Every year Mennonite Church Alberta offers education bursaries to students who attend a regional-church congregation who have successfully enrolled in a Mennonite or Anabaptist post-secondary institution. In 2019, Claire Dueck, a member of Lethbridge Mennonite Church, was one of eight recipients.
Dueck, 18, just completed her first year at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C., having earned a certificate through Quest, Columbia’s outdoor education and discipleship program. The program included hiking, canoeing and rock climbing, as well as courses on how to be a faithful disciple of Jesus.
At Columbia she is known for saying, “Let’s go on an adventure!”
Actually, Dueck’s journey has been one big adventure. Born as a twin in Medicine Hat, Alta., to Ojibway parents and adopted by Mennonite parents of Japanese and German descent, has meant she and her brother Nick had the privilege of growing up in a multicultural home.
“I’ve been blessed,” she says, mentioning how every year she gets to celebrate Japanese New Year and then eat Mennonite foods like rollkuchen and watermelon at the Mennonite Central Committee sales.
Their favourite family movie is Lord of the Rings, which they all watch together every Christmas, reinforcing her heart for new adventures.
In June 2019, Dueck embarked on the ultimate adventure, when she was baptized and became an official member of Lethbridge Mennonite. “I didn’t think I was good enough to be baptized, but my dad really helped me,” she says. “He told me I just need to want a deeper relationship with God, and that’s what I really wanted. I knew I couldn’t do it [life] without God, so I said, ‘Here we go. We’re going on an adventure and it will be great!’ ”
One thing Dueck noticed when she moved to Abbotsford was how the churches all seemed to be so big. “I missed being in a small church,” she says. “At Lethbridge Mennonite I have 50 sets of grandparents and they love you. No matter what I do in the church, they say I’m amazing.”
As she reflects over the years, the person she has admired the most is Jon Olfert, the director of Camp Valaqua in Water Valley, Alta. Every summer she goes to camp and has worked or volunteered there for the last four years. “Jon is very kind and the most patient person I’ve ever met,” she says. “He has a really big heart, which is why I love camp. I see that it is life-changing.”
She also loves the camp atmosphere. “Sitting under the really tall trees—it’s like you’re lost in time,” she says. “It’s the highlight of every summer.”
Another person who has made a real difference in her spiritual life is church member Joani Neufeldt. Dueck chose Neufeldt to be her mentor when she was exploring baptism. As a youth leader and Sunday school teacher, Neufeldt “had a big impact on my life,” says Dueck. “She taught me to pray and she did a lot of art projects and painting with me, and it really helped my spiritual life. I now like to draw when I hear my dad preaching and it helps me a lot.”
In addition to painting, Dueck likes to read. Her favourite book is The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. She has been rereading the book every year since junior high. The book tells the inspiring story of a runner who loses her leg after being hit by a car and how she overcomes many obstacles.
Dueck continues to wonder which path God will lead her on as she continues to grow. As a child, she thought she would be a veterinarian, but for now she has decided to return to Columbia in the fall and enter the health-care assistant program. She admits she is still unsure of what she wants to do but she knows she likes helping people.
At the moment, she is a farmer-in-training at her grandparents’ farm in Lacadena, Sask., where she rides a tractor and sprays the fields. She is learning new things about growing wheat, peas, lentils and canola.
Never a dull moment for this Mennonite young woman from Coaldale, Alta.
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Alberta? Send it to Joanne De Jong at email@example.com.
—Corrected May 21, 2020
Columbia Bible College student Claire Dueck, right, and new best friend Sarah Trentalance. (Photo courtesy of Claire Dueck)
Claire Dueck, 2019 recipient of a tuition bursary from Mennonite Church Alberta, given to any student attending a regional church congregation who has successfully enrolled in a Mennonite or Anabaptist post-secondary institution. (Photo courtesy of Claire Dueck)
Claire Dueck, third from left, and new friends, from left to right, Sarah Trentalance, Julia Derksen, Trever Renshaw and Zach Kitchener from the Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C. (Photo courtesy of Claire Dueck)
Group photo of Columbia Bible College’s 2019 Christmas banquet-2019. Claire Dueck is pictured fourth from left in the back row. (Photo courtesy of Claire Dueck)