An Interview with Elvira Cote
With Jennifer Kronelsen and Elvira Cote
I (Jennifer Kornelsen) visited with Elvira Cote one rainy day this spring. Elvira is from Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan and she lives in Winnipeg. Elvira serves God with Healing Hearts Ministries, and has been an Evangelical Mennonite Conference missionary for 25 years. Her home church is Braeside EMC. Elvira and I are sharing our conversation with you so that you can hear my questions (I’m a white settler), and Elvira’s wisdom (Elvira is Saulteaux).
A note about terminology: language is always evolving, and the names used for ethnic categories can be delicate. The Messenger uses Indigenous Peoples to refer to the original inhabitants of Canada; First Nations is also common in usage. Elvira has a personal preference for the term Native, and she uses this term most of the time.
Jennifer Kornelsen (JK): The EMC has traditionally been made up mostly of people with European ethnic backgrounds. You are First Nations. Describe what your experience has been.
Elvira Cote (EC): Well first of all, I have belonged to a mostly white EMC church and many of my friends are white Mennonites. We are life-long friends. Throughout my years raising my salary as a missionary, non-Native people have been very generous. The majority of my financial support has come from my white Menn onite friends and connections.
Whenever I visit other EMC churches to speak I receive an abundance of warm welcomes and hugs and I am assured that lots of people are praying for me. I really feel the Holy Spirit through the genuine care and love that I receive from EMCers.
Like other Native people, I have had my share of negative experiences in the church, including in our denomination. Most often this has happened when non-Native people have asked me questions that are ignorant. When I’m asked ignorant questions I feel that I’m being looked down on and that non-Native people have not made the effort to learn about me and my people. This makes me feel that we are not valuable and that we are being overlooked.
In general, Mennonite people are such hard workers. They will work the land till they can work no more! Perhaps if they didn’t work quite as hard they might look up and look around and notice their Native neighbours more. But I have had good relationships with people who took the time to get to know me and just be my friend.
JK: What would you like EMC people to know about First Nations people in Canada?
EC: Non-Native people (like long-time EMC missionaries Frank and Mary Braun) were the first to share Jesus among Natives, but a lot of Native people have come to Christ and have taken up the task of spreading the gospel. My niece Venus Cote and myself became believers through the witness of Frank and Mary and we both now serve as Native missionaries. In this way I have seen how God has multiplied the good news. Native people are still coming to Christ!
Native people in Canada are your neighbour. God calls us to love our neighbours. The EMC has invested a lot in overseas missions over the years, and this is great. But the EMC needs to keep looking in its own back yard and invest in Canadian Native people. One thing that would really help would be to support Native missionaries financially.
JK: How could non-Indigenous people become better at developing friendships with Indigenous People?
EC: Mennonites are naturally quite passive and they often stay in their little groups and comfortable settings. Its important to be willing to leave your setting to get to know your Native neighbours. The most important thing non-Native people can do is learn directly from Native people themselves, through relationships. It isn’t okay to just learn about Native people by reading about them in the news or learning from white experts and academics. Instead, take the time to be a friend to one Native person. This includes listening well, visiting, having tea and laughing together.
Don’t think of your Native friend as a project, and never be forceful with sharing the gospel. Instead, come alongside your Native friend. Invest your life by being a true friend to that one person. It doesn’t sound like much, but it would make a big difference. Friendship is the most important thing, not charity. In fact, charity is more often hurtful than it is helpful, if there is no genuine friendship.
JK: How do you suggest a white person could become friends with an Indigenous person? Give us some advice!
EC: Always say “hi.” Smile and connect casually with a Native person that you see on the street.
Remember that person, and recognize them when you see them more than once.
Ask a simple, friendly question like, “hey, you must live around here, I’ve seen you before.” Start some small talk and offer your name.
If you’ve begun to have some small talk, take the time to ask the Native person where they are from. Ask which reserve they are connected to. Native people appreciate being known in relation to their home communities.
Don’t be fearful. Native people are very perceptive and they won’t find it easy to relate to you if they feel you are afraid of them.
Follow up, and mean what you say.
Superficial relationships are a good start. Superficial relationships can deepen, especially if you learn where the other person lives.
Find ways to share. Native people appreciate giving and receiving gifts. I’ve had really good experiences sharing cartons of eggs with a woman I happened to meet, and a box of chocolates with a frazzled young mother. These were opportunities to build further connection.
JK: What are some of the gifts that Indigenous people have for the church, the natural strengths in First Nations cultures?
EC: There are so many natural strengths in Native people. These are of course generalizations, but Native people are very genuine. They are humble, putting others first and not needing to be in the spotlight. Many Native people have great discernment. They love to laugh and they have a great sense of humour. This includes being silly and teasing, but isn’t usually hurtful teasing because Native people don’t take things very personally.
The way they look at things is unique. They have a great gift for story telling. Jesus’ life demonstrates that story-telling can be a very good way of gently teaching truth and Native people are good at this.
