When I reflect on how I became a Mennonite, I find myself agreeing with what a peasant once told an Irish priest. The priest, who approached the peasant praying by the roadside, said, “You must be close to God!” The peasant replied in a way that points to the precedence of God’s love over our faith (I John 4:19), saying, “Yes, he is fond of me.”
These words resonate closely with my faith journey. Just as the peasant’s understanding of God’s love drew him to pray by a busy road, so upon arriving in Edmonton I needed to worship because I believed God’s love led me here. I was willing to worship even in a new faith context among Mennonites.
I had so much on my mind when I arrived in Edmonton from Ghana. I went through a difficult immigration process to obtain my study permit to the University of Alberta, and the date I arrived didn’t help either. On Dec. 23, 2002, there was snow on the ground and the temperature was in double-digits below zero. Not only did I feel lost, I felt like I was in a graveyard with dead-looking frozen trees. And Christmas decorations in black and red—which I knew to represent mourning colours in Ghana—added a bizarre feeling. Could all these households be mourning?
I needed to go to church like the peasant needed to release the burdens of a laborious day to God. Upon hearing my intention to worship, my host connected me to Millie and Ike Glick, who attend Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton, where other people from West Africa attend.
My first day in a Mennonite church felt wonderful. Not only did I meet fellow West Africans, I also met a guest who spoke my native Ewe language. Does it feel more like a home away from home than this?
Holyrood has been my spiritual home ever since, in ways that make me believe that divine connections are real. Millie and Ike have become Mom and Dad. I feel reconnected to characteristics of kindness, generosity, peace and love in the same way I saw with my foster-uncle, Kwadzo Tekpah, who raised me.
This reconnection to living simply has kept me a Mennonite. I feel a sense of living other than the mindless pursuit of material gain, and a sense of stewarding resources in ways that promote God’s reconciling art of creation. This attitude—call it social justice—to Christianity continues to nurture how I was raised by a man whose care for others went beyond members of his own community.
As a new Canadian Mennonite, not only am I interested in being a part of efforts to keep deepening social-justice consciousness even outside the church. Being a black man who is raising children in Canada also makes it important for me to keep pushing in this direction in all aspects of my life, and to encourage the church to continue working towards fair treatment of all peoples and groups.
In the wake of the #Makeitawkward campaign against racism in Edmonton, one may ask whether Mennonite Church Canada has a voice in this conversation. Certainly, I’ve been around Mennonites long enough to understand the tendency to remain “quiet in the land.” However, the days have so changed, and creative opportunities now exist through technology to creatively address these issues, even quietly. We can’t afford to wait until things get out of control, as we see in the neighbouring U.S.
Patrick Kukanu is father of five. He earned a master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Alberta and a master’s degree in peace studies and international development at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.