I am so glad that summer is on the horizon. Spending time outdoors was a huge part of my childhood. My family shared many weekends at a small one-room cabin on a river, fishing, swimming, canoeing and just enjoying the beauty around us. We would watch the beavers make their way up and down the river, hope to see a deer come out at dusk for a drink, and listen to the wolves howl at night.
Through those long summer days at the cabin, my parents passed on their values of living contently and taught us to steward nature and share it generously with others. We learned to appreciate what the Lord had given to us, including the abundance of natural beauty. I have always found that enjoying God’s creation refreshes my soul and helps me keep a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Recently, several scientific studies have confirmed that spending time in nature is good for your overall wellbeing and mental health.
A recent study by Holli-Anne Passmore of the University of British Columbia examined the connection between personal wellbeing and taking a moment to look at something from the natural environment. Passmore was “overwhelmed” by the descriptions of emotions submitted by the study’s 395 participants– their happiness, sense of elevation and their level of connectedness to other people. Another study by Dr. Andrea Mechelli of Kings College in London concluded that the positive effects of a single exposure to nature – for example, walking the dog, going for a run, or spending time in the garden – can last for seven hours after an individual has experienced it. The study also found that individuals at greater risk of developing mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, benefit even more from getting outdoors than others.
This research is compelling, but you don’t have to be a scientist to understand the power of spending time in nature. From the very beginning, people have delighted in God’s wondrous handiwork. Countless songs and stories throughout history describe the beauty of the natural world. In Psalm 19:1-3, David writes of how nature reveals God’s magnificent beauty and truth: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”
My father once told me of bringing my ailing grandfather to our cabin to enjoy the pristine wilderness setting he loved for the last time. As they sat on the bench outside, taking in the serenity, a black bear swam by just a few hundred feet away. My father says he knew that this rare event was a gift from God – a demonstration of His love and generous ways. Framing my own experiences of nature as an extravagant gift that God freely gives has inspired me to deeply appreciate these gifts and to respond by giving generously from the resources God has entrusted to me. Rather than just sharing a snapshot of a pretty view, I am inspired to share the blessings that allowed me to experience that snapshot.
Everyday, we’re surrounded by amazing displays of God’s creation: a sunset as we drive home from work, birds twittering in the neighbourhood trees, or a weekend hike in the woods. As the weather warms and we start to spend more time outdoors, I hope we all take more notice of these little gifts. Perhaps instead of just capturing a photo to share this summer, we’ll be inspired to respond with renewed gratitude and generosity.
Pamela Miles is the Director of Gift Planning at Abundance Canada. For more than 40 years, Abundance Canada has effectively helped Canadians with their charitable giving in their lifetime and through their estate. To learn more, visit abundance.ca or call 1.800.772.3257 to arrange a no obligation free consultation.
 Holli-Anne Passmore & Mark D. Holder (2016) Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention, The Journal of Positive Psychology,12:6, 537-546, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1221126
 Bakolis, I., Hammoud, R., Smythe, M., Gibbons, J., Davidson, N., Tognin, S., & Mechelli, A. (2018). Urban Mind: Using Smartphone Technologies to Investigate the Impact of Nature on Mental Well-Being in Real Time. BIOSCIENCE, 68(2), 134-145. DOI: 10.1093/biosci/bix149
MacGREGOR, Man.—Some ministers, leaders, and members from EMC churches in south-central and south-eastern Manitoba gathered at MacGregor EMC on May 26, 2018, to discuss how we hear from God.
Abe Bergen, EMC moderator and moderator of the event, welcomed those gathered. Russell Doerksen explained that the event was co-hosted by EMC churches in MacGregor and Blumenort to explore how we discern God’s will. It came in the aftermath of SBC’s decision to cancel the Leadership Conference where Dr. Phillip Cary was scheduled to speak. Discussion remained needed.
The afternoon was peaceful and a valuable sharing of opinions. Though Cary was rarely mentioned, his position formed a backdrop to the event.
A Cacophony of Voices
Jeff Thiessen, a former church moderator and a former pastor, and currently a deacon (MacGregor), spoke of how there is a need to discern together in light of Scripture to pick out the voices that are unbiblical and unfaithful. It’s wrong to say “the Lord told me” as though that ends the conversation. Relatives, co-workers, and friends influence us. Some voices oppose God while clothed as angels of light or quoting Scripture; others oppose God openly. Neither he nor Cary is cessasionist—a form of dispensational theology. They believe in the active work of the Spirit.
