What’s at the heart of the matter? What is basic and essential to our questions of faith and life? Such questions were asked of Jesus in attempts to trap him. They are also important questions in helping us find our way to a more life-giving centre in a context where our Christian faith is often perceived as more exclusive than embracing—more restrictive than freeing. We are called from restrictive and oppressive boundary defining and patrolling by focusing on Jesus, the centre of our faith.
Jesus quoted the scriptures in speaking to the heart of the matter. “Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself.” He included stories to illustrate the meaning of neighbour.
We at Mennonite Church Saskatchewan have been challenged and shaped by our own stories of loving God and neighbour. It is with much delight and deep appreciation that we remember Dale Shiele and Helmut Isaac, as they retire from careers of highlighting the meaning of loving God and neighbour. They have taught us who our neighbours are and how to love them. On Aug. 12, Mennonite Church Saskatchewan commemorated their many years of service.
Dale Schiele has served as Coordinator of MC Sask’s Person-to-Person (P2P) for over 31 years, helping MC Sask members and others get involved in over 50,000 person hours of visits with inmates in Prince Albert prisons. As well, Dale has helped put together Circles of Support and Accountability (COSAs) to provide friendship and community for 10 high-risk sex offenders in the past 15 years.
Helmut Isaac has also been in this ministry for about 30 years, first as a volunteer visitor in the Prince Albert program for 19 years and then as Coordinator of the P2P program in Saskatoon for 11 years, helping another 6000+ person hours of visiting to happen, as well as another 7 COSAs to be organized. Both Dale and Helmut retired from their positions in 2012.
Their lives are made of beautiful stories of embracing prisoners and ex-offenders with dignity and loving them towards wholeness. Dale and Helmut have crossed fears and the prejudices we all learn to touch these lepers of our society. And even more importantly, they have helped many of us to those same experiences of loving our neighbours. Their, and our, testimony about their ex-offender friends is that “there, but for the grace of God and my Christian community, go I.”
We Mennonites aren’t always sure how to honour such testaments of our faith, testimonies that speak so strongly and challenge the stuff that’s at the heart of our gospel. We don’t do services of pronouncing our leaders into sainthood. Given the humble and unassuming nature of our dear men in question, we’re a little ambivalent about doing anything to draw attention to the wonderful incarnational theology they have displayed. So our modest and down-to-earth plan has been to invite our church community, the prison community—the whole world—and enjoy some good stories among friends, along with some good music and farmer’s sausage on a bun.