Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Ontario

Attitude correction

For more than 200 years, the government of Canada has graciously extended the privilege of exemption from military service to members of religious denominations which objected to participation in warfare for reasons of faith and conscience. At first, the law required conscientious objectors between the ages of sixteen and sixty to register annually and pay a special tax. These provisions were dropped in the 1850’s.

When the Parliament of Canada passed a conscription act in July of 1917, there was some confusion at first as to how this exemption should work. The Mennonite churches advised their members that when a young brother received notification that he was being called up for military service, he should report to the place assigned and submit to what was required of him Meanwhile, a committee of ministers would present a claim for his exemption.

Before long a system was worked out whereby a member would be given a certificate stating that he was a member in good standing of a specific congregation. The certificate would be signed by a minister of the congregation and this certificate was recognized by military officials as sufficient evidence to grant an exemption.

Before this system was put in place, one young Mennonite lad in Ontario received his call, but his mother would not let him report to the military as the church had asked. She probably thought she was protecting him, but it backfired. The army picked him up and carried him off to training camp. Minister Thomas Reesor was asked to intervene on his behalf.

Thomas Reesor and the young man were granted a hearing with the commanding officer. The officer questioned the lad closely, then turned to Thomas Reesor. “I am going to grant this exemption,” he said. “But I think you are wrong in your attitudes. You are living under the protection of the best government on the face of the earth and you are doing nothing to show your gratitude or appreciation.”

Those words rang in the ears of Thomas Reesor all the way home. He shared them with other ministers and leaders in the Mennonite churches of Ontario. In November, 1917 a committee was formed to help relieve some of the suffering of the war and to express in a practical way their gratitude for the privileges granted to them. The Non-Resistant Relief Organisation set a target of raising $100 for every young man granted exemption from military service.

Thomas Reesor was made treasurer of this organisation. In the early stages, one congregation sent a cheque for $130. He returned it, with a letter saying that if this was all their privileges meant to them they might as well keep the money. Not long after, he received a cheque for $3,500 from the same congregation. $75,000 was raised by the end of the war. This was a very impressive sum 100 years ago.

The money was dispersed to the Merchant Seaman’s Relief Organisation for the relief of widows and children of men lost on torpedoed vessels, the Soldiers’ Aid Commission of Ontario for help to wounded and disabled returning soldiers and to relief agencies working in the war ravaged countries of Europe.

I believe Mennonites have always endeavoured to be good neighbours, but it took the reproof of a military officer to launch us into organized relief efforts in Canada. In the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, young men and women are encouraged to volunteer for a term of service in one of the many programs operated by the church: children’s homes, guest homes for families with a loved one in the hospital, units that repair or rebuild homes after a disaster, or Christian Public Service units in a number of cities where young people volunteer in hospitals, rehab centres, nursing homes, etc.


The integrity factor

Hugh Edighoffer was a highly regarded businessman in the town of Mitchell, Ontario, the proprietor of a clothing store. His son Robert was managing the store at the time we lived near Mitchell.

Mr. Edighoffer served a term on the town council and a term as mayor, then entered provincial politics as a member of the Liberal Party. He was soundly defeated in 1963 by the Conservative candidate. He ran again four years later, against the same Conservative candidate and just squeaked in. He was re-elected six times after that, by steadily increasing margins. After the first few elections, Hugh Edighoffer always won his seat with the highest margin of victory of any candidate in Ontario.

In the 1987 election, the Conservative candidate went all out to take Mr. Edighoffer down with a mud-slinging campaign. He couldn’t find fault with Mr. Edighoffer in matters of uprightness or honesty but tried to paint him as an incompetent who accomplished nothing for his constituents. Hugh Edighoffer did not respond to the accusations and made none of his own against his opponent. He simply promised to do his level best to serve his constituents. When the votes were counted he had won by the largest margin ever.

In 1985 he was nominated to be Speaker of the Ontario legislature by the leaders of all three political parties in the legislature. He was regarded by all as fair and impartial and continued as Speaker until he retired from politics in 1990.

This is how politics is supposed to be and hardly ever is. A man of integrity has no need to boast of all he has done or will do. Nor does he have any need to point out the faults of others, real or imagined. The more people know about such a man, the more confidence they have in him.

Trouble with big sister

[This is another excerpt from When I was thirteen]

Waubuno, Ontario  March 30, 1897

Today was Saturday, and I did quite a lot of work. I had a set-to with Jessie, though. She gets pretty bossy some times and then I get balky. When she starts to lord it over me, it makes me have to show her that she can’t do it. She doesn’t very often tell Ma, because I think she likes to feel that she made me do it herself, and when I think that she feels that way, I see that she earns all she gets out of me. I lipped her back this afternoon and made her hopping mad. I started to make up a song and kept humming it. The chorus was:

“While Miss Gadabout, gads about,
She’d better learn how to boss.
If she lost herself while she gads about
It wouldn’t be much of a loss.”

It was my job to do what she was trying to make me do alright, but I didn’t want her to think I did it because she ordered me to, and so I hummed around awhile and then started to do it as if I was ready to do it then, and kept on humming.

Jessie is really nice most of the time, but gets a very high and mighty air once in a while. Her nickname is “Gadabout, gadabout, poverty pale” because she likes to go away and likes pickles. It always makes her terribly mad to be called that, but I don’t think it is any worse than mine, which is “Glary Mary,” because my eyes glare when I get mad.

I am rather sorry I was so snippy to Jessie now, as I’m afraid the sun will go down upon her wrath.

Ma says a real coward is one who isn’t man enough to own up to being wrong, and I’m afraid that’s the kind of coward that I am, but I guess I’ll go down now and see how the land lays.

Later — Well, it’s all made up now and I feel lots better, and not so much like a dog.
I wrote on a piece of paper, “I’m sorry,” and handed it to Jessie, and she made up friends right away. I am very glad because it’s so much harder to make up after you’ve kept from it all night. It seems to grow to be a part of you while you sleep. I suppose that’s why the Bible says to let not the sun go down upon your wrath. It’s queer how you keep finding out what the Bible means, just by your own feelings, every once in a while.

Leaerning to recognize the tempter’s voice

[Another excerpt from When I Was Thirteen, the diary of a young girl in South-Western Ontario. The writer was Christina Young, but she used the pen-name of Mary McKenzie when the diary was published 20 years later in a weekly paper. As an incentive to keep writing in her diary, she had vowed to take castor oil if she ever forgot.]

June 15, 1897: It is queer how whenever you have to make a choice as to what you will do, you seem to be three people instead of one: yourself, and a jolly good friend who says, “Aw, take it easy and come on and have a good time,” and a sharp old scold who says, “Now don’t be a jelly fish again, be a real person for once and do what is right. Haven’t you any back bone?” And then if you do as a jolly friend says it seems to turn to a snake and stick out its tongue at you, and you hate it as it slithers away and leaves you feeling ashamed, and the sharp old scold seems your best friend, whose feelings you’ve badly hurt. But if you do as the old scold says, why she turns herself to a jolly good friend and you have a jolly good time in the end.

Sometimes as I’m walking along, I can feel one on each side as plainly as can be, and hear them lipping each other back, each trying to get me to go their way. Virginia says she can hear her two talking that way too, but they seem to be in her throat, instead of walking beside her.

It is queer how the jolly one can keep on fooling you though, if you sort of want to be fooled, though away down deep you are hating it all the time, knowing it will crawl away pretty soon not caring what happens to you after it’s got you into your trouble and the good time, that wasn’t a very good time after all, is past and gone and you are repenting in sackcloth and ashes.

But the scolding one stops scolding then and trudges along beside you feeling sad and hurt, yet still sticking to you and ready to put up a fight for you next time when the snake comes back as a jolly good friend and starts in to fool you again.

I expect they are really the spirit of goodness and the spirit of badness, striving to win your soul, and the bad one doesn’t really want your soul when he gets it, except just to laugh at your shame, but what he wants most is to hurt the spirit of goodness through spoiling something it loves.

August 2: I had to take castor oil last Monday as I forgot all about my diary on Saturday. I remembered it on Sunday just as I was eating a piece of apple pie, and I suppose I should have taken the oil right away, but I put it off though the thought of it spoiled my pie.

My bad one, which to myself I call Slop-Mouth, came popping up to my side and kept saying to put it off until Monday, as we were going to have a roasted rooster for supper, and I would not enjoy it if I took the oil then. I knew we were going to have the rooster because Ma had got it all ready on Saturday. For dinner on Sundays we just have lunch, but always have something extra for supper.

