiction issues are complex and may have multiple causes, including biological (genetic or brain issues), psychological (disordered thinking or mental illness), or social (family or environmental issues).
This model is supported by research into substance use issues and has become the most commonly used model in addiction treatment today. One of the most important things this model can teach us is that addiction and harmful substance use are not merely the results of poor personal choices or giving in to temptation. They develop because of a wide variety of factors, many of which are outside of the individual’s control.
What Can the Church Do to Help?
People living with substance use issues and their loved ones are often at risk of falling through gaps in our communities, suffering silently and alone. There are several things that members of the church can do to help prevent this from happening. Mennonite groups have even worked with individuals dealing with the effects of substance use issues, including programs through the Mennonite Central Committee such as El’Dad Ranch.
As far as community agencies go, the church is perfectly poised to step in and “fill the gaps,” and I would like to share a few ideas about what this could look like.
Start with compassion. Remember, individuals dealing with harmful substance use or addiction may be suffering greatly and struggling with changing their circumstances. The church has a ready-made response for situations such as this. It’s called grace.
Provide support. As the church, we are typically good at supporting people in our midst who are suffering. We make food. We help with bills. We show up. How amazing would it be if we did that not only for the people in our lives who have physical illnesses, but for those who deal with mental illnesses and addiction as well?
Encourage access to services. Harmful substance use and addiction are issues that can’t be tackled alone. Encourage your loved ones to seek help, to find a counsellor, or to access addiction services in your area.
Finally, don’t lose hope. Having someone in your life dealing with harmful substance use and addiction can be both disheartening and frustrating. Don’t lose hope. Many people have overcome these issues in the past. It does, however, take time and help. If you are feeling overwhelmed while you are supporting your loved one, don’t be afraid to reach out for help for yourself.
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.
For information on addictions services in your area, please visit the following websites:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Count me among EMC ministers who seek to protect sheep from wolves. This affects how some of us link local church membership and denominational distinctives.
Each branch of the Church in Canada has its tradition, history, and distinctives. For instance, Nazarenes have entire sanctification, Pentecostals have the baptism in the Spirit, Baptists have immersion, and Mennonites have pacifism.
Each denomination is protective of its distinctives: “We need to stay with the Word. Our leaders suffered for these truths. We have Scripture and history on our side.”
Ministers make choices within traditions, histories, and distinctives. I do.
Distinctives, as long as they’re biblical, are to be taught. It is wise, though, not to make a hard link between some distinctives and membership for non-leaders. (This isn’t an article about teaching standards for selecting pastors, deacons, teaching elders, and Sunday School teachers.)
The Christian Church is committed to Christ and to each other. We properly require a common, wonderful confession of faith in our Triune God (1 Cor. 15:1-8, 1 Tim. 3:9, Eph. 4:5). We are to be accountable in our faith and lifestyle (1 Tim. 4:19-20).
Still, let’s not multiply difficulties. Pastors know it is insensitive and impractical to limit membership to those who agree with all of our distinctives. Was anyone ever denied local EMC membership because they didn’t affirm footwashing as an ordinance? Probably not.
Local churches need to, and often do, take a broader view of their role. In a particular location, urban or rural, there might be a single evangelical choice—perhaps Nazarene, Mennonite, Pentecostal, or Baptist. Its responsibility to believers and the Lord extends far beyond its distinctive views.
Why? Sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many (Matt. 10:16). Jesus spoke of wolves (Matt. 7:15); the apostle Paul did too (Acts 20:28-29). Paul and other apostles warned of false leaders and false teachings (Gal. 1:6-7, 2 Pet. 2:1, Jude 4).
We are to protect the flock (Acts 20:28). Sheep, by nature, are to be together, and they are more vulnerable when alone. The Shepherd still cares about the single sheep (Luke 15:3-7).
