When Lisa and Corny Giesbrecht moved to Linden, Alta., from Belize in May 2011, they brought nothing but their two children, now five-year-old son Rudy and almost three-year-old Adina. Linden MB Church’s deacons organized furniture donations and brought a Christmas gift – money so they could afford to travel to a family gathering in Grand Prairie, Alta., but Lisa says the greatest help was prayer: “We went through a hard time, finding out our daughter is deaf four months before we came here.”
There was nothing doctors could do for Adina in Belize, so the Giesbrechts moved to Canada. Thanks to cochlear implant surgery in November, Adina can hear and is beginning to understand. “There’s a good chance for her to learn to talk,” says Lisa, “but we have to move closer to Calgary where she can attend preschool next year and be around other kids. We are very sad to leave this church.”
Linden’s five deacon couples have organized the re-shingling of neighbour’s roofs, and they deliver Christmas gift cards and fruit baskets to individuals in the church and community in crisis, and sometimes visit with them.
In 2012, Linden MB’s leadership increased the deacons’ budget by $10,000 to $30,000 because “we wanted to give them the resources to do what we’re asking them to do.” It’s a big jump from a few years ago when there was no line for deacons in the budget: periodic bulletin announcements would remind people to give to the deacon fund, but often the deacons were supporting others out of their own generosity. “We didn’t want them feeling the weight of those needs,” says Burke.
“Almost exclusively, our church growth has been younger families and several have been in a hard place of life,” says pastor Gary Burke. “Our committed members and adherents recognized that the first while of journeying together comes at a cost of time, energy, and resources.”
“I take [the budget increase] as a vote of confidence,” says deacon chair Gladwin Toews, who served with wife Luana in the early 1980s and returned to the ministry about 10 years ago. “It’s second nature; we love caring for people,” says Toews. “I love to see the changes in their lives, when I see them at church, being friendly, getting involved in ministries – other people don’t realize what’s happening in the background, but I do.”
“We have a couple of energetic young pastors doing a tremendous job reaching out and the ministry of Moms’ Time Out; as a result, we have many young families with all the difficulties we experienced when we were younger,” says Toews, soon to be in his 80s.
Burke says small group leaders are the first line of pastoral care. “There’s benevolence going on through small groups that never needs a deacon or church-wide response.”
“We’ve learned valuable lessons about asking hard questions and walking with people through valleys, always with a vision toward something better,” says Burke. Many who receive deacon support also meet with a financial counsellor at Linden MB, and “we work hard with other churches in town to make sure no one is empowering individuals to live in an unhealthy manner.”
What does it take to be a deacon? “Wisdom is right up there,” says Burke. “The ability to extend generous help within parameters, and to not solve things, but sit with people in their grief.”
“My first four months in Canada, I stayed home and just went to church Sunday morning,” says Lisa. “I’d never had English school, so it was hard to open up. I needed friends so badly; the deacons were always there for me.” Lisa has experienced the church as “loving, caring family, open to listen. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
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