June Letters

A timely issue

Re “God’s love at work in the inner city” (May). I have often struggled with my attitude towards the homeless. I worked at an MB church as administrative assistant for many years, and had many encounters with con artists and beggars at the church door. It tended to jade my thinking.

I’m now reading a wonderful new book by Tim Huff, who works with the poor and marginalized in the Greater Toronto area through Youth Unlimited’s Light Patrol. His book, Bent Hope: A Street Journal tells stories about individuals and experiences that Huff has had through the years. It certainly has changed my attitude, and is causing me to think twice about judging or ignoring the issue. Huff has also written and illustrated a children’s book, The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge, which very tenderly addresses the subject on a level that children can understand.

Thank you for dedicating an issue of the Herald to this worthy topic.

Faye Hall
Winnipeg, Man.

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Offenders should make the first move

Re “Are you on the bus to Bitter Street or Grace Avenue?” (Text Message, April). As the coordinator of Voices for Non-Violence, an abuse prevention program at MCC Manitoba, I hear participants of this program lament about how much pressure is placed on them by the church to forgive. In Mr. Steven’s article, again the onus is on the victim to forgive. I can only imagine how much guilt an article such as this, which I’m sure was written with the purpose of restoring relationships, would place on victims. For victims of abuse, it’s much easier to forgive when the perpetrator has been repentant.

I believe our churches should urge people who offend others to make the first move towards reconciliation; to confess, repent, and show remorse for their actions.

Another aspect of this article I found disturbing was that it made the assumption that if you don’t forgive your offender, you will become bitter. I’ve met many victims whose abusers denied their abusive actions. These women and men received no closure for their pain, yet they haven’t become bitter and are, in fact, wonderful women and men of grace. To place victims in these boxes is offensive, as it leaves no room for anything in between, shames them, and makes them feel guilty, when the focus should be on the actions of the people who have behaved abusively.

Jane Woelk
Winnipeg, Man.

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Passion for pastry

Re “Ontario wrestles over conference minister funding” (People and Events, April). Thank you for your coverage of the Ontario convention. However, the article missed reporting the full story. On stage Friday night were some 20 burning candles.

Following Craig Danielson’s “stirring address,” he gave an appeal for people to come forward and renew their passion – to take a candle and hold it during the closing song. My wife, Valerie, and I went forward. We were the only ones out of 200 delegates!

After the service was over, Danielson invited delegates to come forward to taste the pastries a chef had prepared during Danielson’s address. Well, you couldn’t hold back the delegates then! They stormed the stage like wild-eyed shoppers on Boxing Day. “This can’t possibly be appening,” we thought. The front of the church was packed with people who came forward for pastry, but had deserted moments earlier for a renewal of faith. In his address, Craig said, “In Canada, we’re passionate about everything except God.” It appears that Mennonites are more passionate about pastry than anything else.

The reality of our situation in Ontario is sobering. Our conference pastor resigned after six years and is seeking employment in another vocation. Other pastors have resigned and are seeking vocations outside the church. Those who are staying in ministry are running out of enthusiasm. Our conference is struggling for financial support from churches and suffers from a lack of vision. What’s happening? Where is our passion?

Are the days of giving an invitation after a “stirring address” over in our church services? Why don’t Mennonites respond well to altar calls? Are we so afraid of breaking a commitment that we’re unwilling to make one in the first place? Is this a pride issue? Are we afraid what others will say if we go forward? Do we fear emotionalism and sensationalism that we hold back? Has the idea of coming forward at the end of a sermon been tainted for us by its abuse in other times? Or has the invitation never worked among Anabaptists? It would seem hard to imagine “re-baptizers” fearing commitment or standing out in a crowd.

Patrick Bartley
St. Catharines, Ont.

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Insights concerning the Spirit

Re “Something supernatural” (Features, March). I enjoyed reading Willy Reimer’s piece on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

One of the most life-changing teachings about the Holy Spirit I ever received was the one that invited me to keep nurturing a sense of wonder and a sense of life’s profoundly mysterious character. Since then, I’ve become less adept at drawing a line between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between the spiritual and the mundane.

I think there’s a quiet yet sustaining joy that comes from beholding God’s fingerprints all over: in the neighbourhood kids who pick fruit from the cherry tree that graces my front lawn, in my upstairs neighbour’s willingness to lower the sound of his music, and in the missionaries who came to Quebec and devoted years to understanding our ways and sharing the gospel with us.

Second, the Spirit has allowed me to experience a renewed sense of God’s love, forgiveness, and power as I open up to trusted friends and share my brokenness. I’ve come to see that the Spirit’s most amazing and wonderful gift is the experience of community.

Third, as the church in English-speaking Canada gradually becomes more and more irrelevant from a cultural standpoint, some may respond by putting more emphasis on the supernatural. At its root, this stems from a positive impulse, because it aims at making the church more vibrant, vigorous, and effective. Yet, I wonder if this stress might lead the church away from the real work of understanding the changes our culture is undergoing and how to respond to those changes.

I think we need a fresh wind of the Spirit, giving us the freedom to hold on much more lightly to our traditions and be humble enough to admit we don’t yet know the answers to the new and immense challenges we’re facing, both in Quebec and in English-speaking Canada.

Éric Wingender
Montreal, Que.

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Open letter from MCC

At the end of March, MCC Canada, in cooperation with the provincial MCCs, drafted and distributed a letter to constituent churches regarding Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan. Here, in part, is the letter:

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We write to you out of profound concern for Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan…. MCC’s concern for Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan through NATO arises out of both an Anabaptist-Mennonite commitment to peace and MCC’s long-term experience in areas of conflict around the world….

The Afghanistan context is extremely complex. We do not claim to have all the answers. With other Canadians, we share the view that terrorism, extremism, and human rights violations are wrong and need to be addressed. Moreover, we recognize that we cannot expect our government to be guided by the same faith commitments to which we hold.

Additionally, MCC’s concern about Canada’s current military mission in Afghanistan is not intended to condemn individuals who make the choice to serve through the Armed Forces. We recognize the sacrifices that they and their families make for what they believe is right. They need our prayers.

At the same time, MCC believes that Canada’s current military involvement in Afghanistan through NATO is misdirected. We express concern about the following:

1. Canada has positioned itself in such a way that its involvement is helping to perpetuate rather than bring an end to the violence.
2. Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, particularly those in Kandahar province, are focused heavily on combat and counter-insurgency operations.
3. Canada is contributing to Afghanistan four times as much for military purposes as for reconstruction and development.
4. The involvement of military forces in development work blurs the line between defense and development, and politicizes the delivery of aid, thereby potentially endangering aid workers and civilian recipients of aid.
5. Canada has given minimal encouragement to diplomatic and political solutions and to grassroots peacebuilding initiatives.

We believe that peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved through combat. Lasting peace and reconciliation can only happen as the Afghan people, particularly the most vulnerable – on all sides of the conflict – are given opportunity to voice their grievances and participate in resolving them. Therefore, we encourage Canada to change course and to give its greatest energy and attention to supporting a comprehensive peace process involving diplomacy, dialogue, and peacebuilding initiatives at all levels of society….

To call for peaceful initiatives in Afghanistan at this present time is not to say that we have all the answers to the ongoing violence. It is to say war is not the answer. It is to say that Christ calls us to pray for, witness to, and speak out for a better way.

Sincerely in Christ,  Donald G. Peters
Executive Director, MCC Canada

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