As well, ponder a wonderful reality: Christians are members of Christ’s mystical body that spans continents, centuries, and denominations (1 Cor. 12:13; Heb.11, Eph. 4:4-5). How do we reflect this awareness when deciding requirements for local church membership?
Suppose a Christian, because of a distinctive, doesn’t become a local member. What if, through limited options and understanding, they join a group that has wandered from central truths? It’s precisely because of central truths (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8) that we are to be sensitive as pastors (Jude 22-23).
Pastors observe the movement of God’s Spirit within a person’s life; we sense their gifts and capacities. Recognizing this, local churches do well to allow “pastoral exceptions”: for a Mennonite church to accept a non-pacifist; a Baptist church, an undipped member; a Pentecostal church, someone who hasn’t spoken in tongues; a Nazarene church, a member only partly sanctified.
Does your local church do this already? Perhaps. Probably. For sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many.
Of course, if a person doesn’t recognize our Statement of Faith as the teaching standard within the local church and becomes divisive (Titus 3:9-11), that’s another matter. The sheep need protection then too.
The Author of life writes scandalous stories. Human expectation of God—zeal for God’s name even!—is often turned it on its head, frequently to the deep consternation of His most fervent followers. It seems to me that, when God is leading, even 180-degree turns and paradigm shifts (perhaps more accurately, paradigm shatters!) are not only not abnormal, they should be expected!
Think of a virgin bearing the Christ child (Matt. 1:23). A devout Jew eating unclean foods (Acts 10:1-23). A zealous-for-God Pharisee (Acts 22:3) switching from “breathing murderous threats about the followers of Jesus” (Acts 9:1) to becoming their most fervent leader. The King of the Universe dying a criminal’s death. These are stories of God doing things in a way that went against His own followers’ expectations.
What is the implication for me within this realization? It’s the bothersome revelation that perhaps a comfortable life doing the good things is not what God has planned for me. I’m convicted that I might be following the expected and acceptable methods of doing His will and not actually following Him.
Because, Church, what if Jesus asks me to do things I perceive are unwise, or not in keeping with being a good steward? What if Jesus leads me down a path that I feel is scandalous? Will I be willing to follow?
I must look for Christ and trust that where He leads me, through new and uncomfortable reading of Scripture, being in tune with the Spirit within me, trusting He will bring me to revolutionary new places of His glory. Unless, of course, I prefer my comfortable “this is the way we’ve always done it” theology.
One thing I’ve learned in my term abroad is that the risks of following Jesus down scandalous paths are worth it because it’s these risks we take for His name that display to us His greatest glory.
In our search for a new church here in Winnipeg we seem to have been led to one which does things in ways, I confess, I would previously have disdained. Yet we sense the Spirit saying to us, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Do I listen to what I believe is the Spirit, or to my old understanding of the way church “should” be done? I’ve been convicted to step out into new and disquieting territory and expect God to reveal Himself there in new and disquieting ways. Thrilling ways!
We made our move from Madagascar with great petition for the Lord to reveal the place He wanted to plant us. I believe He has done this. It is at once unfathomably lovely and disturbingly different than what I expected! So, what exactly were my expectations built on?
Lord, let me not be afraid to follow You rather than the methods and expectations I’ve become comfortable with. Give us the courage to listen to the Spirit of Truth within us, to steep in Your Word, and walk the path You call us to despite the perception of scandal.
When we see things happening in the wider Church we strongly disagree with, we are tempted to react rather than suffer. Cutting myself off in disgust from sinful churches gives me a sharp jolt of spiritual Red Bull, but is this how Jesus responds to our sin on the cross?
I hear three major reactions in my church friends right now. First, many are reacting against the evangelical supporters of Donald Trump. “Evangelicals” are those people, the thinking goes, who welcome the most misogynist and xenophobic politicians in order to maybe win a round in the culture wars. And so, in order to prophetically denounce Trumpism, these reactionaries distance themselves from a larger evangelical movement that includes the likes of John Wesley, Billy Graham, and Elizabeth Elliot, not to mention Dr. Archie Penner.
