Family from around the world and across the ages

September 28, 2011 | God at work in Us | Number 19
By Donita Wiebe-Neufeld | Alberta Correspondent
Margaret Fehr, left, and Jinhee Paik are from different worlds, yet have found family with each other at First Mennonite Church, Calgary, Alta., through their shared love of children.

Jinhee Paik and Margaret Fehr are from different worlds, yet have found family with each other at First Mennonite Church, Calgary, Alta., through their shared love of children. Paik is a young mother from Korea; Fehr is 76 and moved to Calgary from Red Deer in 2007.



“It’s a big age span, but it is nothing when we’re together,” Fehr says.



The two connected when they were teamed up to help the pre-school group at the church’s annual Vacation Bible School (VBS) in July 2009. Paik’s young daughter was too shy to go on her own, so Paik volunteered to help with the program.



Fehr, a retired nurse, had watched her grandchildren enjoy VBS in 2008. As a newcomer to Calgary and a non-Mennonite, volunteering gave her a chance to get to know people and contribute to the First Mennonite community.



“In 2009, I volunteered to help,” Fehr says. “Each time [since then] Jinhee and I have worked together with the three- and four-year-olds. Of course, it was such a joy to become better acquainted with her. Working with these younger children gave me opportunity to get to know who their parents are. In church . . . you just don’t know who the children belong to. . . . It helped me to put some names and faces together.”



Paik’s daughter has moved on to the older classes since 2009, but Paik continues to volunteer with the preschoolers. She believes VBS is important in helping these children get ready for Sunday school, and she greatly values her connections with them and with Fehr.



“She is a really good friend, like my aunt or my mom,” Paik says of Fehr. “We have been together three years already. I really enjoy her. She is very supportive, spiritually or whatever.”



The church is one of the few places in society where people of different generations and backgrounds gather regularly and interaction is encouraged. People without biological family nearby can develop relationships at church that provide them with a sense of belonging and support. This ideal, however, does not happen without conscious effort from both the church community and individuals.



As a newcomer to Calgary and the Mennonite church, and having experienced the trauma of divorce, Fehr is deeply aware of how difficult it is to find places to fit into society when the natural connections of family are missing or fractured. She made a conscious effort to become “better, not bitter,” as she began her life in Calgary and her connections with First Mennonite.



Referring to the awkwardness newcomers and singles experience at gatherings in a couple-oriented society, Fehr says, “There’s always that empty chair . . . and often you go to sit down and, ‘Oh, I’m saving this… my husband’s coming.’ And you’re new, you don’t know who belongs to who. . . . There’s always that feeling you’re taking a spot from a family member.”



In spite of the challenges, Fehr has felt welcomed at First Mennonite and commends the church for “really making an effort to allow opportunities for this intergenerational thing to happen.” The warm embrace, encouragement of her gifts, and participation at First Mennonite have given her connections with many people and she feels part of an important faith family.



Fehr is currently serving as a deacon, listening to and praying for people in the congregation. She looks forward to an upcoming event that will bring all the care groups together and provide the opportunity to get to know more of her extended faith family.



Paik’s story is different, but contains a similar search for a place to be connected. Immigrants often have few biological family members nearby, and their search for a place to belong is complicated because of language and cultural barriers. The church is uniquely placed to become surrogate family for them, providing a place where they receive the community they need as well as a place for them to share their gifts.



Paik was a children’s clothing designer in Korea and her husband Hyun kyu Lee is an artist. Together, they made a unique contribution to this year’s VBS program. Using their artistic skills, they created spectacular backdrops to illustrate the Bible theme of “Prayer safari” through the Lord’s Prayer.



Fehr is deeply thankful to God for her faith family at First Mennonite. “I am so thankful that I have brothers and sisters in the Lord that I can reach out to if I have a need,” she says. “That is a gift that is priceless, but it doesn’t come easily.”

Margaret Fehr, left, and Jinhee Paik are from different worlds, yet have found family with each other at First Mennonite Church, Calgary, Alta., through their shared love of children.

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