The old school has been burned to the ground and in its place stands a newly constructed, brilliant red building, a symbol of a new beginning for this Old Order Mennonite community that reflects its hope for, and commitment to, its children.
It has been over a year since Manitoba’s Child and Family Services (CFS) apprehended all 42 children from the rural community—which cannot be named to protect the identity of the children—and 16 adults were charged with offences including assault and assault with a weapon.
More than half the children have now been returned to the community and by the end of July all but two are expected to be home. The dropping of charges against some of the community members has meant the lifting of bail orders that prohibited them from having contact with each other and with the children.
Although six adults still face charges and one woman awaits sentencing, life has moved a little closer to normal. Community members can now come together for meetings and work together on tasks such as planting crops. They have also been able to build their new school together.
Several church-related groups volunteered to help with the building. Representatives from these groups were invited on May 16, 2014, to hear the community’s plans and to discuss how they could assist, said Peter Rempel, former executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba and current moderator of Mennonite Church Manitoba who heads a group of Mennonite professionals, including counsellors and psychologists, in assisting community members and leaders work through the legal and social issues involved.
“Reps came from the Acadia Hutterite Colony; from the Nationwide Mennonite Church, which has four congregations in Manitoba; from Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary and Middle Schools; and from German/Russian immigrant churches in Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., plus my wife, Elsie, who is a former teacher,” Rempel said.
“At that time, the community had received approval for its building plan from the municipality, endorsement from CFS for the teacher to resume teaching and for the ‘discipline in school’ policy prepared by the community,” he noted.
Each of the groups offered materials, labour, funds or furnishings. At least seven crews from these various groups have been out to help. On May 17, the old single-room schoolhouse was burned down. The community’s decision to build a new school building was made while most of the children were still in foster care, as an expression of their faith in the children’s return.
On June 18, as construction rapidly proceeded, the community allowed media in. One community member said to the media, “We wanted to make this statement to the public. . . that we are very committed to start off a new beginning here—new hope and new life for our children.”
A month later, a bright, new building stands in its place. When the new school opens in early September, about 21 children will attend.
“The community is very encouraged by the strong and practical support of these groups, and is looking forward to the children resuming their schooling in a new building,” said Rempel.
Old Order Mennonite community in turmoil (July 8, 2013)
Old Order parents asked to take parenting course by MCC Manitoba (Aug. 9, 2013)
Order community waits for children to return (Oct 23, 2013)
Efforts continue to reunite Old Order families (Dec 24, 2013)
Survival of Old Order community at ‘a critical stage’ (March 3, 2014)
Old Order leader sentenced for ‘child torture’ (Sept. 15, 2016)