Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Turbulent waters

Our planned evangelistic services were imminent; a preacher and a men’s quartet would be arriving on Sunday. Our pastor didn’t want the disaster cleanup to distract from that effort, so he let people know that no more volunteers were needed.

He thought flowers for the church would be a nice touch so he sent one of the ladies to order flowers. All the flower shops in Moose Jaw were owned by one extended family. The basements of two family hames had flooded and volunteers had cleaned them. The pastor told the lady that if she casually mentioned that the flowers were for the church that had done the cleanup they might just offer to give the flowers at no charge. The strategy worked.

Really, all the members of the church had day jobs and all the work had been done by volunteers from out of town, but the news media gave all the credit to the church. The first night of the meetings, the mayor of Moose Jaw came to thank the church on behalf of the people of Moose Jaw.

I found all this a little disconcerting, but it would get worse. The men from Linden had left a bunch of tracts with us and we read most of them. Chris read one that taught about how a Christian woman should cover her head when praying. At a Bible study shortly after the evangelistic meetings, Chris innocently asked if that was still a requirement for Christian women. The unanimous answer was no. Many remembered that their mothers or grandmothers had worn head coverings, but didn’t know why and were happy the practice had stopped. One lady said “The Bible also says that a woman shouldn’t wear men’s clothing. As long as I wear pants I’m not going to worry about a head covering.”

I was working evenings at the Post Office and didn’t get in on that discussion. But I was in church to witness the aftermath the following Sunday. The pastor began his message by saying “The question has been raised about whether women should wear hats to church.” He went on from there to ridicule the idea of women wearing big flowery hats to church that would look ridiculous and hinder the view of people behind them in the pews. That wasn’t at all the question that Chris had raised and he never did address the teaching of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11.

When we got home, I told Chris “You hit a nerve.” The pastor’s desperate attempt to stifle any discussion of this topic would have been humorous if it hadn’t been so sad. Perhaps it did work for those who were already of that mind, but for us in our search it seemed like there might be a truth here that he was afraid to even look at.

Then we got a phone call from one of the men from Linden who had been to Moose Jaw. He told us that there were tent meetings being held at Osler, north of Saskatoon. That was almost a three-hour drive, but we decided to go Sunday evening when I didn’t have to work. The tent was set up on a vacant lot just off the highway. We had no trouble finding it and soon we were attending our first service of the Church of God in Christ Mennonite. We enjoyed the singing, the preaching was more straightforward than we had heard before, no beating around the bush.

There were a couple of travel trailers parked behind the tent and we stayed until 1:00 a.m. visiting with the ministers and got home at 4:00. That was fine, since my work shift didn’t start until 3:00 the next afternoon.

We went back to the Moose Jaw church the next Sunday and they were markedly uninterested in our trip to the tent meeting. Finally we decided that we were travelling a different path than the rest of the church and stopped going.

We made a trip to Linden on a long weekend that summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. There were two tiny congregations of that church in Saskatchewan, one at Hague and one at Bredenbury. Each one was a three-hour drive, but we visited each several times.

There was a stumbling block, though, that prevented us considering membership in this church. They believed that their church was the one that Jesus was building and that all others were man-made churches.

That fall the Sutera twins came to Moose Jaw to hold revival meetings, sponsored by all the evangelical churches in the city. We attended as many as we could, they went on for several weeks; the attendance outgrew the church where the meetings began and the meetings moved to a larger one.

The meetings were aimed at born-again Christian people and the messages all came down to the point that if you had sin in your life and were not willing to repent and forsake it, God could not bless or use you. The messages were good as far as they went.

We were well enough acquainted to know what was going on in most of the evangelical churches and knew there was some level of strife and dissension in each of them. That was never addressed, but I wondered if the theme of Ralph and Lou Sutera didn’t especially apply to churches. How could God bless or use a church that knew there was sin in its midst and saw no way to do anything about it?

Trying to swim upstream

Duyring the winter of 1973-74 our pastor spent several weeks in California taking in a seminar on church growth. Upon his return to Moose Jaw, he called  a meeting at church to talk about what he had learned. He began the meeting by asking “What makes a church grow?”

One lady responded with what seemed to her the obvious answer: “The Holy Spirit.” This was the lady whose mother had recently been converted. Evidently this was not the answer the pastor had anticipated: “Well, yes, but, er, um.”