And of course, just like other cultural groups, Native people love their traditional foods, like bannock, and they love to share food.
JK: What is God doing among First Nations people and how can the EMC support this and pray?
EC: There have been many great Christian Native leaders, but these are getting older and we need to raise up a younger generation of leaders and missionaries who are Native. We need to invest in the youth and help them to grow by supporting them to attend Bible school and especially to be taught by older Native Christians. Northern Canada Evangelical Mission (NCEM) is training Native missionaries and we need to support this. There should be a Bible school especially for Native people.
Inviting Native people to be speakers in EMC churches would really open eyes and would help non-Natives to learn about what God is doing among Native people.
It would be great it the EMC could maintain a faithful presence in the Native communities where there was ministry in the past, places like Sioux Valley, Manitoba and Kamsack, Saskatchewan.
I find it a privilege to serve in missions under the EMC. EMC has encouraged me from the beginning and has walked with me consistently. Please continue to support me and pray for me!
Interview by Russell Doerksen
This week marks one year since Manitoba began its first lockdown to tackle the spread of Covid-19. The lockdowns have impacted all of us in different ways, some well and others poorly. Few have been hit as hard as customer-focused small business owners.
Rose Dondo, a member of MacGregor EMC and the owner and operator of Hampton Café in MacGregor, Manitoba, is one such small business owner. I sat down with Rose to talk about her business as well as how her faith has helped her weather the year. Continue reading Trusting God when her small business shut down
Gerald Reimer interviews pastor and taxi/Uber driver Molugeta who works in Edmonton and leads an EMC church plant there.
Hello, Molugeta, and thank you for talking to me today about how your family and church has been affected by COVID. What have you faced in your work as a taxi driver that has been tough for you during this time? Continue reading Trust and trust and trust again
Thank you very much for joining us today to talk about one aspect of your work—that of risk.
Where would you place your country of service between the range of “slight caution” to “dangerous”?
Closer to “dangerous.” While it’s not an active warzone, and the streets are fine to use, there are pockets of places that are not safe to move through. Continue reading Risk and Sensitivity in International Work
STEINBACH, Man.—Andrew Dyck, pastor at Stony Brook, responded to a few questions from Terry Smith.
Tell us about where you were raised, educated, and served prior to and while at SBF.
I was raised in a loving Christian family, spending my early years in Landmark, Man. When I was 10 my family was sent as missionaries from Prairie Rose to join Wycliffe Bible Translators. We lived six years in Dallas, Texas, and moved to the Wycliffe Canada office in Calgary. In Alberta I graduated from high school and chose to attend Providence College and come back home to Manitoba. My time at Prov was extremely fruitful, netting me a BA and a future wife! I married Karen in 2007 and began my ministry in 2009 as a youth pastor at New Life Church in Stonewall, Man. In 2013 I moved to an associate pastor role until God called me to SBF in the fall of 2019. Continue reading ‘The EMC is the Best Conference in the History of the World!’
by Albert Loewen
ALYMER, Ont.—Albert Loewen was asked to tell us about his ministry as the senior pastor of Mount Salem Community Church.
Tell us about where you were raised, educated, and served prior to MSCC.
I was born in Mexico, but from the age of three southern Ontario has been home. My family has always lived in Aylmer and I grew up in the church I currently serve in.
My goal in life was never to become a pastor and so my post-secondary education is all over the place. I took one year at Steinbach Bible College. Then, convinced that policing was my call, I pursued a college degree in Police Foundations. A few years after that I felt called not to pursue policing, despite not being sure what God did want me to pursue. During the next few years I felt that perhaps counselling was my call and so I gathered all my courses together and began working on a Bachelor of Theology and Counselling from Emmanuel Bible College.
During that time, I was hired on staff at Mount Salem and continued my education until the demands of family and work were too much. I need two more courses to obtain my degree—so perhaps one day I will return. A few years ago I attended Arrow Leadership’s Emerging Stream program which is a 15-month program, and it has been the most impactful learning that I have done in regards to my work as a pastor and would highly recommend other pastors consider it—despite its high cost.
Tell us about your family.
My wife Josie and I started dating in grade nine and have been in love ever since. This journey would have never been possible without her support and wisdom through the years. Together we have six kids and enjoy the chaos that brings (most days).
What led you to serve here?
When I felt compelled to give up policing God really instilled in me a love for the local church. We started serving in our church and, in time, as doors opened we walked through them, and are grateful that we did. Serving here has been the privilege of a lifetime. The leadership and congregation have taken such incredibly great care of us over the past eight years and we are so thankful for that.
To understand you as a pastoral couple, what do people need to know?
We are pretty simple people. We love helping people, love laughing and being challenged; and I love the variety that a job like this brings. Never knowing what the next day will hold fits my life well.
What else would you want to say?