So I waited, not being sharp enough to see it was Slop-mouth talking to me. Then on Monday Slop-mouth said, how would it be to put off taking the oil till sometime I was sick and needed it anyway, as I hadn’t said in my vow just when I would take it. I was just deciding to do that when old Crusty, as I call my good one, who walks on my right, gave me one of her sharp digs and asked me if I didn’t know Slop-mouth yet when I saw him.

It is easy to get away from Slop-mouth, as soon as you let yourself see him, but it is queer how he can fool you into looking him straight in the face, and can get you to keep your eye off your good one at the same time.

As soon as Crusty said that, I jumped up and went to the pantry and got the oil bottle.

September 13: I always feel safer to let everyone know the worst things about me, and then I need never quake in my boots for fear they are going to find it out for themselves. And I notice that when you confess your sins yourself it takes away all the enjoyment anyone else might find in casting them up to you, if they happen to find out about them some other way. It is always safest, with nine in your family, to keep all your sins confessed up.

All the family knew about this anyway, because when I was the maddest I felt as though I must hear something smash, and I kicked a pane out of a window.

It wasn’t much to get mad at, and I knew I was in the wrong, which was what helped to make me so mad. I had left a little hair in the comb, and Jessie told me to go back and take it out. She said it in a rather bossy way, and I told her to do it herself. That was what started it, but it kept getting worse and worse, and when Ma made me take the hair out I was so mad that I walked up to the window and smashed the pane. And then I rushed upstairs and locked myself in my room and bawled.

I would have felt alright if Ma had given me a good licking, but nobody said a word. Pa put the pane in next day.

When I was mad like that old slopmouth didn’t seem like slopmouth at all, but like some powerful leaping snake that had suddenly somehow sprung into my body and was snapping and darting in every direction, and didn’t care where it bit. I hate putting it down in my diary, and I almost left it out, as I have been repenting ever since and don’t think I will ever lose my temper like that again, but I may have some descendants with very bad tempers, and this might be a lesson to them, supposing it does make them think less of me.

I will always be more afraid of slopmouth now, as I didn’t know he could act like that, and sort of take possession of me. I have changed his name to snake-eye. Writing it all down has made me feel so sort of dumpy that I don’t feel like writing anything else tonight.

How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?

There was a time not so many years ago when ethnic jokes were popular. The jokes generally depicted members of the targeted  ethnic group as being not very smart. Members of an eastern European ethnic group who are quite numerous in Canada were often the brunt of such jokes. One such joke went this way:

Question: How many [people of this ethnic group] does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Four: one to stand on a chair and hold the bulb and three to turn the chair.

You will understand why I  avoid naming the ethnic group in question. A sister in one of our Ontario congregations, observing the Mennonite penchant for turning almost any task into a social occasion, modified the above joke into the following:

Question: How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Four: one to change the bulb and three to bring coffee break.

Now that is a gross exaggeration. But close enough to hit home. I still tell it on occasion, usually to Mennonites.

Newfoundlanders, often referred to as Newfies, are another group who were the brunt of jokes. When the cod fishery failed and the jobs related to it disappeared, many people from Newfoundland moved to other parts of Canada in search of work. They have a unique accent and there are unique features of their culture and attitude that are different from  other Canadians and that gave rise to jokes. The following incident might be called a Newfie joke, but it isn’t a joke on the Newfies, rather a joke on officialdom.

A young couple from Newfoundland bought an old house in a little Ontario village. They soon discovered that the house was slowly sinking into the ground as termites turned the log foundation into sawdust. The house had been built right next to the sidewalk, but zoning laws had changed and if the house was replaced the new house would have to be placed about 10 metres further back. This would place it on top of the septic field, thus a whole new septic system would also have to be installed.

The young couple came up with an ingenious solution – they got a building permit to renovate the old house. They called on the help of friends, gutted the house, leaving only the outer walls standing. They dug the basement deeper by hand, poured a concrete foundation and basement, then commenced to build a new house within the walls of the old. After the main floor was complete, they removed the roof and built a second storey and a new roof. Neighbours, municipal councillors and officials, all came by from time to time to observe this wonder that was taking place under their noses and shake their heads. Apparently it was all legally done.