A second reaction going on currently is a reaction against churches (especially Mennonite ones) that have affirmed same-sex marriage. In this reaction these churches are associated with sentimental, liberal drip that exists only to “affirm” the latest contrivance of the sexual revolution.
This is causing serious irritation in relations between Mennonite churches and conferences. People who react in this way suggest we pull out of MCC, MDS, and Mennonite World Conference because this work makes us guilty by association.
A third reaction is coming from people repulsed by the ultra-conservative Mennonites in their communities. These reactionaries want nothing to do with the name “Mennonite” because this associates them with legalism, cultural Mennonitism, and narrow-minded social control.
“We don’t make our men grow beards. We don’t make our women wear bonnets. We don’t harbour drug dealers, nor do our young gather behind Walmart on Sunday evenings to drink and smoke tires. So please don’t call us Mennonite.”
For the record, I disagree with Trumpism, same-sex marriage, and Mennonite drug-runners.
But the old rugged cross looms large over all our reactions. The Sinless One overcomes our sin not by dissociating himself from us, but by embracing us. This dwarfs all our pathetic attempts to maintain purity by distance. It silences all our fearful self-righteousness, all our shrill assumptions that, contrary to the whole Scripture, we were not that hard for Jesus to associate with.
We were a pleasure for him to come and visit. It was not our sins that held him there. God did not need to hold his nose when he came to our house. Not like those other people—God has to be so gracious to them, so long-suffering and merciful. Why does Jesus keep consorting with those people? Has he no standards?
Here is the basic question confronting our reactions: If Jesus still associates with these people, if they are still part of the body of Christ despite their sin, what basis do we have for separating ourselves from them? Unless we know that Jesus has damned them, what theological basis do we have for disassociating ourselves?
The Corinthian Test is relevant here. Paul lays severe accusations (1 Cor. 3:1; 5:1,11; 6:5-6; 6:16). But instead of cleansing himself of association with this poor excuse for a church, Paul writes to them, sends them his best pastors (Timothy and Apollos), and eagerly anticipates spending the winter with them (1 Cor. 16). Paul is willing to endure the suffering this church causes him because everything in life must finally yield only to the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12). Paul suffers the Corinthians. Who will we suffer?
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Ever hear someone say, “Our church doesn’t feel close to the conference”? If so, listen carefully as to why. Denominations and local churches are imperfect; they can err. Reasons and issues can be discussed.
We can’t change Canadian geography. We are a small conference with large physical gaps between some church locations (a reality shared with other evangelical groups). However, electronic links offer new possibilities to be involved in seminars, committees, and meetings without travel.
Beyond that, how might we respond? Perhaps first by saying that the conference is wherever you are, as Tim Dyck says. The EMC is not the national office; it is the 64 churches. You are the conference, as he says.
In addition, we might suggest TIES to help a church become more connected.
Some pastors say that “their” people were not raised in an Anabaptist church or don’t know how a conference works. If so, pastors, board chairs, and delegates can wisely Teach on these matters.
All churches are to send delegates to the national ministerial and conference council meetings. Each region of churches has a representative on the EMC General Board. They give and receive counsel. They both hold the wider EMC accountable and encourage it. Each church and region is to Include itself.
Churches are to use the materials provided by the EMC’s five boards on their behalf. These resources help Explore our life together.
Churches do well to regularly invite national staff members for a worship service or other event, a discussion with leaders, or to share reports. Every church will benefit. National office staff members, by mutual decision of EMC churches, aid in understanding and assist in our work together. We are to Serve.
Building conference-local church ties isn’t magic. Much of it is basic to all denominations: TIES (Teach, Include, Explore, Serve). Teach. Include your church. Explore our educational materials. Invite national leaders to Serve. See, then, what links develop.
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.
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). Out of print.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference