In 2001, Holyrood Mennonite Church sponsored four men who were living in a refugee camp in Ghana with their families due to a 14-year civil war in Liberia. Over time, the number of Liberian families in the church has grown.
At present, almost all the children in the church are West African, including four teenage girls, all from Liberia.
With their parents working shifts, forming a youth group was difficult. How could they get to the church, and all on time? Living in Canada generally means both parents are working, and the girls have a lot of family responsibilities in their mostly patriarchal community.
Since teenagers live in one culture at home and another at school, the question was asked, “How can the girls have a safe place just for them, where they can ask questions and grow in their faith as empowered women in the church?”
The solution: Girls Club!
Once a month for the last six years, four to five Liberian girls are picked up at their homes and taken to the home of the club leader or the home of a woman in the church. First, they make a meal together. This can include fajitas, fried rice or maybe stuffed peppers. Everyone is given a task like chopping onions or setting the table, and music fills the kitchen.
This is followed by a Bible study, which often features a woman from the Bible. This year’s theme verse is Luke 10:27: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
The evening ends with an activity. Sometimes it is a field trip, like going to an escape room or visiting a corn maze, but often it involves learning something from a woman in the church. Ruth Goudreau taught the girls to crochet dish rags. Margot Brunn taught them to decorate Ukrainian Easter eggs. Lori Key taught them to paint on canvases.
In November, the girls learned to make origami birds and an airplane with a cockpit with Sue and Ron Taniguchi. This was trickier than expected, with “double tucks” and “inside-reverse folds.” Young women from the Mennonite Voluntary Service Unit in Edmonton hosted the evening. They taught the girls to make a German traditional dish—spätzle (egg noodle dumplings)—which they baked with onions and cheese. It was fun to discover that the German young women knew the same “Superman grace” that the Liberian girls had learned at Camp Valaqua, so they sang it together before the meal. The girls asked the volunteers about their lives in Germany, and Ron about his Japanese heritage. African dancing took place in the kitchen. On the way home, one of the girls said, “That was so fun!”
When asked why they thought Girls Club was important, Helena Chokpelleh answered, “It’s where we learn that God is fun!”
Tarnisha Snogba said, “Girls Club matters because it helps us grow closer to God.” She also loved learning to ski for the first time at the acreage of church member Carol Lint. “I put on the skis and then fell into a bush,” Tarnisha said with a laugh.
Venissa Tumbay, who lost her mother two years ago in a car accident along with two of her mother’s friends, said, “I like Girl’s Club because we get closer with each other.” She also loved making Valentine’s gift baskets at the Taniguchi home.
Tarnisha said the name of this article should be “Live, love and laugh” because that’s what this club means to her.
Joanne De Jong is the main leader and organizer of Holyrood Mennonite Church’s Girls Club.
This article appears in the Dec. 9, 2019 print issue, with the headline "‘Live, love and laugh.’"
—Corrected Dec. 6, 2019
Members of the Holyrood Mennonite Girls Club stop to get their photo taken on their way to a sand sculpture competition this summer. Pictured from left to right: Helena Chokpelleh, Venissa Tumbay and Tarnisha Snogba. (Photo by Joanne De Jong)
The Holyrood Mennonite Church Girls Club learns to make traditional food (spätzle) from Mennonite Voluntary Service members. Pictured from left to right: Venissa Tumbay, Marie Bickensdoerfer, Malin Huber, Nina Schulze and Tarnisha Snogba. (Photo by Joanne De Jong)
Sue Taniguchi, left, helps members of the Holyrood Mennonite Church Girls Club make origami birds and an airplane. Pictured from Tanigughi’s left: Helena Chokpelleh, Venissa Tumbay, and Marie Bickensdoerfer, an MVS-Edmonton member. (Photo by Joanne De Jong)
The Holyrood Mennonite Girls Club goes to a farm and corn maze in October. Pictured from left to right: Venissa Tumbay, Tarnisha Snogba and Helena Chokpelleh. (Photo by Joanne De Jong)