Canadian Mennonite
Volume 10, No. 06
March 20, 2006



This section is a forum for discussion and discernment. Letters express the opinion of the writer only, not necessarily the position of Canadian Mennonite, the five area churches or Mennonite Church Canada. Letters should address issues rather than criticizing individuals and include contact information. We will send copies of letters referring to other parties to them to provide an opportunity to respond in a future issue if their views have not already been printed in an earlier letter.

Please send letters to be considered for publication to or to Canadian Mennonite, 490 Dutton Drive, Unit C5, Waterloo, ON, N2L 6H7, “Attn: Letter to the Editor.” Letters may be edited for length, style and adherence to editorial guidelines.

MEDA impact extends beyond local level

Re: “Larger economic picture can’t be overlooked,” Canadian Mennonite, Feb. 20, page 13).

I appreciated Bruce Guenther’s thoughtful letter and his reiteration of Will Braun’s challenge to more critically engage in broader issues of economic globalization. I agree that Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) has not traditionally emphasized research and public engagement on issues such as trade justice, environmental stewardship or our governments’ aid policies. We have not seen that as our primary strength or mandate.

However, I would strongly argue that MEDA’s work has impact that extends well beyond the local level, and, in many cases, contributes to better understanding of trade, environmental and aid policy issues. A couple examples from my experience include:

• Proving that “the poor are bankable.” MEDA has been a pioneer for the past 25 years in creating the worldwide microfinance industry, which today provides savings and credit services to more than 50 million poor entrepreneurs and farmers who were previously regarded as unworthy of banking services.

• Participating in the donor peer review of the Canadian International Development Agency’s microfinance strategy, and in the development of CIDA’s private sector development focus.

Although the list could go on, we recognize there is much more to be done. Through our publications and annual conventions, we regularly engage the MEDA membership and others in some of these issues.

Could we do more? Undoubtedly. Would it be the best use of our limited resources, compared to doing “practical local development” programs that have the potential to shape future development directions? I am not sure.

I do not question that minor shifts in the global economy can have a more significant impact than the sum of all development programming. I think the question is how we as Christians should prepare ourselves for work in the global marketplace. These are complex issues and, as I stated in Development to a Different Drummer, they will require “a generation of highly trained and experienced managers…[who] will not shy away from taking positions within international businesses and organizations that interact with international businesses…[so that] we can take our faith and our people-centred development approach into this world.”

If MEDA can help in that process by sharing what we have learned, we are most willing.

—Allan Sauder, Waterloo, Ont.

The writer is MEDA’s president.

‘The’ not part of Ukraine’s name

In the Feb. 20 article, “Canadian government issues Ukrainian land restitution warning,” concerning the Caobo land issue, Canadian Mennonite “corrected” something presented on the website of Foreign Affairs Canada as follows, “The right of land ownership is a sensitive issue in [the] Ukraine.” It was correct as originally presented by Foreign Affairs.

As a Canadian residing in Ukraine, I take exception to this correction, because the official name of this country is “Ukraine.” It is only a legacy of Russian imperialism that we in the West so often revert to the former identification of this state as “the Ukraine.” This pre-independence practice is slowly fading.

While Russians still have enormous difficulty in accepting the concept of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Canadians should know that this unnecessary “the” is not a grammatical function of translation, but a politically incorrect, pejorative term applied by Russians to Ukraine’s independence.

Should you have cause in future to write again about the Caobo issue, or the work of Canada’s Mennonite community in Ukraine, I hope that your readers will find all references to Ukraine are made in a manner appreciated by Ukrainians.

—Don Banks, Ukraine

Ukrainian descendants oppose land restitution

After reading your article on “Mennonite groups oppose land speculator” (Jan. 23, page 20), we were very disgusted with Paul Willms’ proposal. Our hopes and prayers are that Mennonites in North America do not share his views and do not sponsor his land restitution claims that we see as a greedy money grab.

Many injustices happened in the past—the Jews under Hitler as well as millions of Soviets that were killed under Stalin’s rule, our grandfather included.

To take the present-day Ukrainians’ land (our homeland) from them would, in our opinion, bring back a very negative past which most present-day North American Mennonites only wish they could forget.

In 1943, our father, the oldest of four children, along with his mother and grandmother, made the trek from Ukraine to West Germany, and in 1948, with the help of Canadian Mennonites from Rosemary, Alta., continued on to Canada.

