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What did I do?

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Pastor awarded for community service 

When Ramsy Unruh was informed that he had been awarded “Citizen of the Year” by the community of Oakville, Man., his first response was, “What for? What did I do?”

Unruh’s unassuming question was resolutely answered by community leader, Yolanda Yobb, in a speech given in his honour during the town’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Awards Banquet, held Feb. 26.

“What did you do, Ramsy?” she gently chided, “You were just being yourself – you made Oakville a better place.”

Oakville, Man., located 45 minutes west of Winnipeg, has been home to the family of five ever since Unruh accepted the position as lead pastor at Community Fellowship (MB) Church in nearby Newton seven years ago. His influence, however, stretched far beyond the walls of the country church.

As parent council leader at Oakville School, Unruh helped wherever he was needed, assisting with improvements to the school’s technical equipment and its outdoor playground space. He volunteered with the Portage la Prairie, Man., Salvation Army, supporting its leaders and serving those less fortunate. He brought churches in the region together for interdenominational worship services held annually in the school gymnasium.

“Ramsy and his wife Shannon lived what they believed,” said Yobb. “They were instrumental in coordinating activities and events that brought people together, improving the life of the community.”

But this story takes on even greater significance, given the family’s journey over the past three months.

In October, Unruh noticed unusual weakness and lack of coordination in his right hand. While preaching on a Sunday morning in early November, he experienced alarming physical symptoms and was immediately taken to hospital, where tests revealed an inoperable brain tumour. Intense radiation and chemotherapy treatments followed soon after the diagnosis.

The tumour affected his speech, his motor control, and robbed him of strength on his right side, limiting his mobility and capacity for social interaction. But it did not diminish his hope.

“Aside from the many great reasons Ramsy received this award, perhaps his greatest gift to the community is the gift of hope,” says Keith Poysti, the Manitoba MB conference minister who served alongside Unruh in his role as provincial moderator, and is providing interim pastoral care to Community Fellowship Church.

“Ramsy and Shannon, together with their three children, are living out their faith in God very publicly as the community watches and helps,” says Poysti. “I am struck by their openness to talk about the effects of this aggressive form of cancer and the challenges of chemo and radiation treatments. Their ability to find humour in this situation, as well as to share tears, allows others to connect deeply with them. They are a living testimony to God’s faithfulness – they are ministers of hope to us all!”

—Jan Woltmann, CMBC writerRamsy and Shannon blogged their journey at ramsyshannonunruh.blogspot.ca.

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