We all model our lives on stories we’ve heard and the people who exist in those stories. There are, of course, the biblical accounts of God’s people and Jesus. But there are also stories closer to home. The stories of our parents, grandparents, or people we hear about often make a profound impact on who we are and what we work at becoming.
This series looks at some of those stories as told by people within our Canadian Mennonite Brethren church family.
Following his birth, Fred struggled for life. His parents, John and Ellen Stoesz of Niverville, Manitoba, committed their son to life-long Christian service should his life be spared.
As a last resort, doctors performed surgery. They discovered a blockage in Fred’s stomach. Once it was removed, he grew normally. Fred’s parents never forgot their promise and the boy grew up knowing he had a missionary commitment to fulfill in life.
It was during a short-term mission assignment in Montreal that Fred felt God directing him to serve inner-city youth and poor people. He connected with World Impact, a Christian organization focused on living and working with people in the city’s core.
In 1974 Fred moved to Los Angeles, where he met his wife Jolene Klaassen from Hillsboro, Kansas, who was also with World Impact. Fred remembers their naive move to the inner city and having several of their personal possessions stolen. It was a totally different scene from what he and Jolene had grown up with in their quiet, church-centred communities.
A key moment for Fred occurred in August 1975 when Keith Philips, then director of World Impact, spoke on Galatians 2:20. For Fred, the message was clear. He needed to decide for whom and what he was living.
He recommitted himself to “live and work for Christ.” That pledge has stayed with him and Jolene ever since.
Ministering in South Central Los Angeles for 19 years wasn’t easy. Tasks ranged from dispensing food and clothing, to assisting with education and job training, always with a goal of nurturing people to maturity in Christ.
For a time, L.A. was so violent it averaged 2,000 murders per year. Fred and Jolene raised their four children in a place where it wasn’t safe to freely venture out. They often heard gunshots and witnessed fights on the street in front of their residence. Fortunately, the University of Southern California campus was nearby and it proved to be a relatively safe place for the children to run and play.
In the early 1990s, Fred and Jolene shifted their focus within World Impact and began working as church planters. They started a congregation in Los Angeles and then moved to Wichita, Kansas, where they spent nine years planting a church in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the city.
Five years ago the couple moved to Winnipeg. Fred helped launch the School of Urban Leadership, which trains urban leaders for ministry. He has also facilitated church planting efforts for the Manitoba MB conference with Dream Manitoba, a joint project alongside World Impact.
The past few years haven’t been easy. Now, Fred faces another struggle for life. He’s had three bouts with cancer that have wounded the flesh, but not the spirit. Fred and Jolene feel God’s call as clearly now as they did in August 1975. The little boy who was dedicated to God more than 50 years ago is still living his commitment to
God in Christ and ministering to residents of the inner city.
—Ken Reddig is director of the Centre for MB Studies, Winnipeg.