Young Voices

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SOS for Syria

Jeremy Enns is asking more than 50 of his friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances to participate in his SOS for Syria campaign.

In the early 1900s, SOS became the worldwide distress signal, but typically in maritime situations. These days it’s used as a sense of urgent message or appeal for help from anybody in any situation.

That’s what Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario is doing. It’s sending out an urgent appeal for help on behalf of the estimated 12.2 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, the
1 million injured in the fighting, and the 7.6 million internally displaced people.

‘The best possible reward’

Iranian graduate students meet with Charlie Nelson, an indigenous elder from Roseau, Man., third from left. (Photo by Harry Huebner)

Lisa Obirek, a student at CMU, was one of the hosts when a group of graduate students from Iran visited the university in March. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

“I’ll intentionally call you my sister, for I have two and I love them so much. Now I have three and I love them all to the degree that I’m ready to die for them. So you are really beyond a friend for me.”

That is part of an e-mail that a man I will call M wrote to me the day before he left Winnipeg. He was part of a group of Shia Muslim graduate students who travelled from Qom, Iran, to study an intensive course on systematic theology at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg.

Growing Mennonite

There is a terrifying amount of paper documenting Mennonite history, and more than a few gems hidden in the vault.

Photos in the Archives document the experience of conscientious objectors during the Second World War.

Olivia Klippenstein grew up in Altona, Man. She explored her Mennonite heri-tage during a practicum placement at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives.

It wasn’t until Grade 6 that I realized it was possible to be more than just a Mennonite. Our teacher asked us to come up with one word to described ourselves. One of my classmates chose the phrase, “Russian Mennonite.”

Nerdy fun

Community Mennonite Church face off against East Zorra Mennonite Church at the 2014 Bible quizzing event. (Photo courtesy of Jeramie Raimbault)

Hawkesville Bible quizzers Liv Cento, left, Irian Fast-Sittler, Paul Cento and Ciaran Fast-Sittler discuss a team question at last year’s event. (Photo courtesy of Jeramie Raimbault)

For about 30 years, youth from several Mennonite Church Eastern Canada congregations in Ontario have looked forward to their annual Bible quizzing event. It’s centred around friendly competition, memorization of minute biblical details and application of biblical principles to everyday life.

Morning prayers at the Y

Retired pastor Erwin Cornelsen, fourth from the right, meets daily with a group of Chinese Christians to sing and pray. (Photo courtesy of Jonas Cornelsen)

Jonas Cornelsen is a student at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg. (Photo by Matt Veith)

There is a natural dignity in the morning routine of a 95-year-old man living alone. Especially when the routine is based on building friendships across cultures.

At 6:42 a.m., the Langara Family YMCA may be the noisiest spot in South Vancouver. Among the squeaks of gym shoes and hiss of locker room showers, you can even catch a chorus of gospel music—in Mandarin.

‘We’re not strangers anymore’

Emmaus House is an intentional community for university students in Winnipeg made up of 13 people. (Photo courtesy of Emmanus House)

Kelsey Wiebe, left, and Davis Plett clean up after supper one evening. Members of the Emmaus House community eat supper together daily. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

Emmaus House community member Louisa Hofer, with Remy, one of two dogs that also live in the house. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

Rod and Susan Reynar are glad they have opened their home for Emmaus House. (Photo by Matt Veith)

Emmaus House is located in Winnipeg’s West Broadway neighbourhood. (Photo by Matt Veith)

When Davis Plett was considering moving out of his parents’ home, he wasn’t sure he was ready to be on his own. Moving into a 103-year-old house with 12 other people seemed like a good option.

“The danger of meeting new people and then having the additional risk of living with them excited me,” says Plett, 21, who studies English literature at the University of Winnipeg.

Rebuilding lives and languages

St. Michael’s Residential School was open for 50 years. It now stands empty and decrepit, serving as a dark reminder of past abuses, awaiting its final demolition. (Photo courtesy of Janna and Jon Janzen)

Taza rides on mom Janna Janzen’s back in Alert Bay, B.C. (Photo courtesy of Janna and Jon Janzen)

Jon Janzen explores the first nation communities in Alert Bay, B.C. (Photo courtesy of Janna and Jon Janzen)

Jon and Janna Janzen stood in front of St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay, B.C., in February and they say they felt darkness in its presence. During the half-century its door were open, it was the largest residential school operated by the Anglican Church of Canada, charged with “taking the Indian out of the child.” Survivors say it is haunted and pray for the day it would be demolished.

Top marks for CMU

Brian Froese, CMU’s assistant professor of history, teaches a class. According to a recent Maclean’s Magazine report, students at CMU in Winnipeg are very satisfied with their education and their experience at the Christian liberal arts school. (Photo by Rachel Bergen)

According to a recent Maclean’s Magazine report, students at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg are very satisfied with their education and their experience at the Christian liberal arts school.

A feature published in February gave a snapshot of the 2014 Canadian University Survey Consortium’s findings. CMU placed in the top four out of 28 universities in four categories, reflecting how students feel about their professors and how comfortable they feel at the university.

Reaping the whirlwind

Rev. Dr. David Widdicombe, rector at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg, speaks about Just War theory at CMU last month. (Photo by Jonas Cornelsen)

Peter Brown (Photo by Jonas Cornelsen)

Lisa Obirek (Photo by Jonas Cornelsen)

Matthew Dyck (Photo by Jonas Cornelsen)

Late arrivals had to find their own chairs as students, academics and commu-nity members filled Marpeck Commons at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) on Feb. 26 to hear Rev. Dr. David Widdicombe explain what it means to “sow the wind” by misusing Just War theory.

If people go to war for any reason other than restraining evil, the consequences will be worse than their actions, according to Widdicombe, saying, “You reap the whirlwind.” He went on to critique the West’s response to Islamic State, and invoked Pilgram Marpeck, the venue’s namesake.

Saskatchewan youth speak out

Members of the Saskatchewan Mennonite Youth Organization, from left to right, front row: Marcus Kruger, Kirsten Hamm-Epp and Jesse Neufeld; middle row: Dannica Funk, Gabby Martin, Brandon Jantzen and Robyn Martens; and back row: Zachary Stefaniuk, Anna Epp and Hailey Funk.

Mennonite youth in Saskatchewan are raising their voices and offering a perspective on some of the controversial issues facing the denomination.

The Saskatchewan Mennonite Youth Organization (SMYO) is made up of all the youth in the province that are part of, or connected to, a Mennonite Church Saskatchewan congregation. That comes to roughly 120 youth. SMYO wrote a report at its 2014 retreat, discussed it as a group, and all signed it.

‘God was there’

Although she was diagnosed with cancer at the start of her Grade 12 year, Allegra Friesen Epp graduated on time last June.

before her cancer diagnosis.

Allegra Friesen Epp, centre, stands with her brothers Bryn and Caleb in the Indian Ocean last summer.

The Dream Factory, an organization that grants the wishes of young people battling life-threatening illnesses, made it possible for Allegra Friesen Epp and her family to travel to Tanzania last summer.

While in Tanzania, Allegra Friesen Epp and her family shared a meal with a local family. It was one of the biggest highlights of the trip.

The Friesen Epp family stand with Darryl and Shirley Peters, a couple from Winnipeg who now live in Tanzania and helped them organize their trip.

Allegra Friesen Epp’s dream trip to Tanzania included a safari where sites like this were common.

Allegra Friesen Epp’s dream trip to Tanzania included a safari where sites like this were common.

Allegra Friesen Epp’s dream trip to Tanzania included a safari where sites like this were common.

Allegra Friesen Epp’s dream trip to Tanzania included a safari where sites like this were common.

Making plans for university and picking out a graduation dress are typical activities for teenage girls in Grade 12, but Allegra Friesen Epp had something extra to contend with as she did those things last year: battling cancer.

Five reasons young adults may leave the church

Harrison Davey, left, and Danielle Morton participate in a panel discussion at CMU exploring why young adults choose not to attend church.

Kirsten Hamm-Epp, left, area church youth minister for Mennonite Church Saskatchewan, says that young adults want to be involved in worship by doing more than just reading Scripture.

Danielle Morton, left, pictured with Lukas Thiessen, says many of her peers feel like the church doesn’t need them.

