God at work in the World

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Building friendship through music

Sol Sanderson, former chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, addresses festival-goers at the Spruce River Folk Festival.

The Joy Singers—left to right: Wilf Buhler, Art Zacharias, Gordon Martens and Ben Buhler—perform at the Spruce River Folk Festival. Three of the four singers are members of Osler Mennonite Church.

Roland Ray, left, of the Mathias Colomb First Nation, Sandy Bay, Sask., shows festivalgoer Les Hurlburt how ancient rock paintings depict the land that once belonged to the band.

George Kingfisher, Young Chippewayan hereditary chief, addresses festival-goers at the Spruce River Folk Festival.

Prince Albert singer/songwriter Violet Naytowhow performs traditional and original compositions at the Spruce River Folk Festival.

It may be a blip on the radar compared to other events of its kind, but what it lacks in size the Spruce River Folk Festival more than makes up for in heart.

The fifth annual festival was held on Aug. 16 at Spruce River Farm, north of Prince Albert, Sask., which is home to Ray Funk and Shirley Falstead of Grace Mennonite Church, one of the event’s sponsors, along with Mennonite Church Saskatchewan, MC Canada and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Saskatchewan.

Ears to earth, eyes to God

Steve Heinrichs, director of indige-nous relations for Mennonite Church Canada, leads in singing during one of Native Assembly 2014’s worship services. (Photo: Evelyn Rempel Petkau)

In the Blanket Exercise, quilts covering the floor are Turtle Island—aka North America. The blankets are folded and removed to represent the insidious ways that land and control were taken from Indigenous Peoples through colonialism. Participants are crowded into smaller and smaller areas, or sent back to their seats to represent those who died from disease or imposed malnutrition. (Photo: Moses Falco)

The land at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in downtown Winnipeg was too important as an inter-tribal meeting and trading place to be held by any one people, says Clarence Nepinak, a learning tour leader at Native Assembly 2014. (Photo: Moses Falco)

An early morning fire and smudging ceremony started each day of Native Assembly 2014 that met from July 28 to 31 at the edge of the Assiniboine Forest on the Canadian Mennonite University campus. A tepee and several tents served as their backdrop, and although the sound of traffic never let up, participants could watch a raccoon or a fawn nursing from its mother or hear the birdsong amid the bustle.

“We gather as spiritual people with our ears to the earth and eyes to God,” was the call to worship every morning following the assembly fire and prayer time.

In another skin

Brander—Strongraven/Standing Bear—McDonald shares insights into the indige-nous worldview at Native Assembly 2014.(Photo: Moses Falco)

Brander McDonald is soft-spoken. He moves about the room with quiet dignity, avoiding eye contact while he presents a workshop exploring indigenous worldviews at Native Assembly 2014. He admits to being a shy youngster, but there is more to his demeanour than being reserved. “My grandmother taught me that I shouldn’t look someone in the eye when I first meet them,” he says. “She told me to look at their feet until I got to know them.”

Searching for harmony

Vince Solomon’s dorm door was marked with an “X” to indicate his race when he was enrolled in religious studies. (Photo: Moses Falco)

There’s an imbalance here. Of the 250-ish gathered for Native Assembly 2014, indigenous participants are overwhelmingly outnumbered by non-native folks.

A few months ago, planners were concerned that not enough white church folks would attend. But this turnabout troubles me. Dominant people can often become dominant voices. So I’m trying to listen more and say less.

Finding ways to share this land of plenty

The judges’ bench in the main courtroom of the Supreme Court of Canada.(Photo by Philippe Landreville / © the Supreme Court of Canada)

Indigenous issues are charged, complex and unappealing to many Canadians. Understandably so.

Competing histories and intricate legalities combine with strong sentiments to create a sort of national quagmire. No one feels comfortable about the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, but meaningful change often seems impossible.

PeopleCare Inc. lives by its name

Brent Gingerich, the third generation of the Schlegel-Gingerich clan to helm the PeopleCare Inc. family of long-term care facilities, remembers travelling after high school with a friend in south and southeast Asia.

In Bangladesh, the two volunteered for a month in an orphanage, the same one his friend had lived in before he was adopted by Canadian parents. The experience was life-changing for Gingerich

“Every Canadian should travel to a different country and see how half of the world lives, both to appreciate what we have, and work to help the world,” he says.

MCC Summerfest Relief Sale

Hannah Martens (left), Cindy Klassen, and Rebecca Janzen enjoy each other’s company at the “GO” booth where Martens and Janzen earned money for MCC by running and biking on the stationary equipment.

“Mustache friends” Natalie Rosenberg (left), and Bronwyn Bergen had their faces painted by professional face painter, Val Martens.

Alberta Mennonites have few opportunities for large fellowship gatherings. While the annual Mennonite Central Committee relief sale is a huge amount of work, when the weekend arrives, the atmosphere is decidedly celebratory.

Niagara-area thrift store marks 40 years

Patty Ollies (left), MCC Ontario thrift development officer and Kathleen Leadley, board chair, cut the cake celebrating the 40th anniversary of the thrift store in St. Catharines.

The Niagara-area Mennonite churches celebrated the 40th anniversary of the thrift stores in this area on March 24 with a dinner and potluck dessert. Over 200 past and present volunteers attended. Among those participating during the evening were: Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Ontario; Patty Ollies, MCC Ontario thrift development officer; Kathleen Leadley, board chair for the thrift store; and Matthew Kok, general manager of the store.

A bridge to community

Josephine and Garcie Cogar of Webster Springs, W.V., test out their new walking bridge that connects their home to the community. It was built by Mennonite Disaster Service volunteers as part of the organization’s efforts after Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern seaboard of the U.S. in 2012. MDS and community volunteers can be seen in the background. (MDS photo by Paul Hunt)

MDS volunteers construct the footers for a new swinging bridge that provides safe passage between the home of Josephine and Garcie Cogar and their community of Webster Springs, W.V. The original bridge was washed out during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (MDS photo by Paul Hunt)

Thirteen metres isn’t a long walk, but it can be a difficult journey when the creek between your house and the rest of your community is running high and the bridge across it is out.

Almost a year-and-a-half after their link to the road—and the rest of the world—was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, Garcie and Josephine Cogar are happily traversing their new bridge that was built by Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers.

Stó:lō, sacredness and salmon

Cheryl A. (Francis) Peters, right, holding the MCC blanket given her, in turn gives Forrest Johnstone a sparkling ball she had recently purchased for herself. Peters says she wanted to give one of her possessions to the child.

Josette Jim shows a deer-hide shaker her daughter made for her, personalized with the letter ‘J’. Jim is of the Wilmelmex People and comes from Xwewenaqw of the Whonnock Tribe.

The former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission drew 50 Fraser Valley Mennonites on May 10 to hear stories of history and culture by the Stó:lō Nation leadership.

Sponsored by Mennonite Church B.C. and organized by indigenous relations coordinator Brander McDonald, the gathering was part of an ongoing MC B.C. effort to strengthen relationships with local indigenous communities. The participants formed a circle that McDonald called a “sacred place and a sacred space.”

‘In the name of Christ’

As the world watches the situation in Ukraine change almost daily, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) affirms its commitment to its current work in the country. It also offers continued support and prayers to its partners and the people of Ukraine in this time of uncertainty and turmoil.

“We remain concerned that the situation could lead to escalating conflict in the region, and we continue to hope for a peaceful resolution, where all voices are heard,” say Ruth Plett and Krystan Pawlikowski, MCC’s co-representatives for Eastern Europe.

Truth and reconciliation is ‘sacred work’

Justice Murray Sinclair proudly and lovingly put his arm around Sarah, his granddaughter. “Tomorrow is one of the most important days in my life, the birthday of my granddaughter,” he said of the eight-year-old. “Many of the children taken from families and placed in residential schools were even younger than this. Whenever I do my work, I think about her. We must ensure when we go forward that it will never happen again for little people like this.”

