Young Mennonites ride for refuge

Across the country youths and young adults cycle to raise money for MCC programming

October 26, 2011 | Young Voices | Volume 15 Issue 21
Emily Loewen | Young Voices Editor
Markham, Ont.

The grey sky has the look of impending rain, and 50-kilometre-per-hour winds whip around the Markham (Ont.) Mission Church parking lot. Instead of sleeping at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning—or at least playing video games in pyjamas—eight youths mount their bicycles on Oct. 15 and prepare to cycle 25 km in support of refugees and others seeking shelter.

As part of Toronto United Mennonite Church’s team in the Ride for Refuge, Magdalene Klassen, Sarita Lepp, Alexandra Neufeldt, Jerrom Ogen Rwot, Derek Schmucker, Isaac Thiessen, Madeleine Wichert and Sylvie Wichert contributed to the team’s fundraising—more than $3,800 in total. Of that, 70 percent will go to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario programs.

Organized by International Teams Canada and Blue Sea Philanthropy, the Ride for Refuge includes events across Canada and the U.S. The ride raises funds to support refugees, people who are homeless or victims of human trafficking, among others, and allows partner agencies like MCC to raise funds for their own programs. In Ontario, the money will support MCC progams for Low German newcomers, restorative justice and refugee sponsorship, among others, MCC Ontario program director Wendy Adema wrote in an e-mail.

For 27-year-old Emily Dueck, raising money for MCC motivated her to join her church’s team. Dueck works with Lazarus Rising, an MCC Ontario program that responds to homelessness and marginalization in Toronto, and she wanted to help raise money for that work. Dueck feels that getting young people involved in activities like the Ride for Refuge is important. “We need young people to care about the world and larger issues,” she said.

Encouraging youths to care about broader issues is one reason Jonathan Slater, pastor of youth ministries at Toronto United Mennonite, helped them to get their bikes to Markham. Events like this demonstrate that “participating in fundraising is part of what people who are in the church, and who are followers of Christ, do,” Slater said.

In Ontario, MCC far surpassed its goal of raising $25,000, bringing in more than $41,000 through the Ride for Refuge.

Slater also wanted the youths to take part in an event that helped build relationships with adults in the church and, of course, have fun, although he mused that “the youth would have preferred an afternoon . . . start time.”

Even with the chilly weather and the early morning schedule, fun was a big draw, according to 17-year-old Madeleine Wichert and 16-year-old Magdalene Klassen. Wichert had straightforward reasons for riding: “Because I like biking, because it was a youth event and because it’s a good cause.”

The youths and young adults from the Toronto church were only a handful of the young people participating in rides across the country, however. Michael Wiens, 23, rode in the Leamington, Ont., event on Sept. 24. Despite a broken chain, which left him riding the whole 29 km in one gear, Wiens found it relaxing. “Just being in the midst of God’s creation was a big highlight,” he said.

For Kaytee Edwards, who organized a team in the Saskatoon, Sask., ride, events like this help young people learn more about MCC. Although her team only had one youth attend, Edwards, 26, noticed that there were lots of other young people at the event, and she hopes to draw out more next year.

Riding in cold, windy weather also serves as a reminder of the struggles refugees and homeless people face. That thought helped motivate Tracy Andrews, 26, of Listowel Mennonite Church, Ont. “I know this sounds cheesy,” said Andrews, who rode in the Waterloo ride, “but lots of times I thought, well refugees don’t get to choose when they’re coming, so why should I get to choose the conditions I’m biking in.”

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