We do not move beyond the experience of Jesus who, after baptism, was in the wilderness 40 days where he heard a scripture-quoting voice who was not God. Post-Pentecost we need to be discerning as the Spirit’s still small voice exists among other voices. There is a constant cacophony of voices in the Church. Cancelling the Leadership Conference, an event of discussion, was wrong.
Scripture and God’s Initiative
Alain Reimer, a minister at Blumenort, drew upon 1 Tim. 6 to remind those gathered that God dwells in unapproachable light and we are to avoid irrelevant babble. God speaks through His Word, the biblical canon. There is concern when young people read Scripture and yet think they have not heard from God—a misconception. Scripture is the mode of communication that trumps all others.
God speaks through his people. Prophecy continues as the proclamation of God’s acts through speech to others. It did not end with the apostolic age or the closing of the canon. God speaks through dreams, visions, and internal promptings, though Scripture does not make this the usual way. In Acts 16 Paul received a vision of a call to Macedonia and, in decades of ministry, had God speak to him in a dream only four times. Paul did not wait for revelation before acting. Most times he chose a sensible route of missionary travel influenced by geography.
Dreams, visions, and internal promptings are based on God’s initiative and are clear. They come on God’s initiative, not sitting and waiting for God. We are to say, “Here am I” when God speaks, not speak to God and expect Him to reply.
Consider Broader Theology
Garry Koop, senior pastor at Steinbach EMC, distributed copies of the EMC Statement of Faith and a hand out with questions. He then was silent for 30 seconds before wondering what went on inside the heads of those gathered. Who’s talking? Does God have a voice? Does he speak outside of the Bible? What do we expect him to say? Is our internal life part of his domain? In Matthew 5-7 Jesus brings out that our internal life is at least as important as our external life.
Doctrine is needed before application. There is a need to consider our views of Scripture, Trinity, Christ, salvation, and the Spirit. Under what conditions is it possible for our doctrines and beliefs to change? In looking at EMC statements of faith from the 1950s until today, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is fairly consistent. Yet we get stuck. How many sermons do we hear on the Holy Spirit in the EMC? There are lots of sermons on Jesus. There is fear of extremism, of Pentecostal stuff. The Holy Spirit gives strength, convicts, and illuminates. He speaks generally and to the children of God. Discerning the Spirit requires prayer and humility.
Moderator Abe Bergen summarized the three views as presented through “different lenses”: Jeff Thiessen focused on the need to discern in community, Alain Reimer concentrated on the biblical text, and Garry Koop emphasized theology. At CMU Bergen learned the skill of “listening for other languages.” He uses language as an Anabaptist-Mennonite Evangelical yet found other traditions say the same thing in different words. If we don’t listen beyond the words, we miss the meaning and people talk past each other rather than with each other.
Question and Answer Periods
After each presentation there was a time for questions and comments by listeners and presenters. After the coffee break, there was a general discussion. Here are some questions and comments:
How do discern together as a church? (Small groups are needed.)
How do we recognize whether people who say, “I have a calling” might be mentally deluded? (The community of faith is needed to discern.)
Can we diminish the Holy Spirit if we not prepared? How important is the posture? (Paul does not wait; he serves. God can break in for a specific direction.)
It is damaging to use listening prayer among people who are not mature in the faith; they might wrongly think others are better.
There is concern that personal preference can be confused with God’s will.
Get moving. God can close doors.
“The Lord told me” has been used to break up an “old boys club.” Discernment should not be used to squelch dissent.
Feeling an urge, applied to missions organizations and a northern school board which did not reply; when a door opened, walked through it.
In Acts 16, when Paul heard from the Lord, the church talked about it.
Didn’t have a problem with Carey’s article even after rereading it. Felt led to study at SBI; it resulted in a change of life that, 60 years later, isn’t regretted.
Language is an issue; vocabulary is an issue. Being filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom are not opposites. In John 14 the Holy Spirit highlights Jesus.
Grew up in a Pentecostal church where there was much taught on the Spirit, less on Christ. Has observed caution within the EMC about the Holy Spirit.
The Jerusalem council of Acts 15 used the language of “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” that did not dictate certainty.
Closing Thoughts By Moderator
Abe Bergen said the Church has grappled with how to discern hearing from God throughout history. We develop responses based on what happens to us. Don’t be afraid of someone saying, “God told me,” but discern what it means. Some people will hear from God more than he does. He’s okay with that. He does not want to diminish or quench the Holy Spirit in their lives. This has been a really good conversation with conflicting points of view, and more views will come out in Theodidaktos, “and that will be fantastic.” The moderator thanked Barry Plett and Russell Doerksen and all involved for this event.