For years, congregations have searched for a secret that will keep young people in the pews. Debates are had around worship style, young adult groups and the role parents play.

At “You lost me,” a recent Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) event, four young adults—Kirsten Hamm-Epp, Harrison Davey, Danielle Morton and Lukas Thiessen—thought out loud about why their generation might be leaving the church.

Glimpses of God’s kingdom

Working with people with disabilities has given Mike Wiebe a glimpse of the kingdom of God. (Photo courtesy of Mike Wiebe)

A friend throws a pie in Mike Wiebe’s face during an adults with disabilities week at Camp Moose Lake in Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of Mike Wiebe)

Last semester I took a class at Canadian Mennonite University entitled Anabaptist-Mennonite Theology. The course aims to analyze the works of contemporary Anabaptist-Mennonite theologians to gain an understanding of what Anabaptist-Mennonite theology looks like in the church and world today.

On the final exam, Professor Paul Doerksen decided we were educated enough to answer the question: “What constitutes good Anabaptist-Mennonite theology?”

Where is God at the gym?

Honouring God with our bodies can be difficult sometimes, but ultimately it’s worth it, says Amanda Zehr. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Zehr)

I am not a huge fan of going to the gym. I know exercise is good for me, but so is eating vegetables, and I’m not really into that either. At the end of a work day, even though I know a trip to the gym will be good for me, it’s just so much easier to sit down with some Cheetos and watch Netflix.

‘Keeping it Riel’

The Riel Gentlemen’s Club are pictured at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in Winnipeg. Jesse Krause is pictured carrying the flag. (Photo courtesy of The Riel Gentlemen's Choir)

The members of the Riel Gentlemen’s Club pose in front of a Louis Riel statue in Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of The Riel Gentlemen's Choir)

The Riel Gentlemen’s Club sings at Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg on Louis Riel Day, 2012. Thomas Epp is pictured at left. (Photo courtesy of The Riel Gentlemen's Choir)

If an outsider were to walk into a Riel Gentlemen’s Choir practice, it would seem to be a combination of an alternative choral experiment, a boy’s club, a Manitoba fan club and a Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) reunion.

It may be like that in many ways, but it’s also a supportive environment for men looking to break free of traditional ideas of masculinity, and a way for these twenty- and thirty-something men to exercise their creativity.

MCC establishes first on-campus student club

Kaytee Edwards, left, David Epp and Myriam Ullah form the leadership committee of the first MCC-run student club in Canada. It is on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has never had a presence in student clubs on Canadian university campuses. Until recently, that is.

On Jan. 15, an MCC-run student club was ratified on the University of Saskatchewan campus. It was started by MCC Saskatchewan community engagement coordinators Myriam Ullah and Kaytee Edwards. Ullah and Edwards are pursuing higher education at UofS and took the opportunity to encourage faith in action among their fellow students.

What’s so funny?

Orlando Braun has always been fascinated by filmmaking. He recalls being a child and making detective films with his father’s camcorder, but never thought he could one day make a living making movies.

“It didn’t even occur to me this is what people do as a job,” the 33-year-old Winnipegger says.

Following high school, Braun enrolled at the University of Manitoba to study architecture. After discovering it wouldn’t be a good fit, he dropped those classes and picked up film and drama ones instead.

‘An even bigger vision’

Kristina Toews, pictured outside of Bogotá, Colombia, where she works for Mennonite World Conference, encourages young adults to attend the Global Youth Summit in Mechanicsburg, Pa., this summer. (Photo courtesy of Kristina Toews)

Kristina Toews, left, stands with members of the YABs Committee at a meeting in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Kristina Toews)

Kristina Toews, left, pictured with a church member at Iglesia Menonita de la Ciudad Berna. Toews’s experience at the Global Youth Summit in Paraguay in 2009 and her involvement with the Young Anabaptists (YABs) Committee have fuelled her passion for the global church. (Photo courtesy of Kristina Toews)

If you are a young adult considering going to the Global Youth Summit that will immediately precede the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) assembly in July, Kristina Toews thinks you should do it.