There is so much I would love to say, but I think I would summarize it up like this: God is faithful. Through all the great and difficult times, I have often not known what to do, but God has never failed me and for that I am so grateful. It is an awesome God we serve.
by Ryan Rear
MORRIS, Man.—Ryan Rear was asked to tell us about his ministry as the senior pastor at Morris Fellowship Chapel.
1. Tell us about where you were raised, educated, and served prior to MFC.
I was born in Innisfail, Alberta. I went to Prairie Bible College for a few years, and then to the University of Alberta, where I got a BA in psychology. Years later, I got my Master of Theological Studies at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton. I served in a variety of churches: Baptist, Free Methodist, Independent, and FEBC. The FEBC was the first church I served in that had Mennonite roots. I am now serving at the Morris Fellowship Chapel, our EMC church here in Morris.
2. Tell us about your family.
My wife Uma was born in Malaysia, and, for me, she has been God’s wonderful gift. We have two grown-up children. Cassandra is 22 years old, and after she finished her degree in sociology, she began working in a group home for level five teenage girls. Sam is 21 years old, and is busy working and making music.
3. What led you to serve here?
We came to Morris to serve in an FEBC church, which had a great group of people. Unfortunately, by the time we got here, the church pretty much only had seniors. We were unable to attract the families we needed and after four and a half years the church shut its doors. Uma and I also worked at Youth for Christ here in Morris. I was between church jobs, and we started attending Morris Fellowship Chapel. I was asked to do some pulpit supply, then served as its interim pastor; and one thing led to another and here we are the pastoral couple.
4. To understand you as a pastoral couple, what do people need to know?
As a pastoral couple, we work closely together. We emphasize Bible study and discipling. We emphasize taking God at his word, and living obedient lives of faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. We especially love to work with the young people. They are the future of the church and need to be equipped with sound teaching and be discipled in the faith. Uma teaches the youth Sunday School class. I lead the College and Career Bible study with Uma’s help. We have temporarily split our C and C into male and female groups. Uma leads the young ladies. I lead the young men. We believe in equipping people of all age groups so they can live God-inspired lives.
5. What do you think of the EMC?
There are two things I particularly like about the EMC. I like the Statement of Faith because it is simple and yet remains true to the foundational truths of the faith. I also like the EMC’s emphasis on supporting missions.
6. What else would you want to say?
We love serving at Morris Fellowship Chapel. It is a privilege.
by Pastor Jason Heide
STEINBACH, Man.—Jason Heide was asked by Terry Smith to tell us about his ministry as the youth pastor at Steinbach EMC. He began serving on June 1, 2008.
Tell us about where you were raised, educated, and served prior to Steinbach EMC.
I was born and raised in Winkler, Man. After high school I spent a couple of years at Briercrest College and then, after meeting my soon-to-be wife, transferred to Providence College to complete my Bachelor of Arts degree. Throughout high school and college I spent my summers serving at Winkler Bible Camp. After college I spent two and a half years working there full-time as the director of one of their satellite camps.
Tell us about your family.
I am blessed to be married to my beautiful and supportive wife Paige for the past 11 years. She is such an integral part of our ministry to the youth at Steinbach EMC. God has blessed us with two wonderful boys, Logan (7) and Lucas (5). Over the past seven years they have helped me learn so much about what child-like faith looks like. It has been such a joy to respond to their surprisingly deep questions about God.
How did you hear about Steinbach EMC and what led you to serve here?
Toward the end of my time at camp I felt God leading me elsewhere. I didn’t know where. I just knew that working with youth was what I wanted to continue to do. Paige and I had just built a new house and I was looking for job listings close to home. When I saw the ad for a youth pastor at the Steinbach EMC, I remember asking Paige (assuming she wouldn’t be interested), “What would you think about moving to Steinbach?” To my surprise she was very positive about the possibility and I applied. Six months later we sold our new house and moved to Steinbach. It’s been amazing to see the way God’s hand was at work in all the details that have led us here.
To understand you as a pastor, what do people need to know?
In 2006, while I was working at Winkler Bible Camp, I remember the director had asked each of the staff to complete the following statement: “I work at Winkler Bible Camp because….” My answer that day is the same answer I have today with the only difference being the place I am serving. “I want to be involved in work that will still be worthwhile in eternity.” One of the greatest joys in my life and ministry is seeing people come to know Jesus and give their lives to follow Him!
What do you think of the EMC?
I grew up attending a non-denominational church in Winkler and therefore had no first-hand experience of what a conference was like prior to moving here. Since joining the EMC I have found it to be a fantastic experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed the conference events I’ve been a part of, specifically TRU, the Young Adult Retreat, and Abundant Springs. I have also been very blessed by the comradery and the relationships I have been able to build with the other youth pastors in the region. It’s encouraging to know that we are in this together.
What else would you want to say?
I thank God for how He has graciously worked in and through me. It is a wonderful privilege to be able to partner with our Lord and Saviour in this significant work of reaching people for Him.