A passion for writing children’s stories and a desire to engage children in church life gave birth to Imvu, a small knitted sheep who connects Mennonite Church Canada ministry in South Africa with children around the world.
Imvu—whose name is also the Zulu word for “sheep”—is the creation of Karen Suderman, the former advertising representative for Canadian Mennonite who currently serves as an MC Canada Witness worker, along with her husband Andrew, in South Africa. From their office in Pietermaritzburg, the Sudermans are developing relationships and an Anabaptist Network in close collaboration with the American Mennonite Mission Network (MMN) and Mennonite Central Committee colleagues, through teaching, editing workshop and seminar material, and by providing support to partner churches in South Africa.
Each prayer letter they send out to supporters includes insights from Imvu’s perspective and a related photograph of the small white and black sheep wearing a knitted red backpack.
“Imvu is my attempt at making overseas church work more than an adult thing, allowing children to enter the world in which Andrew and I work,” Suderman says in an e-mail exchange. “Imvu can hopefully be a device to distil some of the simple joys and profound truths that we discover as we live here.”
In one prayer letter, Imvu confides, “Often people put clothing and supplies into their backpacks. I am putting memories and thoughts into mine.” In another, he says, “The thought I am putting into my backpack is to remember to be thankful for the gift of learning at school and for the gift of learning at church. I know sometimes I forget to be grateful for these things.”
Imvu has been captured posing with a soccer ball during the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament that took place in South Africa this summer, and with Marmite, a stuffed monkey about Imvu’s size, who travels with Wayne and Lois Hochstetler of MMN.
Those who look carefully will also find Imvu “hiding” in other photographs in the Sudermans’ prayer letters.
Suderman has found that Imvu is a good icebreaker with people of all ages. “There is one pastor in Mthatha that asks us about Imvu and where Imvu is every time we see him,” she says.
A collection of letters from a Grade 7 Sunday school class at Niagara United Mennonite Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., reveals Imvu’s impact on children. “Almost each one of the letters mentioned Imvu and how they like to find the hidden sheep in each letter,” Suderman says. “Some even drew their own Imvu in the letters they sent to us.”
The Sudermans have heard from others, too. “My favourite message was from our niece—she was three at the time it was sent,” Suderman enthuses. “It said, ‘Dear Imvu, Andrew and Karen are in South Africa. I love you, sheep. That’s all done.’ ”
Suderman has knit a number of sheep over the past couple of years. “Most of them have ended up in the hands of babies that our friends have had,” she says. “Imvu is the first sheep that I knit that didn’t find a new home. Come to think of it, I think Imvu was the first project I knit in South Africa.”
Imvu is a unique sheep, in that he has his own e-mail address. He can be reached by young and old alike at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imvu, the Zulu sheep, sports his trusty backpack. The creation of MC Canada Witness worker Karen Suderman, Imvu is a good ice-breaker as she and her husband Andrew develop an Anabaptist Network in South Africa and build relationships with the churches there.