When Henry Warkentin started to teach Sunday school at 16, he had no idea it would launch him on a career in church planting. He taught as he went to Bible school, joining the West Coast Children’s Mission each summer. In 1953, he became chair of Canada Inland Mission.
His church planting pattern emerged naturally – first, vacation Bible schools in remote settlements, then Sunday schools, then, if there were interested parents, perhaps starting a small church.
Henry became a VBS recruiter, an organizer, and administrator. In the 1950s, he had as many as 100 people doing vacation Bible schools around his home province of B.C. each summer. He had no problem recruiting teachers, he said: “I just advertised.” His Bible school students in Yarrow were also willing teachers.
He visited churches year-round, mentioning the opportunity to reach children, “and the young people were keen on that.” He encouraged school teachers, especially in the north, to “use your profession to serve the Lord.” And the vacation Bible schools, then Sunday schools, grew.
He is loath to count the churches he had a hand in starting. But he assents to the fact it would be around a dozen, perhaps more. Some, started in remote farming communities, would merge later with churches in the larger centres.
After World War II, there was a great mistrust of German-speaking Mennonites. Operating under the name Children’s Mission, Henry would approach another denomination, like the Baptists, to establish a new church. Bit by bit, people’s mistrust eased, and Mennonite Brethren could operate more publicly as a denomination.
Later, with a family to support, Henry started pastoring churches. But he still considers himself a church planter – “definitely!” His eyes light up and he tells of the long trips on potholed gravel roads from the Fraser Valley to Prince Rupert, to the Kootenays, and later, to Saskatchewan and Ontario. He speaks with obvious pleasure about starting the work in Quebec, when French-speaking former Congo missionary Ernest Dyck agreed to go to St. Jerome, northwest of Montreal.
He speaks of his career, especially about those early church planting years, as “a ministry of love, although it was hard work, and sometimes I groaned.”
Today, Henry the church planter faithfully attends Chilliwack’s Broadway MB, a church he once pastored. He and wife Nettie still minister to some of the older members. They’re called Grandpa Henry and Grandma Nettie because they babysat children each week while mothers were at Women’s Break. It’s reported Henry would get down on all fours to play with the kids. As it got harder to get up again, they retired from babysitting.
Henry is 88 now. And he rejoices that MBs still work to bring new believers to Jesus – including the kids.