When he could get back to his train of thought, he expounded to us the principles of the church growth movement. To succeed at evangelizing a community you had to divide it into demographic groups with a natural affinity for each other, based on ethnicity, occupation or other criteria. Then you designed a congregation and a message thart would appeal to each of these homogeneous groups.

I agreed with the lady who thought the Holy Spirit was the key. I also thought that the gospel was supposed to bring people together, not separate them. But no, mass marketing advertisers had proved this approach worked and now it was time to use it to expand the market for the Christian faith.

The congregation began planning evangelistic meetings for spring. A committee was formed to plan and I was elected to it. Everybody was mobilized, the women got together weekly to discuss and pray for the outreach.

Meanwhile, there had been record snowfall in the winter and when spring came there was unprecedented flooding in low-lying parts of the city. As the waters began to abate we began to talk of what could be done to help. Mennonite Disaster Service is an inter-Mennonite organisation that could call out voluteers to come and help. At one of our evangelism planning meetings one member talked of how he had contacted city hall to offer help from MDS. He was told that someone from the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite at Linden, Alberta had already called city hall and said a group of men would be coming.

No one in our group had ever heard of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Except me. I got as far as explaining that the men wore beards when the pastor rushed to the phone, called city hall to get the number of the man from Linden and called him. “Everything is being taken care of, we have a lot of volunteers coming already. You don’t need to go to the trouble of coming all that way.”

The man on the other end decided they would come anyway. The last thing the pastor wanted before this great effort of evangelism was a group of bearded Mennonites being seen about the city. But he made the best of it and offered that they could bring sleeping bags and stay in the church basement.

Before any out of town help arrived we men went out one evening to remove furniture and other belongings from a house that had been flooded to the eaves. That was the end of any cleanup work for me. That night I had an allergic reaction to the mould inside that house that left me incapacitated for almost two weeks.

But I could man the phone at church. Insurance adjusters had to do their investigation before anything could be done to a house. They would inform city hall when a house was ready to be cleaned out, city hall would phone me with the address and when a group of volunteers was finished with one house they would call me for directions to the next one.

That put me in place to visit with the men from Linden when they came in from their day of work. A dozen men came for a week and went home for the weekend. Three others came the next week. Chris came in the evenings after work and our discussions helped us get a better idea of where we wanted to go.

This was when it dawned on me that the churches we had been attending were all happily flowing downstream toward the gulf of diluted Christianity, while we were trying to swim upstream to find the source of living water.

Brotherhood aid

The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite began mission work in the Philippines about thirty years ago (I couldn’t find an exact date).  A number of small congregations have been established and ministers and deacons have been ordained.  While the numerical growth has not been rapid, there has been real spiritual growth in the members and the leadership.  Last year the General Mission Board approached the Filipino church with the question of whether they felt ready for the Mission Board to withdraw from the country.

There was some trepidation at first, but the conviction grew that the church in the Philippines was ready to become indigenous.  However, the ministers and deacons requested that there could be revival meetings for themselves before they were left to shoulder this responsibility.  In response to this request, a minister from Nigeria and another from the USA came and all the Filipino ministers and deacons, with their wives, gathered in a central location for several days of preaching and fellowship.

This opened the way and in the early months of this year the remaining missionary families began saying their good-byes and disposing of mission property.  By spring the Filipino church was on its own.

This fall two disasters occurred, first an earthquake on one of the islands, then the typhoon that hit the island of Leyte, causing damage beyond the financial resources  of the local membership.  Fifty homes of our Filipino brothers and sisters have been destroyed, plus ten chapels.  The damage is so extensive that the ability of these brethren to earn a livelihood has been compromised.

The Filipino brethren formed a committee to guide and supervise the rebuilding of members’ homes.  Several North American brethren, acting as liaison to the North American churches, have participated in the planning.  The work has begun and a collection was announced today, probably in most all of our North American congregations, for funds to assist this work.

It was observed that houses built of hardwood stood up the best in the storm, so the new houses will have concrete block foundations and the framing will be of Canadian Douglas Fir, which is readily available in the Philippines.

Though this project involves only brethren working to help each other replace destroyed homes, the church is involved in other aid work.  Filipino brethren are helping in cleanup work and the humanitarian aid agency of the North American church is also at  work (their mandate is to help the general populace and not to favour church members).

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