Note: Some of Jeff Thiessen’s position is presented in Theodidaktos (June 2018), though the Journal’s contents and the MacGregor-Blumenort event were planned independently. The presentations by Jeff Thiessen, Alain Reimer, and Garry Koop will be available on the MacGregor EMC website.
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.
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.
Psalm 13 begins with these words, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” We do not know exactly what the Psalmist’s circumstances were when he penned these words, but we do hear the agony, the feelings of God having forgotten him, of God hiding His face from the writer.
What we do know is that many people, maybe including most of us over the roughly 4,000 years since those verses were written, have echoed these words in times of terrible distress when it seemed as if God had either forgotten us or hidden His face from us. It happens often when we pray and pray and pray and pray some more and yet we see no evidence of answers to our prayers or of the changes in the things we are praying about.
Many or maybe all of us have cried these words and some of us are people who are living with serious and long term mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, clinical depression or a variety of other neurological disorders. Then there is another larger group of us who have loved ones, family members, friends, fellow-congregants who have cried those same words because we feel so helpless in walking with our loved ones for whom life is mostly agony and despair. We are not able to help and it just seems as if God is nowhere within calling distance to come and bring us relief. Not even in the days of The Messenger, texting, and all the other wonderful ways in which we communicate today!
How Do We Respond?
How do we as Christians respond both to God and to our community in amid these realities? Do we give up and say God is not doing anything so why believe in Him? Do we reprimand our friends and family members for not believing or even by suggesting that God does not hear because we have sinned? Do we walk away and say we can’t do anything and leave them to whatever happens?
Or are we as believers perhaps in a position to walk alongside and love and to bring a tiny glimpse of hope amid the darkness? Are we able to sit in silence and to listen to their pain? Are we able to hold their hand in the darkness? Are we able to refer them to resources such as medical doctors, therapists, and mobile crisis units at the appropriate times? Are we able go with them to an appointment they don’t have the strength to get to on their own? Are we able to continue to walk with them through the many weeks, months or even years?
This takes a lot of understanding, understanding both of the illness and other issues with which the person may be struggling. This takes leaving our fears with God and asking Him for wisdom as to how best to do this without giving simplistic answers. This includes grace and humility on our part because we probably don’t have helpful answers to give. This takes much prayer and faith that God is working in ways we cannot yet see and of living with hope for that which we do not yet see.
Many of us are not comfortable with things we cannot fix quickly because we are so busy and have many urgent things to do so we don’t want to become involved. Maybe we not want to be too involved because it will take too much effort. Some of us are scared because we feel helpless. Some of us who have a mental illness are even scared to let others know because we fear stigma and rejection or even that we will be told we are weak or don’t have enough faith.
Younger Generation Sees Need
Having heard many stories especially during the 1990’s and early 2000’s when I (Irma) was working with the Mental Health and Disabilities Program for MCC Canada, I was so glad that the younger generation is seeing the ongoing and continuing need for more education and understanding of mental illnesses and how we are able to help. First, by seeking to help early on so many major crises can be stopped before they actually become crises; and second, also because of the ongoing support many people need now and will for years to come.
Where We Are Going
I (Heidi) am privileged to serve as a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries, and we are excited to be starting a Mental Health Initiative with the support of several members of our EMC churches who are experienced and skilled in the field of mental health. We believe that it is important for churches to talk about mental health and how to support people who are struggling with mental illnesses.
A Need to Talk and Help
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, with 8% of adults experiencing major depression. Between 10 and 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness, with 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth experiencing a major depressive episode. These statistics are not meant to create fear, but rather to highlight the need for churches to talk about mental health and help individuals and families access appropriate care.
This need was especially clear to me while at Abundant Springs in May 2017. I was able to attend Abundant Springs as the campus counselor, offering to talk to youth and leaders throughout the weekend, and consulting with leaders when concerns came up about their youth.
Many conversations about mental health were sparked by the well-attended workshops led by Dan Dacombe (Heartland Community Church) entitled Faith and Mental Illness. Feedback from both youth and leaders was very positive, and many leaders asked for more resources to help them support youth who are struggling with mental illnesses.
Mennonite Central Committee has already done much work, as Irma has already described, and EMC churches are already integrating many practices that promote positive mental health. This BCM mental health promotion initiative aims to support churches in the positive practices they already have in place, and to provide information and resources to further develop these positive practices.
A Year-Long Encouragement
Articles exploring different mental health topics will appear in The Messenger in print and online over the next year. Our hope and prayer is that these articles will be an encouragement to those who are in distress, and provide practical information about mental health to support those who are caring for individuals who are struggling.
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.
Heidi Dirks, BEd, MA (counseling), serves on the EMC Board of Church Ministries. She is part of Braeside EMC.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference