… and now … they smile sometimes …

Peace reflections from our fearless leader, Abe Janzen. On walls, building peace across them, and visiting young students building peace here in Calgary.

Messy Notes

There is a panic in the United States with people, and some leaders pressing the government to “build a wall” around the United States so that there can be no traffic with the Ebola Affected countries of West Africa. President Obama, I think, has good reasons for not building that wall. He just explained, on the news, that such a wall would make it even more difficult to track any people carrying the ebola virus, and it would create more risk, not less. It reminds me of other walls being built, in many places around the world these days. They are all, I assume, built with the idea of self protection, of a people, a country, a group within a country. But I wonder if all of them actually make living there, in the long run, more risky, rather than safer. We are built, to want to be with each…

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MCC Alberta wins a YMCA Peace Medal, An Acceptance Speech by Abe Janzen

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MCC works in about 60 countries mainly in three theme areas, which are Relief Work,  Development, and Peace building.   A few years ago, two gentlemen asked me why MCC works so much in peace making.  It was as if that made them a little nervous.  I replied that this is not difficult: we work in peace because people are killing each other in so many parts of the world, and also because in any community, or family, or country, when there is tension or violence, the other work that we and the communities want to do, does not work well;  often, projects get destroyed or undermined, when there is tension or violence.   There is nothing magic or mysterious about peace work; it just means that we notice each other.  It means that we problem solve endlessly … together.  We don’t stop.  It means that we walk towards each other and not away from each other.

A few years ago, I visited the 750km wall that surrounds the West Bank and separates Palestinians from Palestinians and Palestinians from Jews.  It is an amazing structure built w hundreds of twists and turns strategically creating division, in so many places.  On the Palestinian side of this 12 M high cement wall,  there is a lot of art and graffiti.  Some of it is daring, and challenging and pleading.  My favorite one is a black note, written w a smallish paint brush I assume, and it says ..” I want my ball back”.  That says everything doesn’t it.  A Palestinian child can never play ball w an Israeli child because they never see each other and they cannot even return a ball that might have gone over.  This is a cry from ordinary children and parents begging the world to allow them to grow up as people who are friends, who play ball together.  What happens now is that they only know each other as enemies … because they never see each other.

Ronnie, a former soldier in the Israeli Army, now works w Ex Combatants for Peace, a partner of MCC in the West Bank and Israel.  He used to fight the Palestinians, but after a life-changing experience when his daughter was killed by a suicide bomber,  he now visits 1200 schools a year, impatiently telling Israeli and Palestinian young people that if ever there will be peace, they have to meet each other.  “When we meet each other as people, not as palestinians nor jews, we will solve the insanity of this conflict”, he said.

Peace making is relational work and it is never finished.

Thank you for acknowledging the work of MCC.  I hope we all, always, remain relentless advocates for peace!!

Fear is great but God is most certainly greater

The following post was submitted by a young adult named Kristin. Thank-you Kristin for your courage sharing your struggles with us. Your faith is inspiring.  

Hi. I am a young adult dealing with depression. I first encountered this struggle when I was abused – mollested – at my own home in the care of a babysitter. God / Jesus says to love your neighbour, brother, enemies and those that persecute you. He alls us to peace. What broke my heart about the abuse was who did it. It was not pleasant. I often wonder if peace will truly reveal itself to me. I have forgiven those that hurt me. But it still hurts. When you forgive, for something hurtful done to you or loved ones it is often hard to forget what has been done. I may have freed them by continuing to reach out to and love and accept them but I myself have yet to be freed. Peace forgiveness, and love can and may heal. And yet I am broken, torn in my mind and heart. Fear is great but God is most certainly greater. One friend once told me to not tell God how big my problems are, but to tell all those problems how big God is. I’m in a relationship with Christ, and am a mennonite. I believe in the power God gives in peace and love and forgiveness. I have seen the people who hurt me and their hearts turn around. God is going to work miracles and complete the work in me that he started. I haven’t seen end results, but my life has changed too.


Final TRC Reflections Vancouver, BC – September 23, 2013

Written by Trish Elgersma, MCC Alberta Staff

What an incredible/challenging/heartbreaking and inspiring five days…. I feel incredibly honoured and thankful that I was a part of this event, to hear the stories of so many beautiful, strong survivors. To stand with the church and settlers and listen, apologize, and share the hope and fear of what happens after this TRC process is over.

A few stories… A prof from u Victoria spoke about a project she worked on which helped repatriate over 50 paintings that were done by students in Port Alberni residential school. At a TRC gathering held there a year ago she brought the paintings onto the stage as an act of healing. They were in a pile about to brought out when a women stopped them and said gently, ‘No. Every painting must be brought out by itself. Every story must be heard. Every child must be carried.’