World Vision U.S. chastened over gay hiring policy

Earlier this year, World Vision U.S. announced a landmark policy change that would permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed by the Christian aid organization.

“I don’t want to predict the reaction we will get,” World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns told Christianity Today magazine. “I think we’ve got a very persuasive series of reasons . . . and it’s my hope that all of our donors and partners will understand.”

‘The truth was hard’

I was standing beside Neill Von Gunten, former co-director of Mennonite Church Canada Native Ministries, and trying to peer over heads to see into the “Churches Listening Area” at the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national event in Edmonton last month. An aboriginal leader had just prayed, and a church leader suggested a song; “We are Marching in the Light of God.”

Anabaptist church leaders offer statement to residential school survivors

Anabaptist leaders present a blanket and a statement for inclusion in the Bentwood Box, a repository for offerings and commemorations at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event in Edmonton last month. Standing with the TRC commissioners and survivor representatives are Tim Dyck of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, centre, and Hilda Hildebrand of Mennonite Church Canada, fifth from left.

The following statement was presented at the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Edmonton in March.

A modest proposal for truth, reconciliation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is in the closing stretch of its five-year mandate.

The most important truth being conveyed is the experience of former Indian Residential School (IRS) students. Only they can tell their stories. The TRC appears to have effectively created the venues infused with ceremonial significance for this to happen with respect and the needed personal supports to address the pain that surfaces along the way.

Truth and reconciliation

Irene Crosland adds some prairie sage to the sacred fire burning outside one of the main entrances to the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton, the site of the seventh and final national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event. She wrote this poem as a result of her experiences at the TRC event.

Gathering crowd surges
Finding space
Residential School survivors
And listeners
This is my time
You listen
Throbbing drum beats
Pulsing loudly
Tonal language singing
Prayers lifting
Bowed shoulders quake
Remembering robbed childhood
Secrets buried deeply
Opening carefully
Angry man turns
“It is enough”
Seated at round tables
History books open
Photos bring painful memories
Faces longingly remembered
Decorated man stands proud
Preaching his story

‘Four-directional thinking’ on indigenous-settler relations

If a buffalo shouts or a salmon cries in a forest, does anybody hear?

A packed room of 50 people at the Toronto School of Theology (TST) hung on every word of four panelists gathered on March 18 to discuss Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice and Life Together, the 2013 Herald Press book edited by Steve Heinrichs, Mennonite Church Canada’s indigenous relations director.

War doesn’t work

According to Ernie Regehr, for statistical purposes a war is defined as political fighting—not criminal violence—that engages the security forces of the state; as well, it is a situation in which “at least 1,000 people [combatants and civilians] have been killed directly by the fighting during the course of the conflict, and 25 or more are killed annually.”

The role of faith in our culture

On Jan. 17, 2014,Tim Kuepfer, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church, Richmond, B.C., was invited to join a local Muslim youth gathering for the commemoration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. What follows is an adaptation of his message to this gathering.

I am so impressed by this way you choose to honour your revered founder: inviting guests from other faiths and backgrounds to reflect on a subject that was very, very important to both your founder and mine. Islam and Christianity are both deeply concerned about the questions you have posed today:

A good place to be homeless?

Homelessness in the city of Abbotsford has made headlines in recent months. There was the dumping of chicken manure by city crew members on a homeless camp, a months-long protest campout at centrally located Jubilee Park, the rejection by city council of a rezoning proposal to build accommodation for homeless men, and a community rally at city hall to protest that decision and show support for the homeless.

A matriarch, a passion and the gospel

Tom Poovong’s passion for sharing the gospel was first fuelled by his mother, a woman he describes as deeply spiritual and abundantly generous.

Tom was just 15 years old when his parents and seven siblings emigrated to Calgary from Laos in 1980. In those early years, his mother, Bouying Poovong, would trundle her children onto a bus each weekend and commute to downtown Calgary in search of a Buddhist temple. Not finding one, they attended a Catholic church for a time.


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