When the project was  complete, they removed the shell of the old house, and voila! they had a brand new house sitting where the old one had been.

Giving credit where credit is due

I have posted two letters written by Benjamin Eby, the first was on May 14 and entitled “A gentle admonition,” the second was yesterday. These letters were originally written in German, the English translations were done by Isaac R Horst, an Old Order Mennonite of Mount Forest, Ontario.  I obtained the first letter during a personal visit to Mr Horst, the second is contained in his book “Close Ups of the Great Awakening.” This book is a compilation of records around the time of the Old Order division in Ontario, and elsewhere.

We left Ontario 21 years ago and I have not seen Mr Horst since that time. We made several visits to his home during the years we lived in Ontario and found him and his wife to be friendly, hospitable people. I’m not sure how much farming Mr Horst did, he had a few cows and chickens, at least. He dismantled old buildings and sold the materials that could be salvaged for reuse. In whatever time remained, he was an avid historian. There was nothing in his personal appearance that would have suggested just how knowledgeable and articulate he was.

He had collected a wealth of information, old letters and historical records, and published a number of books. Most of them were self published, but a few years ago I came across a book in our nearest Christian book store entitled “A Separate People,”  written by Mr Horst and published by Herald Press in 2000. If Mr Horst is still living, he is 96 years old.

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

The first Mennonites to settle in Canada came from Pennsylvania in 1786 and settled near Sherkston, along Twenty Mile Creek in the Niagara region of Ontario. The church membership increased rapidly. Dissension arose between two of the ministers in the later 1840’s. Bishop Benjamin Eby of Waterloo county was called in to make peace between Dilman Moyer and Daniel Hoch. For a short time he appeared to have succeeded. But in 1849 the dissension flared up again and Daniel Hoch left the church and was excommunicated. Benjamin Eby wrote the following letter in November of 1850.

This is a matter of which I would rather be spared; since it might only serve to raise Hoch’s hostility, which I hate to do, for my calling is to seek peace, according to the Lord’s word, where he says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Since you, however, so urgently urge me for an explanation of the above question, I feel prompted by my honest love for you to give you a scriptural answer, to enable you to prove it by God’s word.

Jesus commanded his disciples to preach and to baptize; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. Under this doctrine we have pledged ourselves; it leads us on the narrow way, the strait gate; on this way of the cross we are enlightened through the Holy Ghost, and learn to deny our innate carnal reasoning and self will; walk in obedience to Christ’s teachings; (excluding weakness) we share the divine nature; then we learn meekness and humility from Jesus; we love God with our whole heart, and our neighbour as ourselves; we thank God for His many benefits, and beseech Him for further protection according to His Holy will; we pray for our fellowmen, even our enemies who offend us; and when we see their souls in such great danger on the road to eternal perdition, we come before the Lord with fervent tears in prayer, and pray for grace for them. This is only a little of the fruit and nature of the regenerated children of God; and it is the duty of a faithful shepherd, earnestly and diligently to seek to lead the flock to this doctrine, and strengthen it therein; for the office of a preacher is a serious calling. Paul says, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” And Peter says, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” And Paul, “Take therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Paul also admonished the church when he said, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do mit with joy and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Many more passages can be quoted out of the old and new Testaments on the duty of preachers, but I consider the above to be sufficient, whereby you can realize why I gladly hold to God’s word unwaveringly. And because of the conviction of my conscience, I can do not other as in my insignificance with the gifts which the Lord in His grace gave me, than to deal honestly, and not to deviate from God’s commandment. This is the reason why I cannot be in unity with Jacob Grosz and his followers, because they have begun to associate with those who do not walk in the doctrine which Christ and the apostles taught.

