On April 30, several Muslim families from Waterloo Region toured The Mennonite Story in St. Jacobs, in order to understand more about Mennonites.
Leon Kehl of Floradale Mennonite Church extended the invitation as part of his effort to foster respect and mutual understanding between Mennonites and Muslims, something he has been working at over many years.
Del Gingrich, the director of this interpretive centre, explained that it was created 40 years ago to help tourists gain some perspective about Mennonite faith and life. Tourists had been lining up outside of local Old Order Mennonite meetinghouses with their cameras and sometimes bothering the horses tied up outside. Last year, The Mennonite Story had visitors from 90 countries.
During a time for questions, Kehl asked someone to translate into the Turkish language, since many of the Muslims were recent newcomers from Turkey. They were interested to hear that Mennonites first came to North America due to oppression in Europe. As followers of the Gülen movement who were forced to flee from their homeland in recent years, these Turkish Muslims were interested to hear that Mennonites also found refuge in Canada. As the group toured through the displays, smaller conversations between Muslims and Mennonites continued.
This learning opportunity came a week before the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim time of fasting during daylight hours. With some help from Kehl, the local Intercultural Dialogue Institute, which exists to promote interfaith and intercultural understanding through its office located at the Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, hosted iftar meals, at which Muslims and non-Muslims ate together after sundown and learned more about the Muslim faith.
Because Floradale Mennonite has provided funds to help with expenses, the number of meals expanded this year. Four local Mennonite churches —Floradale, Breslau, Waterloo North, and Stirling Avenue in Kitchener—hosted iftar meals, as well as Trinity United in Kitchener.
Extending the table
Over coffee and Turkish sweets at The Mennonite Story in St. Jacobs, Jim Loepp Thiessen, left, has an animated conversation with Faruk Ekinci and Mustafa Ustan while Mustafa Jr. listens in. These Turkish Muslims were interested to learn that many Mennonites also came to Canada as refugees. (Photo by Barb Draper)