I did not grow up attending a Mennonite church. Growing up two hours southeast of Winnipeg in Piney, Man., I attended International Christian Fellowship, a small congregation that includes an interesting mix of people and theological backgrounds. It is an international amalgamation of American and Canadian churches on the U.S. border, officially under the Evangelical Church, led by a Dutch Reformed pastor and including people from Lutheran, Baptist, Evangelical and Mennonite backgrounds.
Every summer when I was growing up I attended Camp Moose Lake, a camp run by Mennonite Church Manitoba that is not far from Piney. I got to do cool activities, learn what it means to follow Jesus and grow in my faith with other children my age. My church was great, but it did not have many other children, so this was something new and awesome for me.
I returned to camp every summer because I loved everything about it. Once I was old enough, I signed up for the Servant Leader in Training (SLIT) program, and started serving at Moose Lake as a staff member. I wanted to become a counsellor so that I could give campers the same great experience I had.
I made great friends at camp and followed some of them to Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg for my undergraduate studies. Between going to CMU and working at camp, I was beginning to develop a strong sense of identity within the Mennonite community.
I was drawn to the way that people lived out their faith as disciples, and how they were able to bring that with them into an academic setting at CMU. I did not know much about Mennonite theology, but the more I learned, informally at camp and formally at CMU, the more I began to identify with it.
Soon I was encouraged to join the leadership team at camp, filling the roles of nature instructor, Bible instructor and summer program director at Moose Lake. After the summer of 2012, I was baptized there on a beautiful late-September afternoon with people supporting me from CMU, camp and my home church in Piney—the three major faith communities in my life.
This past summer I had the opportunity to be one of the directors of the SLIT program and train a bunch of awesome, young teenagers to become camp staff. It was a special experience to come full circle, from being in the program myself to leading and training the next group of servant leaders.
For the majority of my camp career, my service was largely volunteer-based because my church in Piney was not able to support me financially. Last year, I really wanted to work at camp for one last summer, but I simply could not afford to volunteer for the four-month camp program without financial support.
Since I have been at CMU, I have been attending Charleswood Mennonite Church with friends. When I mentioned to them that my financial situation was holding me back from serving at camp one last time, they told me to ask church leaders if the congregation would sponsor me for the summer. After meeting with one of the pastors, he told me that the church was willing to do so.
I was so excited that I would be able to go back to camp. I was also extremely grateful that Charleswood was able to support me. To show my gratitude, combined with my desire to be a part of a Mennonite church community in Winnipeg, I transferred my church membership to Charleswood this past December.
I will be graduating from CMU in April, and for the first time since 2009 I will not be returning to camp. CMU and camp have been two of the most important faith communities in my life, and not going back and being involved in the way I was before will be tough. In this time of major life changes and transitions, being a part of the great community at Charleswood means a lot to me.
Recently, I decided to become a youth sponsor at Charleswood, to become better acquainted and involved with my new church community, and to have fun with the youth in a camp-like setting.
Through the amazing communities at camp, CMU and Charleswood, God has continually provided opportunities for me to grow in my faith. I feel deeply blessed.
Thanks be to God.
Andrew Brown, 22, is double majoring in history and political studies at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg.