Evangelical Mennonite Conference logo

A movement of people advancing Christ’s kingdom culture as we live, reach, gather, and teach.

Events

See our events page.

News

  • Verna Doerksen, Manfred and Stella Neff Honoured at Recognition Supper

    September 15, 2016

    by Terry M. Smith

    Blumenort, Man.—A once exuberant child along with a pastor having roots in Germany and his wife were the centres of attention on Sept. 8, 2016, at Blumenort EMC as friends and family, and Board of Missions and national office staff gathered to honour Verna Doerksen and Manfred (Fred) and Stella Neff.

    Ken Zacharias, EMC Foreign Secretary, welcomed people and led in prayer. A dinner followed—taco salad and cupcakes—prepared by Diana Peters and others.

    After dinner Rob Wiebe, part of Blumenort EMC, led in singing. Trish Reimer, from Prairie Grove, accompanied on piano.

    Anthony Reimer, from Blumenort EMC, based a devotional on Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 12. California Redwoods are tall trees that survive tough times by interlinking their shallow roots. A four-word summary of Paul in 1 Cor. 12 is, “We need each other.” We are indispensible, interdependent, and interconnected. To reach the world for Christ, we need each other, he said.

    Verna Doerksen
    Carl Doerksen, Verna’s brother, said that Verna’s cross-cultural service took her to Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, and to Redcliff, Alta.  Verna has a heart for helping others, is adventurous and energetic, and frugal. A highlight for Verna was when her parents visited her in Paraguay and Peru.

    Wycliffe’s Paul Meisner, with his wife Alice watching, spoke of how they have appreciated Verna’s willingness to go where led to serve in translation, literacy, and discipleship. Colleagues spoke of her being unpretentious, brave, friendly, one who made light of hardships, patient with village people.

    Verna replied that her heart was full. She was thankful for supportive co-workers in Paraguay, and could not take much credit because no one works alone.


    While she served as a nurse in Paraguay, nursing was not her passion; cross-cultural work and literacy training were. She wanted to give her life to something eternal, and delighted to help people read Scripture in their language because the Word of the Lord stands forever.

    Someone said to her, “I could never do what you do.” Verna said she could not do it either, but people prayed and God was faithful.

    Tim Dyck, General Secretary, presented Verna with a plaque. Diana Peters gave her flowers and a hug.

      Manfred and Stella Neff
      Terry Scales of Community Bible Fellowship in Swan River, Man., said Fred and Stella moved to     
      Swan River in the late 1980s. They later moved to Grand Rapids, Man., to serve a small church 
      with Mid-Way Christian Leadership.

      Don Buhler, also of CBF, saw Fred’s service as displaying the humility and gratitude of which Paul
      speaks in Eph. 3. Don said people are praying for the Neffs as  Fred has chemotherapy for cancer.

      Fred is from Germany and sees Canada through fresh eyes, wrote Ferlin Abraham (read by 
      Malcolm Munroe, Mid-Way’s board chair). It took Ferlin a while to realize the significance of Fred’s
      choice of a pet. It is said that as an owner and a pet grow older, they become more alike. That’s
      true here “because I think Fred is a German Shepherd,” said Ferlin.

      Fred replied that he was undeserving of this honour because of discouragement in ministry. Recently diagnosed with cancer, he has peace, a renewed love for the Lord, and wants many more years of ministry.

    Stella said they have been together 44 years, and Fred is her strength. He is alone, she said, since most of his family members were killed during the bombing of Dresden in 1945. She welcomed prayer. Ken Zacharias led in prayer for Fred and Stella.   

    Tim Dyck, General Secretary, presented Fred and Stella with a plaque. Diana Peters gave them flowers and hugs.

    Gerald Reimer, BOM Missions Mobilizer, led in a prayer time. Some requests were shared generally, others within small groups.       

    Rob Wiebe led in Drinking at the Springs of Living Water, and then Ken Zacharias wished everyone a good night.  

  • Testimony of Souleymane TRAORÉ

    August 17, 2016

    Souleymane TRAORÉ, Member of the Eglise Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso, Samogohiri local church, is a carpenter-welder by training and by profession. He is married to one wife and father of three daughters.

    After a stay in Ouagadougou where he learned the carpentry and welding trades, he returned to the village due to serious health problems, which had also led him to the Lord while he was still in Ouagadougou with his family.

    Once in Samogohiri, he joined the Mennonite Church of Samogohiri while still suffering from his illness. He tells us his testimony following the acquisition of the "microloan" in 2013.

    Family dependency


    Souleymane in front of the church at Samogohiri

    “After my illness, I was in a very difficult social situation. The reason is that because of my illness I couldn't work and I was obliged to depend on my larger family, who treated me badly despite the evidence of my situation. The members of my immediate family worked with them, but no one gave account of the profits of this work.  No one thought to give us something like pocket money. Our sole benefit was limited to what we all received as meals in the family. For other needs, it was my wife who made an individual effort to respond. It happened that I had no sandals and she purchased some for me. At one point I ran out of clothes, and the local church supported me. The worst part was that my wife and my children were often obliged to go to the field with others and not to the Church on Sundays because we also depended on this shared work. Note that the head of the family was my younger brother,  because my  elder brother had already died while I was still in Ouagadougou with my family. In sum I will say that I have lived painful moments with this dependency. But, the Lord in his sovereignty, has given me a way out.

    Autonomy thanks to the "microloan” from the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso

    While I was still experiencing this difficult situation, the Evangelical Mennonite Church initiated the system of micro loans in 2013. I was interested and I sought to borrow the sum of 150,000 cfa francs ($300). Thinking about what to do with the loan, I swung between the grains trade and hardware. The Lord eventually convinced me to go with the idea of selling hardware.  So when I received the loan, I entrusted myself to fellow church member brother Bala Sourabié, from whom I purchased a few items including paint.   I made a small table to showcase my goods. Given my inexperience and the winter season, I was not able to repay the entire amount that first year and I explained that to the Loans Monitoring Committee. The following year, I took my courage in both hands and God helped me to repay it with double interest.

    I've learned from this initial failure. With the rest of the items and with the support of Bala, I’ve climbed back up the hill. While I had begun with the small table, I ended up building a small house in which I placed shelves. Currently I am considering building another house because the one I have is too small to contain my merchandise. In addition, the 2016 round of microloans gave me additional purchasing power and reinforced my need for more space.

    Since my hardware startup, I also returned to my carpentry and welding trades that go well with a hardware business.

    Part of Souleymane’s hardware store

    From the larger family compound in which we had been living, I also moved with my family into the courtyard of the Church. The high point of all this is that I have rediscovered my physical, moral, and spiritual health.  I found health at all these levels because all the persecution I endured in the moral and spiritual areas because of my faith, is no longer happening. All this to say that the 'microloans' program of the Evangelical Mennonite Church was very beneficial for me and my family. Thanks to this we are now autonomous. We are able to meet our needs including daily bread, schooling for children, clothing, and health to name a few.

    We can give thanks to the Lord, and also say thanks to the initiators and managers of the microloans program, which is a real springboard for the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso.

    -AIMM

    Note: EMC Project Builders has provided funding towards the loan initiative in Burkina Faso.

  • Council Approves Option Two; Church Planting Highlighted

    July 12, 2016


    STEINBACH, Man.—EMC delegates from five provinces met on July 2, 2016, at SBC and reviewed options for The Messenger, learned more about the 12% rollback of the 2016 budget, were updated on potential church plants, and heard from a new pastor. 

    Opening
    Moderator Abe Bergen welcomed delegates. Anthony Reimer said, in a devotional, that a God-given vision gives direction and satisfaction as people look back. 

    The strategic plan is tough implementing, but general secretary Tim Dyck is using a template to track changes, Abe Bergen said. Convention 2017 will be held at Morweena EMC on June 11-13.  

    A committee will be formed to review organizational matters, such as the constitution’s stating that the moderator must be ordained for at least three years. The role of women in the church was to be discussed after the Statement of Faith review; the time is close. 

    Jessica Wichers, BCM member, said the Board of Church Ministries was to provide three options that reflected a strategic evaluation of the magazine. An online survey of EMCers revealed how people prefer to receive the magazine: digital (57%), print (25%), both (18%). Respondents said The Messenger’s top three purposes are inspiration, unity, and instruction. Some people read more than 50% of it, some less, and some not at all. A strong majority (64%) thinks the magazine is a “suitable place to discuss controversial issues.” 

    Chair Russell Doerksen presented three options. Option One was Print Focused with nine print issues, a third-party survey of EMC readers and non-readers, and a switch from PDF to a “mobile friendly solution.” Option Two was a Balanced Digital with six print issues, a blog-type website as a digital solution, increased print quality and honoraria, and a switch from PDF to a “mobile friendly solution.” Option Three was Digital Focused with four print issues, a blog-type website, a “mobile friendly solution,” an EM Conference app, and quality “best of” issues. 

    There was considerable discussion. The BCM was commended for how it responded to the council’s past direction. The council voted for Option Two—Balanced Digital. 

    Board of Leadership and Outreach chair Peter Doerksen said it is dealing with Ward Parkinson’s resignation, appreciates the Statement of Faith committee’s work, and wants to strengthen the ministerial examination process. 

    Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, said that Jesus is telling us to come or go over there. Discussions are happening with a Chinese church, about another church in Winnipeg, and about Champion and Airdrie (both in Alta.). Work is happening on Dakota Tipi, in Ste. Agathe (both in Man.) and in Two Hills, Alta. Church plants reach people for Christ, he said. 

    Pastor Hyoungjin (Frankie) Kim shared that he had learned of Pelly through the Internet. He was visiting New York City when he learned Pelly still needed a pastor and sent his resume. He was excited to be “the first Asian pastor” in the EMC.

    The Statement of Faith review has gone well; the second draft is to be presented in November, Ward Parkinson said. The goal is not to get it done, but to get it done together in a way that faithfully reflects our understanding of Scripture. The hope is to present a revised version to conference council in a year, he said.

    Enthusiasm over sponsoring refugees has turned into hard work, but Ward said churches are doing well and need to “keep it up.” He expressed thanks for allowing him to “hang out” as conference pastor. People prayed for blessing and direction upon Ward and Janine. 

    Board of Trustees
    The current Extended Health Benefit Plan is not working well, BOT member Jake Elias said. Consideration is being given to a Health Spending Account. The current shortfall till June is $179,000, much improved from $356,000 in 2015. 

    Board of Missions
    Vice chair Alvira Friesen said that there is urgency in our reaching, as well as in our living, gathering, and teaching. 

    Foreign secretary Ken Zacharias spoke about Nicaragua (a 50th celebration happens in 2017) and northern Mexico.Church planting teams operate in Minga Guazu, Paraguay, and in Guadalajara, Mexico. 

    Zacharias encouraged churches to debrief with workers as part of member care. Anthony Reimer (Blumenort) spoke of Safe Haven Ministry, where missionaries can seek, with anonymity and safety, counsel about problems. 

    Truth and Reconciliation
    From the TRC’s 94 calls to action, Tim Dyck highlighted items 48 (the U.N. declaration), 49 (the Doctrine of Discovery), 59 (an education strategy in churches), and 60 (training of clergy). He said that up to one-third of EMC churches has a ministry with FN people. The EMC could write on the Doctrine of Discovery (seems cold and impersonal), hold workshops, tell our story “together” with FN people and hire a FN resource person, he suggested.

    - Terry M. Smith

  • Ministerial Ponders Draft Statement of Faith

    July 11, 2016


    STEINBACH, Man.—The EMC’s ministerial spent the day of July 1, 2016, on the campus of Steinbach Bible College responding to the first draft of the proposed EMC Statement of Faith. 

    Opening
    Ministerial members were welcomed by Board of Leadership and Outreach (BLO) chair Peter Doerksen, and Ralph Unger led in the song Wonderful Grace of Jesus. Host pastor Earl Unger (Stony Brook) led in a devotional based on Rom. 15:1-7, saying that being strong is shown in our attitudes to non-essentials. God expects us to be sensitive to other Christians and to build them up. He encouraged prayer for unity and praise for biblical unity.

    Statement of Faith Review
    Dr. Darryl Klassen, chair of the Statement of Faith Review Committee, said input was welcomed today and by written submission after the meeting. The revision will be presented in six months, he said. Conference pastor Ward Parkinson said, “For some of us theology geeks, this is like the Stanley Cup.” Fighting is allowed only on the peace position, Ward quipped. 

    A video is presented that outlined the process to date. The current version of the Statement of Faith is 20 years old, a committee was formed to review it, wide input was sought from churches, and the draft was prepared. After input, the second draft will be presented in November 2016. Once approved by the ministerial, it will be presented for approval to conference council in 2017; the statement is part of the EMC constitution, which can be changed only with council approval. 

    The 13 articles are The Bible, God (God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit), The Creation, The Dignity of the Human Race, The Fall of the Human Race, Satan, Salvation, Discipleship, The Life of Peace, The Church, The Ordinances (Believer’s Water Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, Footwashing), The Resurrection, The Return and Final Triumph of Christ). In the new draft, the names and number of articles remain the same. 

    The ministerial members picked three of six half-hour discussion groups in the morning and again in the afternoon—each in a separate classroom. Members got to attend a total of six groups, which permitted significant discussion. BLO and review committee members guided discussions and recorded responses to help shape the second draft. 

    For instance, at the session on The Bible, committee member Cameron McKenzie asked three questions about Article One: What do you like? What do you have questions about? What is a concern?

    Tribute to Ward and Janine 
    When the groups reassembled in SBC’s chapel, chair Peter Doerksen highlighted that this was Ward Parkinson’s final ministerial meeting as the EMC’s conference pastor. There was a time of tribute for Ward and Janine. Ward was recognized and thanked for his wisdom to churches, his encouragement, being a good friend, visitation, for staying overnight, evenings of chatting, being a good conference pastor who works hard and well, constancy, humour. 

    Ward and Janine were recognized as a good team that is encouraging. They went “above and beyond”—Janine with watching children, and both with being hospitable when two delegates had an unexpected three-day stay after their vehicle broke down. Alvin Plett, Charles Koop, and Peter Doerksen led in prayer for Ward and Janine.

    Prayer Time  
    A time of prayer followed in small groups: for a new church plant, for a hurting church that suffered a split and is involved in mediation, for returned missionaries seeking a new ministry, for “serious” dating with Logos Church, for Many Rooms and its doubling to six house churches, for a church that is “floundering,” for storms weathered—and more. 

    - Terry M. Smith

     

  • Those Who Have Ears to Hear...God's Vision for the EMC

    July 08, 2016

    EMC Convention 2016 Highlights from EM Conference on Vimeo.

    EMC Convention 2016 focused on the theme of God’s vision for our Conference. Three pastors from EMC churches spoke about specific aspects of our vision, each with a challenging message. We delighted in our times of gathering as Ministerial, Conference Council, at inspirational sessions, and as youth and children. All three inspirational sessions were live streamed, providing even greater access to Convention.

    The three inspirational sessions were filled with wonderful worship music, inspiring stories of faithful living from the churches in the region, motivating reports from church planters and missionaries serving in our Conference, and ending with a challenging message from our guest speakers. Each session also included a short video to explain how God helped us develop the vision for our Conference.

    Garry Koop unpacked the main statement of our Vision on Friday evening: “EMC is a movement of people advancing Christ’s Kingdom culture as we live, reach, gather and teach.” His excitement and enthusiasm was contagious, and we were inspired by the vision that God has placed before us.

    Darryl Klassen presented the case on Saturday evening for how we “teach the gospel with a Christ-centred approach to Scripture, affirming Anabaptist convictions.” He reminded us that the gospel is much more than personal salvation – it is the story of Jesus within the entire story of Scripture.

    Dylan Barkman provided a challenge on Sunday morning from the letter to the church in Laodicea, reminding us that the only way for us to be truly rich is to follow the pattern that Jesus provides: repent, listen, open the door, invite Jesus in, and enjoy real and personal communication with Him. Then we will awaken the “life-changing experiences when we gather.”

    Offerings were taken on Friday evening for the support of SBC ($5,970), on Saturday evening to offset Convention expenses ($5,373), and for Missions projects on Sunday morning ($17,850). More donations are still being received.

    A special thank you is extended to all of the volunteers who gave generously of their time and expertise to make Convention a special time of gathering. The Region 8A churches participated enthusiastically, and Lloyd and Marilyn Plett provided solid leadership in planning Convention. Thanks also to SBC for providing a wonderful venue for our gathering. We are also grateful to the national staff, who are dedicated to the ministry of our Conference, including the Convention event.

    The Convention weekend was encouraging to all who attended. Don’t miss out on this fantastic event! Make your plans to attend Convention next year in Morweena, Manitoba from June 9-11, 2017.
  • Advancing Ministry Through Prayer

    June 10, 2016


    Another exciting ministry opportunity is coming this fall when EMC Missions will again be sending a prayer team to Guadalajara, Mexico. We invite people from any EMC church to join together and pray on-sight with insight.

    Our missionary team of nine people in Guadalajara depend upon the prayers of supporters and what better way to increase the effectiveness of your prayers than to visit the mission field in person.

    Imagine sitting across the table from one of the missionary women listening to her share about the challenges of being a wife and mom while also preparing a devotional for an afternoon Bible study with several neighbourhood women.

    See yourself biking the beautiful trails in the nearby forest while one of the missionary men explains the challenges of offering counsel to a man who is concerned about the well-being of his family.

    Find out what life is like for MK’s as you meet their friends and pray for their teachers at the local elementary school.

    Discover the mental exhaustion of attending a Bible study in another language, while delighting in the fellowship of faith that crosses all boundaries.

    Come and experience the presence of God in a powerful way as you pray for our workers and for their ministries.

    Dates: November 8-15, 2016
    Approximate Cost: $1,400

    For more information contact Diana or Gerald.

  • A Leap of Faith

    May 25, 2016

    In 2013 NTM Aviation realized they could not maintain their aging fleet of six fixed-wing aircraft in Papua New Guinea (PNG) any longer. They had hoped to replace them with three Quest Kodiaks at $2,000,000 each but saw no way to financially accomplish this. When they were forced to shut down medical evacuation service from PNG to Australia they realized that their only option was to move ahead by faith and ask God to do the impossible.
     
    Step one was to train pilots for the new aircraft they were trusting God to provide. NTM Aviation began training Jon Leedahl, a very experienced pilot, in the fall of 2013. When they only had 10% of the money for one Kodiak they sent him to PNG to begin his on-field training. It was April 2014, a month after Jon and his family arrived in PNG, that a sponsor stepped forward and offered NTM Aviation the first PNG Kodiak if they could pick it up within a month. In response to the prayers of God’s people, a second Kodiak was donated in July. In October of that same year, Jon was hit by a truck on his way home from the hangar in PNG. Another mission aviation organization was able to medivac him to Australia in their Kodiak, where he miraculously survived the accident but lost his left leg, seemingly ending his flying career. Everyone was asking, “Why Lord?” With two Kodiaks on their way to PNG, NTM Aviation did not have a check and training pilot to head up the flight training for the other pilots waiting in line. Again, God answered their prayers when a former PNG Chief pilot stepped forward to make trips overseas to train those waiting pilots.
     
    Today two new Kodiaks are already serving with NTM Aviation in PNG. Jon Leedahl, recovered from his injuries and with a high-tech prosthetic leg, is back in PNG flying. Our former Cessna 206 pilots plus all our new pilots on the field are being trained to fly the Kodiaks, and a third and final Kodiak departed for PNG April 30, 2016, to complete the fleet conversion. A promise fulfilled!
     
    This story started in 2006 when NTM Aviation was in the early stages of our venture with Quest, and a grade three class committed itself to provide one Kodiak for them. That plane has been flying in Asia-Pacific since 2012. But the exciting thing is that the sponsors who provided the funds for the next three Kodiaks first heard about this project through this grade three class. It is all a testimony to God’s gracious provision which started with a group of nine-year-old children. It is all a demonstration of how God honours obedience demonstrated by a leap of faith, whether by a children or by a large organization like NTM Aviation. God still does the impossible. Are you willing to count on that? The children did. NTM Aviation did. How about you?

    To God be the Glory!

    - Phil and Ellen Koop

  • Run for EMC Missions Advancement

    May 20, 2016

    On June 19, five staff from the EMC will join together to run a marathon. They will not be alone. In fact thousands of courageous people run the full or half marathon every year. So why do you need to know about what these five people are doing? Because they will be running for a purpose beyond themselves.

    Team EMC will be running to raise money for EMC Missions Advancement. The goal is to restore funds, through creative means, in areas that were cut from the budget. Funds received will be used in Mexico and Paraguay for national and missionary leadership training, outreach events, benevolence for those in need, hospitality, and more!

    The team, made up of Tim Dyck, Diana Peters, Ernie & Diane Koop, and Gerald Reimer, invite you to donate money to the EMC on their behalf. Their goal is to raise $12,000 with this run. Consider making a donation per mile run (e.g. $26, $52, $104) or dedicate your support to one of the team members. So go ahead, send in a donation on their behalf, and bless the work our missionaries are doing around the world.

    Ways to give:

    1. By sending cheque or cash to 440 Main Street, Steinbach, MB R5G 1Z5 (designate as "Missions Advancement")
    2. By calling our office to make a credit card donation (204-326-6401)
    3. By donating online (emconference.ca/donate and select “Missions Advancement”)
    4. By starting a fundraising challenge at Canada Helps and challenging your church and friends to give as well!


    Interesting Facts
    :

    Team EMC (l-r): 
    Diana Peters, Diane Koop, Gerald Reimer, Tim Dyck
     
    Missing: 
    Ernie Koop

     
     

    The average age of this team is 48 years old.

    All our ages added together comes to 241 years.

    Our goal is to run the 42100-meter marathon in 241 minutes (or less).

    - EMC

  • Believers in Sidi Love Their Persecutors

    May 19, 2016

    In the village of Sidi, Burkina Faso, a number of villagers have become followers of Jesus through the ministry of the Evangelical Mennonite Church (EMBF) in that country. However, there have been ongoing tensions between the believers and the leaders of the village. The chief in the village threatened to use force of arms to chase the believers out of the village, or even to kill them because they were refusing to provide sacrifices for offerings to the ancestors. According to the chief they should therefore not have access to any land under village control. Without access to land for planting crops, the believers cannot survive. 

    There was a standoff of sorts. The leaders of the EMBF had attempted to gain protection for the believers from the regional political authority (Prefet). The Prefet said he needed to meet with village leaders but kept avoiding such a meeting.

    During this time EMBF leaders wanted to send a pastor to shepherd the flock in Sidi, but the village leaders did not permit him to come and live in the village. So, Emmanuel Coulibaly took up residence in Fon, a nearby village, from which he regularly visits believers in Sidi.

    Since the Prefet was not moving to resolve the situation, the village chiefs apparently did not feel that they could in reality proceed with the expulsion of the believers. An uneasy truce developed. In the spring of 2015 the believers went to plant their fields as they had done in previous years. Nothing happened.

    Last year they were once again able to plant and harvest their crops. During harvest time the believers got the idea that they should approach the chief and offer to help him harvest his own cotton crop. They did so and he accepted! 

    This act of love and humility broke through the hostility that Salif, the chief, had demonstrated previously. When he accepted their offer to help him with his field he was accepting that they are part of his village.

    Currently, tension in the village has greatly diminished and believers are once again preparing to seed their crops. The believers meet regularly for worship. The church building that Salif had threatened to destroy is still standing. And the church is alive and well in Sidi. Their loyalty to Jesus, who told us to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”, is shining both within the village and well beyond.

    - AIMM and EMC

  • God Speaks Zapotec

    April 26, 2016

    The kennel of dogs across the street had barely begun their regular early morning barking as we all gathered on the street. The early morning air was unusually crisp, perhaps accentuated by our nervous anticipation of the singularly special Sunday event about to unfold in the hours ahead. With handshakes, hugs, and greetings exchanged, we grabbed hold of our backpacks of contingency food and clothing provisions and our missionary entourage was off.

    Bumps and dust seem to lead the way along the logging road meandering up the mountainside. It seems to have been widened since the last time I traveled here seven years earlier. As I look down the steep embankment on my right, the sudden drop off gives way to the amazing landscape below. I reimagine the trip Grace and Joan, two single young missionary women made so long ago. Coming down the mountain the first time, sitting on the back wheel well of a pick up truck, driven by willing strangers, fear and exhilaration must have been nearly indiscernible. How courageous. How crazy. How committed.


    Grace Thiessen (1948-2014)

    My imaginings are interrupted by the white misty clouds, which seem to rise from the valley below. But in fact, it is we who have ascended above the clouds, winding our way towards the village. It has been hours, but it seems much shorter. Again, to my right, the sky opens up, and the road outlines the ridge leading from where we are to the mountain on the other side, where villagers and celebration await. We make our way along the ridge, now leaving one mountain for the other, and approach the village so dear to Grace’s heart, Santa Ana Yareni.

    The villagers have already begun to assemble in the school courtyard. The women, short, wrinkled from the weather and work, wearing various colored aprons arrive. Men with hats, others with canes, young men, and village police alike also make their way through the cobble streets, between their houses and huts, toward the awaiting festivities. A brass and woodwind band from Pastor Joel’s church in Etla, where Grace went to worship when not in the village had taken the stage. She loved these people too, singing songs in their heart-language, Zapotec, with her guitar. Now, having practiced for months and months, they played with gusto, out of love for her and God.

    Joan Smith, greeting and celebrating with villagers


    The entire village council was in attendance. Remarkable for so many reasons. They began assembling at the head table, when Odilon, Grace’s trusted translation helper from the village, and designated organizer, came to bring me and Ken Zacharias (Foreign Secretary, E.M. Conference) to the head table. I would have preferred a different seat, but I also wanted to respect culture and protocol. As the band behind me began to play and the program underway, I glanced over the small sea of faces in front of me. I felt like I was sitting at the shoreline of emotion, as waves rolled over me. At times I was overcome, seeing these villagers, thinking of Grace, and the Yareni Zapotec New Testament, her life’s work, without exaggeration, which we were about to hand out, person-to-person. But I am a bondservant, sent here for a purpose, so the waves will have to wait.

    It is my turn to speak, offering greetings, representing connection for Grace, Steinbach EMC, the Conference, and Canada too. Marilyn, another of Grace’s translation colleagues stands at my right, translating extemporaneously as I speak, occasionally looking at my notes to ensure we are literally on the same page. Again, the waves roll. It is good to sit down.

    Garry Koop and Ken Zacharias hand out Bibles

    The program now accelerates to the climax, as the chairs empty, giving way to a line up on our left of villagers eager to receive their free Yareni Zapotec New Testament. Free, because, Grace and Joan have paid for them out of their own goodness, generosity, and pocket books. One by one, they file by. We shake hands, smile, extend greetings, a bag of mementos, and of course the New Testament. God speaks Zapotec!  

    With the formal proceedings completed, the courtyard is quickly transformed into a banquet hall, thanks to the village police and the many men and women, filled with joy, now lending a hand to set up tables, and distribute cases of pop to the tables. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, gringo and villager alike, we ate our fill of homemade corn tortillas and mole (pronounced mole-eh), surprisingly, thankfully, really good.

    Zapotec woman receiving a Bible in her mother tongue



    Poses and pictures accented the ending, and somehow extend it ever so slightly, as tables and chairs were now being packed away. Yes, it was time to go, but festivals like this deserve their re

    sonance. Some members of our original entourage were already making their way back home, while we accompanied Joan and her companions to her village house. It was time to say, ‘good bye,’ to the house, the village, this life. Standing by the outhouse Grace and Joan had built, the first of its kind in the village, Joan smiled and reminisced for a moment with her landlord, of 37 years. He reluctantly accepted the keys, after letting Joan know, this was their house, Grace and Joan’s.

    With a shuffle and a step, an awkward glance at the street and neighboring houses, we all climbed back into our vehicles. It was quiet. Poignant. This moment, too, took resonance.

    Winding our way between house and hut, we found our way back to the ridge, over to the mountain on the other side, and the meandering logging road, which would lead us back home. As we began our descent and the clouds lifted, the conversation turned towards the road ahead. What does the future hold for you? What will you do next?

    - Garry Koop, Lead Pastor at Steinbach EMC