I admonished them to confess the truth of the Gospel and hold fast thereon, which they do not wish to do, but rather took their own way. I beseech you, you may take time to understand the full meaning of this proposition. I do not wish to judge other religions. But these were of our own church members, therefore I wished to admonish them to steadfastness, that they might not break their baptismal vows. For there where at that time they began to associate with, it is allowed to baptize children, contrary to God’s command, for He commanded to baptize believers. Christ commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel freely; those preach for wages. Christ commended His disciples to flee from one city to another when they are persecuted; those seize the ones who cause unrest, and bring them before judgments. Christ prohibited the swearing of an oath; those do not avoid the swearing of an oath. Christ commanded His disciples to wash each other’s feet; those say that was only a custom in the east, of which we have no need to do. They do not seem to remember that the rest of the commandments were also given in the east. Christ gave His communion to His disciples and said, “This do in remembrance of me.” Acts 2:42 it says that the believes at Jerusalem remained steadfast in the apostle’s teachings, and in communion, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer. They were as one heart and one soul. Those want to make the Lord’s communion common, and allow such the privilege to take it who do not remain in the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Christ commanded, “teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” We promised to follow this commandment of Christ at our baptism; those wish to follow their own imagination.

With this association Daniel Hoch also left the church, (that we cast him out, as we are blamed, is an error, for he left on his own accord;) and joined himself with that association, as he himself admitted in a letter of July 31, 1849, where he writes, “We, Jacob Grosz, Jacob Albrecht, and I, came to agreement last fall,” which agreement already ended in August, 1849. Then he came, once more to unite with us, but not in the likeness of the prodigal son, who came in repentance; nor like Peter, who wept bitterly; nor humiliated like Manasse. Were any indications of repentance to be felt, we would have embraced him with love. But unless he realizes and perceives his deviation from the church, and freely confesses that he allowed himself to be led astray, no honest church member can trust him as a true shepherd. For when a shepherd leaves his flock and flees, then the sheep dare not trust him, otherwise the flock may be scattered. I hope through the above writing you may understand my mind regarding holding fast to the teachings of Christ. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. On this foundation our rules and regulations stand, upon which the church of Christ must be planted, built and founded; and when one brother has offended another, confesses his error, comes and says, “I am sorry,” he shall be forgiven; should he not repent of his error, it shall be told to the church, and if he does not hear the church, she shall set him like unto the heathen. Thus the church has the full right, from Christ himself, to keep church counsel.

When the shepherds do not choose to allow the church their rights, mistrust, hostility, and finally strife follows, whereby the enemy has the opportunity to bring heresies among them, and lead the poor souls into destruction. This was the case at the Twenty. Grosz wished to govern the church according to the Gospel, but Hoch left him and would not follow him; whereupon Grosz had to make many grievous complaints, since he could plainly see that the church, instead of being cared for, was being more and more led into confusion, until finally, as if in despair, both united [or agreed] to leave the church, and fled together.

The Strickland sisters told it like it was

Sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill were Canadian pioneers. Their husbands brought them from England to Canada in the early 1830’s, settling near Peterborough, Ontario where Samuel Strickland, a brother of Catherine and Susanna had earlier settled. The sisters had each written and published books before marrying and coming to Canada and both continued to write in what little time they could spare during the long hard days of raising their families and establishing new homes in the midst of the forest where practically everything had to be made at home. They wrote books for children and nature studies, but their most famous books describe their lives in the backwoods of Upper Canada (as Ontario was known at the time). Their most famous books are Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie and The Backwoods of Canada, by Catherine Parr Traill. They were among the literary pioneers of Canada, helping to establish a literary tradition that realistically depicts life in a harsh climate.

The following excerpt is taken from Roughing it in the Bush and describes a time when Mr. Moodie had been called away for militia service after the rebellion of 1837. Jenny is their elderly Irish servant and nursemaid.

When the trees came into leaf, and the meadows were green and flushed with flowers, the poor children used to talk constantly of their father’s return; their innocent prattle made me very sad. Every evening we walked into the wood, along the path that he must come whenever he did return home, to meet him; and though it was a vain hope, and the walk was taken just to amuse the little ones, I used to be silly enough to feel deeply disappointed when we returned alone. Donald, who was a mere baby when his father left us, could just begin to put words together. “Who is papa?” “When will he come?” “Will he come by the road?” “Will he come in a canoe?” The little creature’s curiosity to see this unknown father was really amusing; and oh! how I longed to present the little fellow, with his rosy cheeks and curling hair, to his father.

June had commenced; the weather was very warm and Mr. T—– had sent for the loan of old Jenny to help him for a day with his potatoes. I had just prepared dinner when the old woman came shrieking like a mad thing down the clearing and waving her hands toward me. I could not imagine what had happened.

