Tragic story ends in reconciliation

As part of Canadian Mennonite's 25th anniversary issue, former Manitoba correspondent Evelyn Rempel Petkau reflects on a story she covered during her time at the magazine

September 28, 2022 | CM at 25 | Volume 26 Issue 20
Evelyn Rempel Petkau | Manitoba Correspondent (Nov. 1997 to April 2015)
(Canadian Mennonite file photo)

In 2013, I wrote about the Old Oder Mennonite community near Gladstone, Man., after 13 of its adults were charged with child abuse and 40 children were removed from their homes by Child and Family Services (CFS). The community of 12 families had moved to Manitoba from Ontario only six years earlier, in order to live out their faith free from the incursions of society.

Now they found themselves enmeshed in the law, government, the RCMP and national media. (“Old Order Mennonite community in turmoil, July 8; “Old Order community waits for children to return,” Oct. 28; “Old Order community begins to get children back, Nov. 25.)

I took an interest in this story because I had visited the community and written about it in 2007, impressed by the deep-rooted faith and their practice of a simple life.

When faced with the abuse charges in 2013, they reached out to Peter Rempel who, as executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba at the time of their arrival, had welcomed them and offered friendship and support.

With Rempel’s assistance, the community willingly embraced counselling and other supports.

Today, Rempel recalls, “The community leaders wrote a letter to everyone they could think of—crown prosecutors, judges, the RCMP, counsellors—expressing remorse for what they had done and the trouble they had caused.”

After at least a year in care, the children returned home. A memo of understanding between CFS and the Old Order group ensured that if there were future allegations of abuse, leaders would be consulted prior to children being taken away.

The depth of their commitment to faith and community enabled this group to acknowledge their wrongdoing, learn from it and come through it even stronger.

I have been impressed by a story that began as sad and tragic turned into a story of healing, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Other correspondents from Manitoba: J. Neufeld, Beth Downey Sawatzky, Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe (current).

Read more stories from CM's 25th anniversary issue:
Angelika Dawson: Two stories about my son
Dave Rogalsky: Visiting congregations
Donna Schulz: Inspired by The Land and its caretakers
Ferne Burkhardt: Wonderful gifts
Aiden Enns: Fanning Anabaptist fame

(Canadian Mennonite file photo)

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