Readers write

May 9, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 10

‘African’ titles misleading

Re: “Greening Africa,” “What aid work looks like in Africa,” and “African goat project demonstrates group power,” April 2, pages 20 to 22.

Africa is not a country. It is the second largest continent in the world, with an incredible diversity of peoples, languages, cultures and ecosystems.

Amazing work is being done in Ethiopia and Kenya, but I highly doubt that it has much of an effect in Morocco or Zimbabwe. Here in Canada, we wouldn’t report environmental projects occurring in Rosthern, Sask., with the headline, “Greening North America,” but for some reason we continue to treat Africa like it is one big homogenous land mass.

But I guess that’s what we get after years of “let’s sing the next verse in African.”

Kyle Penner, Steinbach, Man.

Peacemakers don’t need to know Christ as saviour

Re: “,” April 2, page 4.

John D. Rempel has written a timely article on the issues growing out of biblical interpretation facing the Mennonite church. I have long valued his contributions to theological thought. However, I find unfortunate one part of the article: “. . . only individuals who have been made whole by Christ can stay the course in bringing wholeness to the world.”

We both grew up in a church setting that considered all peacemaking that did not centre on our correct theology doomed to failure. Sermons would lament that “the world” talked and promoted peace, but it was to no avail because they did not know Jesus as saviour.

The New Testament biography of Jesus reveals that he did not place preconditions on people practising justice, compassion and loving our neighbour. Today, Christ would applaud the man growing weary of making money—lots of it—for power and self indulgence, who discovers immense pleasure in discovering micro-finance loans through Mennonite Economic Development Associates, as he takes visceral delight in bringing wholeness to an entire village.

When Sikhs offer to donate money to MCC to feed the hungry, both they and MCC realize that feeding the hungry is a sacred act.

On my no-exit street in Waterloo, which consists of a kind of village of townhouses, a retired meat packer is the unofficial peacemaker. When someone is not a good citizen—unkempt lawn, late-night noise—he makes conversation until friendly changes occur. When neighbourly disagreements flare publicly, he has the redemptive instinct for peacemaking dialogue.

He is not biblically or church-oriented, however. When I mentioned that I think of him in religious terms, he said, “How so?” I responded with, “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ ”

Should I warn him that, according to Mennonite theology, he cannot make peaceful wholeness until he has first been made whole by Christ? (Sorry, only one party has been made whole by Christ.)

Here’s a twist: Jesus commends the Good Samaritan and prefers his living over those whose religion has the faith litmus test codified. Doesn’t the Spirit of Christ applaud all who seek justice and walk humbly on God’s earth?

Jack Dueck, Waterloo, Ont.

Has Canadian Mennonite forgotten the Bible?

In regards to Rudy Baergen’s “Dust off your Bibles!” column, April 2, page 9, I feel Canadian Mennonite should do that. There were no Bible stories in Canadian Mennonite about Jesus’ birth at Christmas or his crucifixion and resurrection at Easter.

Have we forgotten the Bible?

In each publication, please have a Bible story to help our young and old learn the meaning of the Bible.

Ross Victor, Kitchener, Ont.

‘Strangers’ welcomed with open arms

Re: “Still strangers among us?” editorial, April 16, page 2.

It is always sad to hear of members of Canadian churches who do not feel as welcomed as they should be in their home churches. We would like to share our story as a contrast to the one shared in the editorial, as a way of encouraging churches that are working hard to create and provide a welcoming and caring community.

We were married in 2009 and came from very different Christian backgrounds. Over our first 18 months of marriage, we worshipped at a variety of different churches in an effort to find a church home. These churches ranged from high Anglican to charismatic Pentecostal. One Sunday in November 2010, God showed us how he truly works in mysterious ways when we “accidentally” ended up at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, Ont. Of all the churches that we had been to—and we had been to at least a couple of dozen quite friendly ones—we felt the most welcomed at St. Jacobs Mennonite right from the first Sunday that we were there. We very quickly realized that we had found a congregation where we both were comfortable and where we both felt totally at home.

We are so thankful that God led us to our new church home, and would like to publicly acknowledge our church family there that has welcomed us with open arms.

Carolyn and Ian VanderBurgh, Waterloo, Ont.

Church needs to fund prison ministry if government won’t

It has come to my attention that the government has intentionally made moves to eliminate funding for a prison ministry called M2W2. It has been reported that funds from the last fiscal year fell short by about $30,000, and in this fiscal year so far, nothing. The budget had been about $130,000, but it would seem that the well is suddenly running dry.

It may be fair to say that the doors for “easy money”—government grants—are closing. Having said that, it is my opinion that it is time that we, the church, took Christ at his word and funded our own initiatives. Prison ministry is the Christian thing to do, so let us support this most-needed project collectively.

What may be unfortunate is the fact that M2W2 is not 100 percent Mennonite and that may well contribute to the reluctance to fund something that is not totally “ours.” But I seem to recall that Paul did not preach to the select few, but to the masses. Here in B.C. we have 238 prisoners who are asking for the friendship and relationship that is brought by M2W2 volunteers.

We don’t need to belabour the issue of how much M2W2 is needed. It is well evidenced by the speeches made by the various wardens at the annual volunteer dinners, and let us not forget the overwhelming response that comes from the inmates themselves. I would suspect that the volunteers are as much loved by those on the inside as those on the outside.

It is a sound suggestion that Mennonite Church Canada fully supports M2W2 and come to a collective decision that it will take over funding before it is too late and our most-needed program is left hanging in the wind because of apathy.

Whether the state does or doesn’t fund M2W2 is not at issue. What is at issue is the following of the divine request to do prison ministry. Those confined to the inside are in need of vision, and volunteers can help supply that, but only if we are there. If it means the church funds the program, so be it.

Ken Hinton, Langley, B.C.
Ken Hinton has been an M2 volunteer for more than five years.

Cutting taxes won’t help MCC coffers

Re: “MCC Canada should seek independence from government funding” letter, April 16, page 10. The question was asked, in response to “On shaky ground,” March 5, page 20, as to whether we should ask the government to “reduce taxes so that genuine supporters can afford to contribute more” to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

On brief reflection, the federal government has decreased the Goods and Services Tax by two percentage points since 2004 while not increasing any other taxes over the same period. A simple calculation reveals that the Mennonite population of Canada has saved between $50 million and $100 million in sales taxes per year since that time. Even contributing a tithe of 10 percent of this to MCC would have resulted in noticeable increases to MCC in 2005 and in 2008, when the GST reductions occurred.

I don’t recall seeing any statement about sudden increases to MCC revenues on the part of their principal donor constituency. The conclusion, it seems to me, is that a decrease in federal taxes will not translate into increasing support for organizations like MCC. Part of the reason for this may be that decreasing federal government taxes increases the amount we have to pay to private corporations or other levels of government to provide the other services that we actually need.

Without federal government funding, MCC will really need to look for other sources, but the data indicate that simply asking for tax cuts “so that genuine supporters can afford to contribute more’’ is not likely to lead to a solution to its problem.

W. John Braun, London, Ont.

Many ‘normalities’ in God’s creation

Troy Watson’s column, “The trouble with normal,” April 2, page 13, was very meaningful to me. It brought back memories of the “abnormalities” I experienced in my life journey in trying to connect with other Christians and in building relationships.

My life has been much enriched, mentally and spiritually, from my involvement with “non-normal” people: draft dodgers, hippies, Jesus people (who had dusted off their Bibles), young offenders and mentally troubled people.

I attended different churches over the years: a conservative West Prussian Mennonite church in my adolescent years, a Mennonite refugee church that met in the back room of a bar, and a fundamentalist Baptist church. I joined a Lutheran student congregation, which met in a side chapel of a huge cathedral for its early Sunday morning service. A friend invited us to a Pentecostal church led by two female pastors, and for a while we attended a charismatic church. I have finally ended up again in a joint Mennonite-Mennonite Brethren church worshipping together.

I worshipped God with these congregations in different ways, from listening quietly to the sermon and bowing my head for prayer, to trying to exuberantly worship God by raising my hands halfway, speaking in tongues and even attempting to join in a dance in the aisles of the church, as David danced before the Lord when bringing the ark into the city.

In our present fellowship, we sing in four-part harmony, listen to the sermon attentively in the chapel of a former convent and respond to it, ask questions and clarify problematic concepts, and share our own experiences. We consider it being “normal” for us.

During these years of observing and participating, my attitude towards fellow Christians has become more inclusive and accepting without affecting my own personal basic faith.

I learned to appreciate the guidance and grace of a generous, outreaching and loving God who looks at the heart and sincerity of the worshipper. From my experience, I have found no “normality,” no one-way approach and worship style for God’s children that is better than the other.

The venture of stepping out of narrow “normality” once in a while has helped me to discover the richness and versatility of life and of God’s creation, and has taught me to be more tolerant and respectful of fellow Christians who live another “normality.”

Helmut Lemke, Burnaby, B.C.

Pastor clarifies meeting report

The March 19 “Being a faithful church document avoids the sexuality issue” article on page 15 misrepresents the congregational meeting focusing on scriptural understanding at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church.

Most of the 54 people—under 20 percent of the congregation—did use the questions provided in the Mennonite Church Canada discernment tool as the guideline for small-group discussion. The reader is led to understand that the expressed opinions were mine, rather than comments that reflected reactions of a few participants. I was simply reporting on the meeting.

Personally, I am thankful that MC Canada is providing churches with tools to facilitate discussion and that Canadian Mennonite is keeping readers connected to conversations across Canada.

Marla Langelotz, Winnipeg
Marla Langelotz is the pastor of Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church, Winnipeg.

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