A year ago we booked a trip to our home in the Molotschna area this fall. We sure hope our trip is a learning experience that brings us closer in touch with our past, and does not leave us feeling guilty that we, as Mennonites—by the way of Paul Willms—have expelled present-day Ukrainians.

As Mennonites, let us band together as we have in the past and halt Willms’ venture as we believe the Lord would want us to do, who said in Matthew 7:12, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you….”

—Rick and Harold Unruh, Rosemary, Alta.

Church members have helped Youth Farm

In the Saskatchewan section of the Feb. 20 TheChurches column, “Churches vote to quit conference,” I said that neither Cornerstone Mennonite in Saskatoon nor Neuanlage Grace Mennonite had been a “a major financial or personnel supporter for the conference programs for some time.” I should have added, though, that individual members of these churches have made significant personnel contributions to select projects, such as representation on the Youth Farm Complex board as well as to the Youth Farm Bible Camp staff.

—Henry Block, Saskatoon

The writer is MC Saskatchewan moderator.

Church must be wary of Conservative agenda

The Feb. 6 editorial (“New government’s agenda”) is “glad” for Stephen Harper’s apparent endorsement of “the role of faith and religious conviction in politics and society.” I feel ambivalent about, and at worst suspicious of, the implied fruits of such a role.

George Bush has always claimed deep Christian faith and conviction, and has effectively told us of his beliefs. He is, to use the words of the editorial, “seeking justice and righteousness here on earth.” But we know that speaking to power from the church pulpit is not the same thing as wielding power in the name of the church.

The editorial lists several points of agreement, and also of departure, between the positions of the Conservatives and those of the Mennonite Church, and also possible implications of Conservative policies for the Canadian public. The Conservative position on gay marriage, for example, is named as one in line with that of our church.

As a Mennonite, the first item that springs to mind when I think of Stephen Harper is his full endorsement of the invasion of Iraq, but that issue was not included in the editorial. What in Stephen Harper’s political career could be more significant to our church? Harper’s recent and more moderate tone on this matter has a long way to go from the standpoint of our official Mennonite position.

At different times in our history, we may or may not be able to see God at work in the work of government. This is also true of our church, and so I hope we don’t view government legislation that is similar to some official church position as a vindication of either.

Love was put to death under the law, survived the ordeal, and was vindicated. We have been duly told that love, and not law, is called greatest. Love is now, and love will be, the measure of us.

—Karl Kessler, Waterloo, Ont.

Is ‘Christian university’ an oxymoron?

Although I agree that a holistic spiritual perspective and ultimate faith in God is a desirable goal for Christian universities, Gordon Matties’ article “Pursuing coherence and conviction in Christian university education” (Jan. 23, page 6) begs the question, “What is a university?”

Does a university recognize only “the priority of Scripture...for shaping identity”? Should a university provide an “alternative to the idolatries and ideologies of our time”? Should universities instruct students that “the unity of all rooted in God”?

Or does a university require a sincere humility in regard to truth? Does it acknowledge that it neither possesses nor dispenses truth, but rather encourages both faculty and students to become seekers—to press on in search for truth wherever the quest may lead? Are faculty and students willing to undertake the potentially painful and often discomforting quest? In order to further unbiased inquiry, does a true university require opposing viewpoints, and even some intellectual mauling among faculty, writers, researchers and students?

In light of these questions, is a “Christian university” an oxymoron?

—Ruth Derksen 

The letter writer is an English professor at the University of British Columbia.

Outside the box

—Phil Wagler

For God’s sake

It is harder to live your convictions in the trenches than to nod your head at the confessions in the pews.

Traditionally the expanse between our theological statements and our practice of the faith widens over the years, inevitably creating a hunger for reformation, revival or renewal—pick your revitalizing label. What is stated and what is lived effectively become two different realities, and someone somewhere concludes with the monks of yore who discovered the Gospels, long ignored in a monastery basement, “Either these are not the Gospels, or we are not Christians.” I’m wondering out loud if perhaps our practice is betraying our convictions in regards to the good we do, and why.

Consider our propensity to fundraise, as an example. Is it not the tiniest bit troubling that we increasingly give only if we get something in return? We have meals, accept trinkets, and definitely expect that income tax receipt. In addition, and we especially do this with youth, we expect that they will do something—like feed us, sell chocolates or shovel driveways—to earn our generosity.

All this work to earn subtly models selfishness and teaches that you have to work to earn favour in the kingdom. And how does this shape their understanding of God and grace?