It was a story that stuck with me, especially after hearing story after story during the four days there. It’s so draining to feel the weight of the damage of what was done. I hit a point when the stories of abuse and loneliness run together or seem too much, especially when I thought of how many stories are not being told. I felt a lot of anger, guilt, and helplessness… But the importance of witnessing each individual story kept me there.

One woman named Carol told her story in the public statements. It was a story of sexual abuse from the age of five by a priest and how when she told a nun about the abuse she was beaten and forced to apologize to the priest for her lies. A story of feeling stupid, dirty, and worthless for her whole life. At the end she said, ‘I didn’t think I could tell this story. I’ve held it in for so long. But I feel lighter now. Thank-you’. Everyone in the crowd started applauding and gave her a standing ovation. And she broke down on stage. It struck me that this was probably one of the first time she had told this story to non-native people and was believed. And honoured. For the rest of the day she had this amazing smile on her face.

One person on Friday said that the definition of ‘bearing witness’ is ‘to show by your presence that something is true.’ I’m so grateful that by being at the TRC I got to be part of that witness. I wish I could tell you each story I heard. I wish we could drag everyone out just to hear two or three stories. Colonial attitudes are still so woven into the fabric of my understanding and in Canada and being there make all the typical statements and complaints about native populations seem so naive and insensitive.

Sunday the event ended with a walk for reconciliation through downtown van. It was pouring rain but over 70,000 people came!! Amazing way to end. 

TRC Day 1 Reflections , Vancouver, BC – September 18, 2013

Written by Trish Elgersma, MCC Alberta Communications Staff. 

A lot of what we learned from Richard Wagamese in Planting Peace went through my head today, about how when we hear stories they become a part of us and we walk away bigger. An amazing young aboriginal women named Kim spoke today about how reconciliation is bound in relationship and if we lay all the pressure on First Nations (through statements like they should just get over it) we are doing a great disservice and dishonour to ourselves. Still mulling those too thoughts together and my responsibility towards the stories I hear. How to listen in a way that makes me bigger and a better human being with understanding and empathy (but not pity).

 One sharing, by a man named Saintly, was particularly striking to me. He took most of his 20 minutes describing in meticulous detail a time that his cousin snuck a puppy into the school. For a week they cared and played with it, sneaking food and water. Then they were discovered by a priest… Saintly then slowly described how the priest made him get a bag and rock and put the dog inside. He did not know what was fully happening…. As he talked about this he suddenly stopped, choked up, and said, ‘they preached the word of God. They preached do not kill… and they made us throw the puppy in the water. A puppy. We were just children.’ After hearing horrible stories of abuse all day I don’t know why this story affected me so much. I think it was that unnecessary detail of inhumanness. That little thing that should have been normal for a child, should have been allowed. That even that was stripped away in a horrible way. And out of all the stories of abuse that happened to him and he witnessed, this story was the one that had to be shared… It was the one that kept him up at night.

I don’t want to end on a heavy note.. Though the day felt heavy it was so powerful to hear these stories and see the strength and compassion of the people who spoke them. A true honour.

September 30th – Orange Shirt Day

September 30th - Orange Shirt Day

The story behind Orange Shirt Day:

I went to the Mission for one year. I had just turned 6 years old. We never had very much money, and there was no welfare, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a now outfit to go to the Mission school in. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had eyelets and lace, and I felt so pretty in that shirt and excited to be going to school! Of course, when I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never saw it again, except on other kids. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! Since then the colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.
I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when know nothing could be further from the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter. Even with all the work I’ve done!
I am honoured to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories. I want my orange shirt back!
Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, Dog Creek BC

Phyllis’ orange shirt is a symbol of so many losses experienced by those who were sent to Indian Residential Schools over several generations. Losses of family, culture, language, freedom, parenting, self-esteem and worth were experienced by everyone. Beatings, sexual abuse and neglect plagued many. Let’s not forget the children but honour them on September 30.
Join the Cariboo School Districts 27 & 28, the Cariboo Regional District and the City of Williams Lake and wear an orange shirt on Monday, September 30, 2013. We will honour the children who survived the Indian Residential Schools and remember those that didn’t. Every Child Matters. We will wear orange shirts in recognition of the harm the residential school system did to children’s sense of self-esteem and well-being, and as an affirmation of our commitment to ensure that everyone around us matters.

blog post taken from: http://ndazkohpastor.wix.com/orangeshirtday

We Must Walk Until It Gets Light

Dear friends;

 Fifty years ago, on September 15, 1963, an African American church in Birmingham Alabama was bombed and four Sunday School girls were killed. The tragedy got widespread attention as a sign of the terrible wrongs that the civil rights movement was to address. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr spoke at the girls’ funeral. People in many cities held gatherings and marches to show their support.


One such march was held on a Sunday afternoon in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, close to the town of Akron where I was then participating in orientation sessions for my first MCC assignment. One senior MCCer, Edgar Metzler, went to that march, together with his little boy, perhaps eight years old. The next day in chapel Edgar recounted how at one stop in the march an African-American woman, who was a Sunday School teacher in her own church, had said to his son, “Little boy, aren’t your legs getting tired from walking and walking and walking?” His boy had replied, “Oh no, I’m going to walk until it gets dark.” The woman had paused a moment and then gently responded, “That is very nice, son, but we must walk until it gets light.”

 That line, though spoken softly, has remained a strong inspiration for me all through the years.

 Bill Janzen

A former MCCer

Ottawa, Ontario

DZ’s (w)rap-ups…

A story submitted by David Zentner, from Lethbridge, AB.

Hey, I wrote a couple raps for some kids (8-12) at Camp Valaqua this summer, to summarize our daily lessons.


Hey, yo, my name is Dave,
& by the end of the week I hope to be your fave…
(…rite) rapper on the scene,
I mean,
I may have been,
the only camp rapper that you’ve ever seen.

Today is about God breathing life into us,
no matter what you do, even if you drive a bus,
Shout out to KP bringin’ us the lesson,
learnin’ this stuff man it sure is a blessin’

I’m still learning about my identity,
& how its more than just the stuff we all see,
it can be the thoughts I think & the man I want to be,
or just things I like, all this makes me me.

Knowing we can all be different is really sweet,
like candy, my favorite are sour feet,
so go ahead & like the stuff you like,
even its its riding a one-wheel bike,
its called a unicycle, but that’s hard to rhyme,
I could maybe find a word if I had enough time…

anyway, knowing yourself can be a fine line,
it may require a better mind than mine,
but I know that you’ll all be fine,
at least we’re not alone on this hill we climb.

Courage & Wisdom

So we’ve been talking about courage & that stuff,
even w/ God & each other it can still be really rough,
rough like flying drop kicks from above,
rough like hockey fights when they drop the gloves,
I’m just trying to say it not easy, man, its tough,
but you’re probably thinking, okay David, that’s enough.

You can find wisdom in the words of your mother,
you can share wisdom even w/ your pesky brother,
Its something found not alone but w/ each other,
its something that we learn as we continue to discover.
Wisdom pushes us to act out each new lesson that we learn,
to hope, have courage even when we feel it burn,
to have respect for each human no matter what they earn,
you can just go do it, you don’t have to wait your turn
wisdom is used not to smother but to cover,
the faults we all have and that we see in one another.

Peter needed courage to take the first step on the water,
God continues to shape us w/ his hands of a potter.
As it takes time for the trees to grow,
these thoughts seeping into our minds will be slow.
I guess I’m still learning that maybe its not how much I know,
but what matters all together is how much love we show.

A day with MDS in High River

A different country. That’s what it felt like we were in as we drove through High River. Piles of once cherished, now destroyed, belongings – house high, covering entire front lawns and driveways. Vehicles crowding the streets on either side, with huge dumpsters occupying space on every block. People everywhere, soaked from the sweat of dragging out damaged belongings and the heat of the day, and soiled with mud from head to toe. 
We arrived at our designated house to find that several men, many from our church, had already cleared all the furniture, including a condemned freezer, filled with a mixture of flood water and toxic, thawed meat products. We took some time to talk to the owners of the home, Henry and Marg, before getting to work ourselves. We headed around back to the basement and stared at their back yard. What used to be grass backing onto the golf coarse now looked like a desert. Thick mud covered the ground as far as the eye could see one direction, with giant cracks almost a foot wide and at least 6 inches deep. Unreal. The Fehr’s grand kids had spent several hours a couple of days earlier digging the mud off of the back porch area so it was possible to open the back door. 
We put on our masks, stepped into the basement, water still an inch deep in some areas, and began to rip out the carpet and the underlay. We worked for hours, trying to salvage photos, books, and an heirloom chest filled with meaningful, now drenched, blankets and afghans. Cans of food and jars of homemade goods were carried out and thrown on the massive heap on the front lawn. The Fehr’s looked on, graciously letting things go, and so thankful for the work of MDS in their home. 
Neighbours on one side were in a different situation though. They waited. The insurance adjusters were supposed to be coming, and then someone could be hired to start hauling everything out of their basement. The gentleman wondered if we were volunteers. I said we were. I wished we could help them too. 
I’m so thankful I was in a position to help – if only for a day. It’s good to be reminded of God’s blessings in my own life! I’m even more thankful for the work of MDS, and those who have worked tirelessly, day after day, dirty and drenched, in the Name of Jesus. What a wonderful ministry.

Written by Fonda Wiebe