The energy of a college ministry tour, the reconciliation work of a peace and justice agency, and the life experience of an author converged in the Re:connections drama tour in Saskatchewan, Apr. 27–May 3. Over seven days, Bethany Players performed nine times to audiences from Prince Albert to Swift Current, Sask.
The drama portrays the struggle both victims and offenders experience in moving forward in the aftermath of criminal violence. Wilma Derksen, Victim’s Voice coordinator for MCC Canada, and mother of 13-year-old Candace who was abducted and murdered in the 1980s, provided the script, Re:connections, for Bethany’s touring drama group, Bethany Players. “It was originally workshopped by an offender group and a victim group separately,” says Derksen, “giving it the ring of authenticity.”
The evolution of the tour began several years back with a Bethany College student, Stephen Siemens, interning with Mennonite Central Committee’s restorative justice program. He wanted “something outside the box” for his ministry placement – and he found it. “I couldn’t believe the revolving door of prison, illiteracy, FASD; just how blurry the line between good and evil really is.” It was a fulfilling, transformational experience for him, but he wondered where the church should fit into the countercultural work of restoration.
After graduation, Siemens was hired as restorative justice program coordinator at MCC Saskatchewan, where he continued to ask hard questions. “Church people need to find their niche amidst the pain, within the complexity, embracing real emotions from anger and vengeance to grief, compassion, and forgiveness to those who have been offended, those offending, and everyone in between,” he says, and he looked for ways to help the church find that niche.
His “energetic and electric” experience of “being an agent of encouragement and challenge” on Bethany drama tours led him to consider a tour through Saskatchewan using dialogue and storytelling to give churches a taste of that milieu. Conversations with Derksen brought her writing talents and life experiences to the project, and Bethany came on board to provide the actors.
“Not only did we challenge others with discussion on justice, forgiveness, etc., but as a team, we were also challenged,” said Heidi Neufeld, a third-year student who played the wife of a murdered man.
In preparing for and performing the work, “we gained insight into stories of lives we have not experienced,” says interim director of Bethany Players Nick Boschman. “[Many of us] haven’t gone through the hardship or pain of a crime, but there any many people who have…. I think this is a place where the church has an excellent opportunity to actively engage with our world.”
—Karla Braun, with files from Bethany College Connection