Breathing together

MCC Saskatchewan celebrates peacebuilding locally and globally

November 16, 2016 | Web First
Donna Schulz | Saskatchewan correspondent

“It is all of us together that make Mennonite Central Committee [MCC] breathe,” said Eileen Klassen Hamm, and each element of MCC Saskatchewan’s “encounter” and annual general meeting bore witness to her statement.

The organization chose “Peacebuilding on the prairies and around the world” as the theme for the Nov. 5, 2016, event, which was held at Rosthern Junior College (RJC). In her report, Klassen Hamm, who is MCC Saskatchewan’s executive director, noted both positive and negative outcomes of peacebuilding.

Earlier this year, author Yann Martel, who resides in Saskatoon, offered the organization a house he owns to use as a home for refugees. Martel said readers of his well-known novel, Life of Pi, paid for the house, and he wished to do something special with it. Klassen Hamm cited Martel, who said of MCC, “I’ve never encountered a group that so walks in the spirit of Christ.” Currently a Syrian family sponsored by Mount Royal Mennonite Church lives in “the Life of Pi house.”

Klassen Hamm also spoke of MCC Saskatchewan’s participation in the 140th anniversary of the Treaty 6 signing, which the Young Chippewayan band hosted at Stoney Knoll, west of Laird. “We feasted together,” she said, “for that is one of the ways that strangers become kin.” (See more at ‘Our children need to know.’

In September, the agency received a letter from the Bergthaler Mennonite Church indicating its withdrawal of support from MCC and from the board of the Warman, Sask., thrift shop. The church cited theological differences as a reason for its decision. Klassen Hamm acknowledged the loss, expressing gratitude for past support and hope that connections with the church might be repaired at some point in the future. “Sometimes peacebuilding doesn’t go quite the way we want it to,” she said.

Guest speakers Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen, who served as MCC country representatives for Jordan, Iraq and Iran, spoke about peacebuilding in the Middle East. “The Syria-Iraq crisis is the largest crisis MCC has ever responded to,” said Gordon. While 4.8 million Syrians have fled to other countries, 6.6 million are internally displaced and an additional 13.5 million living inside Syria are in need. Statistics for Iraq are similarly staggering, with 4.4 million internally displaced persons and an additional 10.1 million living in need inside Iraq.

“What Canada has done in welcoming 30,000 Syrian refugees is wonderful,” said Gordon, “but the need is much greater.”

Jordan has welcomed thousands of refugees over many years, dating back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts of 1948 and 1967, said Carolyne. Many of these Palestinians, although they have lived in Jordan for over 40 years, still have refugee status. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in recent years has added to the burden on this tiny country.

In the Middle East, MCC partners with various agencies, both Christian and non-Christian, to get aid to the people who need it most. “MCC is unabashedly Christian but works with people of all faiths, showing God’s love to both Christians and Muslims,” said Gordon.

MCC also works with local groups who show God’s love by sponsoring refugees. Dana Krushel, MCC Saskatchewan’s refugee assistance coordinator, recognized the work of five churches and community groups in Rosthern that have helped both Karen and Syrian refugee families establish homes in the community.

Myriam Ullah, MCC Saskatchewan’s community engagement coordinator, led a panel discussion featuring the partnership between the organization and RJC. Panel members described the school’s partnership with MCC Guatemala, dating back to the early 2000s. Each year, as part of RJC’s Alternative Learning and Service Opportunities (ALSO) program, a group of students and teachers travel to Guatemala to learn about, and participate in, MCC’s work in that country.

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