Secondarily, funds raised tend to be spent primarily on ourselves—programs for our kids, conference trips, or to replace that gaudy 1970s orange carpet (okay, maybe this last one has some merit). Is this the essence of service? We should be asking how kingdom-minded all this really is.

Two theological inconsistencies are at work here:

• We give to get; and,
• We expect what is given to be earned.

How does this reflect the nature of God, whose grace and salvation are neither earned nor deserved?

A deep spiritual ailment has beset us. Having been wooed by the pleasures of 21st century ease, we are unwilling to part with our hard-earned cash without some earthly return. We revel in mammon rather than God, and only do good for our own sakes.

What has happened to doing good for God’s sake?

Any truly God-centred good is selfless and if I expect something in return I either don’t really believe it’s worthwhile or I’m not truly doing good, but simply performing an act of covert selfishness. If it is worthwhile at all, it is because it is good for God’s sake alone!

Sacrificial missionaries raising their own support are questioned by the godly in their new cars as to why they need so much. Youths rarely look toward voluntary service or ministry, or see all they have and are as mission, but are encouraged—even by parents—to grab as much of this world as they can.

We pump dollars into ourselves, and we’re proud of our spires or of not having spires, while the world screams to “make poverty history,” to solve the epidemic of AIDS, to heal racial divides, for an end to terror, for something to fill the hole in their souls that all their excess has not satisfied. In other words, the world cries out for salvation.

Meanwhile, we, whose commodity ought to be grace, demand to receive in order to give. Is it just me, or does something smell like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5)? Our practice betrays our theology. Stop this heresy for God’s sake.

Phil Wagler is learning to do good in the trenches of home, neighbourhood and world for God’s sake. You can reach him at

New Order Voice

—Brent Guenther

What’s to do in Theodore

After I graduated from university, sure, I could have gone to work in London or Seoul. But how many people can say they’ve lived in Theodore, Saskatchewan?

Having lived large in Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon, I knew I wanted to settle in a smaller community, like say, Theodore, a town of 300, where I now rent a two-bedroom house for $200 a month, and live on the banks of the Whitesand River.

Walking down the rutted road to the river with a fishing rod in hand seemed so cliché it took me three attempts to actually get to Wolf’s Bridge and cast a line into the water. Now I can hardly wait for spring.

Theodore is a town with one of the worst declining populations in Canada. It was documented by CBC as a community struggling against private and public interests that are pulling their neighbours away.

When speaking of my new life in the “T-dot,” my urban-dwelling friends usually ask me, with predictable sarcasm, “So, is there anything to do in Theodore?”

If something “to do” means talking with like-minded friends in a pub, bashing Bush’s “war on terror” after the MennoFolk concert (or meeting at a coffee shop, praising Stephen Harper’s goal to “save Christian marriage,” after Tuesday’s praise and worship), then no, there isn’t much to do.

Urban Mennonites of my generation (and let’s face it, Anabaptism in North America has become much more urban than it used to be) have found great comfort in urban communities where we work, learn and worship alongside others of similar mind and experience. But I think there is a danger in retreating to our Christian/Mennonite enclaves in the city.

There is plenty of room for being an encouraging, life-giving presence in these rural communities—these “dying” Prairie towns —that society tends to look down upon.

The best gift I received last Christmas was a knitted scarf from one of my students. It is black and yellow, the official colours of the Theodore Buffaloes. The “Buffs” are part of the Fishing Lake Hockey League (we were champs in 2003 and 2004) and the pride and joy of the town. The social significance of black, yellow and attending senior men’s hockey games are among the many things I have had to learn since moving to this community to be one of its three teachers.

Nowadays, Christian denominational conversation has found its way onto the Theodore curling ice (a sport I have recently declared as my favourite). Between rocks, topics sometimes include: churches that have come and gone in this town, the Baptists from down the highway, and, of utmost importance, why they should stop referring to me as “the Hutterite.”

In addition to curling, cattle farming has begun to occupy much more of my time. I was recently given the responsibility of taking care of a runt Hereford from a nearby farm. For those in this and other rural communities, this venture may not come across as being of great significance.

For me, however, this has been another example of God’s love in this abandoned community. My only wish is that others would give this type of opportunity a chance—especially those with no experience with Herefords or senior hockey!

Brent Guenther is a member of Nutana Park Mennonite Church. He is one of three teachers at St. Theodore elementary school, and recently completed a term on Mennonite Church Saskatchewan’s envisioning team.

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