From Macau to Manitoba

Chris Karasewich, a local entrepreneur with ASAP Marketing, left, and Matt Veith, a Mennonite graphic designer, centre, are presented with a provincial tech award worth $7,500 by Kevin Chief, Manitoba’s minister of jobs and the economy, at last November’s Ramp Up festival for entrepreneurs. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Manitoba)

Winnipeg graphic designer Matt Veith stepped out of his comfort zone last November and helped develop a business idea at Ramp Up Manitoba, an entrepreneurial festival. It paid off. He and his project partner, Chris Karasewich, were presented with a provincial tech award worth $7,500 by the province’s minister of jobs and the economy.

A ‘small protest’ they call home

“We know our lifestyle in North America far exceeds what the rest of the world enjoys. Building a tiny house is a small protest against that," say Jared and Rachel Regier. (Photo courtesy of Rachel and Jared Regier)

Jared and Rachel Regier are in the process of building their tiny house. (Photo courtesy of Rachel and Jared Regier)

Jared Regier designed their tiny house. (Photo courtesy of Rachel and Jared Regier)

Newlyweds Jared and Rachel Regier are building a new home in Saskatoon . . . and it’s no bigger than a garage.

The couple, who attend Nutana Park Mennonite Church, call it their “tiny house.” Jared, 35, designed it, and he and Rachel, 29, are building it from the ground up, all 14 square-metres (150 square feet) of it.

The Regiers’ new house will feature solar panels to generate all their power. Jared calculates that it will produce about double the amount of energy they will need, which will allow them to sell the excess energy to Saskatoon Light and Power.

Clarity and confusion in the Middle East

Hearing the stories of both Israelis and Palestinians was a highlight of the Middle East learning tour Seth Ratzlaff participated in two years ago. (Photo by Seth Ratzlaff)

Yella participants walk through Palestine during a 2012 learning tour. (Photo by Seth Ratzlaff)

Seth Ratzlaff

Seth Ratzlaff was part of a group of young adults who travelled to the Middle East in 2012 for a three-week Israeli-Palestinian learning tour. ‘I would love to go back,’ Ratzlaff writes. (Photo by Seth Ratzlaff)

It’s easy to get fed up with talking about things while studying in college or university; the desire to do something hands-on can be overwhelming. When my religious studies professor told me about a three-week learning tour of Israel and Palestine called Yella, organized, by Mennonite Central Committee Ontario and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.

Rape culture from a Mennonite perspective

A march against rape culture and inequality (Credit: Chase Carter,, CC by ND 2.0)

On Friday, May 23, 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six people at the University of California Santa Barbara before he turned the gun on himself. In his manifesto, he stated he did so because women wouldn’t sleep with him.

The murderer was active on men’s rights awareness forums, where women are often highly objectified. They are seen as non-human by many in such groups, and, at the very least, less than men.

Live in colour . . . eat chocolate

Many churches have an inherent aversion to change, according to Vic Thiessen.

The same is true for the characters of the film Pleasantville (1998). Thiessen, Mennonite Church Canada’s executive minister of church engagement and chief administrative officer, as well as Canadian Mennonite’s resident film critic, used Pleasantville to talk about how liberating change can be in film and in the church in one of Assembly 2014’s many seminar sessions.

‘There is a community of young people here’

The work being done by the Future Directions and Being a Faithful Church (BFC) task forces were the focus of the plenary sessions at the 2014 Mennonite Church Canada assembly, and so those topics were on the minds of many of the young adults at the event.

More than 50 people between the ages of 18 and 30 attended the four-day event, nine of whom were interviewed about what they saw and heard:

Alyssa Bender, 24

Living Water Community Christian Fellowship, New Hamburg, Ont. Delegate for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada

Marching to Zion

The Upper Room in Jerusalem, where Jesus was said to have eaten the Last Supper with his disciples. (Photo by Vanessa Snyder-Penner)

The streets are packed. Hordes of people move at once, criss-crossing over the smooth stone streets and deftly navigating down many stairs. Vendors shouting in Arabic call from all sides, selling vegetables, clothes, toys, herbs and household goods. The air is heavy with the smell of people and spices. Occasionally I get a whiff of something sweet rising off a platter of Baklava sitting temptingly outside a bakery, other times it’s the nausea-inducing smell of raw meat from the butcher that meets my nostrils. The whole experience amounts to a veritable symphony of the senses.


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