“Joy! joy!’ bawled out the old woman, now running breathlessly towards us. “The masther’s come — the masther’s come.”

“Where? — where?”

“Jist above in the wood. Goodness gracious! I have run to let you know — so fast —that my heart — is like to — break.”

Without stopping to comfort old Jenny, off started the children and myself, at the very top of our speed; but I soon found that I could not run — I was too much agitated. I got to the head of the bush, and sat down upon a  fallen tree. The children sprang forward like wild kids, all but Donald, who remained with his old nurse.  I covered my face with my hands; my heart, too, was beating audibly; and now that he was come, and was so near me, I could scarcely command strength to meet him. The  sound of happy young voices roused me up; the children were leading him along in triumph; and he was bending down to them, all smiles, but hot and tired with his long journey. It was almost worth our separation, that blissful meeting. In a few minutes he was at home, and the children upon his knees.  Katie stood silently holding his hand, but Addie and Dunbar had a thousand things to tell him. Donald was frightened at his military dress, but he peeped at him from behind my gown, until I caught and placed him in his father’s arms.

His leave of absence only extended to a fortnight. It had taken him three days to come all the way from Lake Erie, where his regiment was stationed, at Point Abino; and the same time would be consumed in his return. He could only remain with us eight days. How soon they fled away! How bitter was the thought of parting with him again! He had brought money to pay the J—–‘s. How surprised he was to find their large debt more than half liquidated. How gently did he chide me for depriving myself and the children of the little comforts he had designed for us, in order to make this sacrifice. But never was self-denial more fully rewarded; I felt happy in having contributed in the least to pay a just debt to kind and worthy people. You must become poor yourself before you can fully appreciate the good qualities of the poor — before you can sympathise with them, and fully recognize them as your brethren in the flesh. Their benevolence to each other, exercised amidst want and privation, as far surpasses the munificence of the rich towards them, as the exalted philanthropy of Christ and his disciples does the Christianity of the present day.  The rich man gives from his abundance, the poor man shares with a distressed comrade his all.

Remedy for the Indian problem

Starting in 1701, the government made treaties with the Indians living in Canada. The treaties were rather open-ended arrangements, promising schooling and health care, giving the Indians parcels of land for their exclusive use, but not limiting their right to hunt, fish, and trap wherever they wanted.

Left to their own devices, the Indians would have found a way to prosper in the new reality of a land dominated by other people. But the government considered them to be a problem. Rather than establishing schools where the people lived, they established residential schools far away. All the better to teach the children how to fit in the new society, so they said.

At the same time, Indian agents were established on every reserve to manage things. Indians were not allowed to leave the reserves without permission of the Indian agent. So the children finished their schooling, where they were taught to be ashamed of their Indian heritage, then sent back to the reserves and not allowed to leave. Here we see the genius that a bureaucracy has for taking a small problem that would have corrected itself and transforming it into a great big problem that will last for generations.

In the course of time, the Indians began to develop their own bureaucracy. On the national level it is called the Assembly of First Nations; in addition each province has its own Indian bureaucracy, here in Saskatchewan it is the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Both bureaucracies have endeavoured for years to find a solution to the Indian problem, most of them involving the spending of large sums of money with little visible results. It is in the nature of bureaucracies to find ways to invent solutions to problems that just make the problem more complex. The Indian problem is money in the pocket for the people in both bureaucracies; if there ever was a genuine solution, a lot of people would be out of a job.

Twenty years ago a French language news magazine ran pictures of Cree Indian communities around James Bay. The communities in Ontario consisted of dilapidated housing and the text explained that in these communities most people were unemployed, there was rampant alcoholism and crime, and school attendance was sporadic at best. On the Québec side, the houses were neat, clean and well maintained, there was very little unemployment, crime or alcohol problem and the children were faithfully attending school. The article asked why there was such a difference, but offered no answer.

The difference is that on the Québec side evangelical missionaries had brought the gospel and it the people had received it. The majority of the people in those communities are now Christians. Once parents are converted, they stop drinking and begin to take responsibility for their homes and their children. They want to work and provide a living for their families. Those communities were transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The communities on the Ontario side were not.

Billy Diamond grew up in one of those Québec communities at a time of 100% alcoholism, 100% unemployment and 100% welfare (his description). He went away to university, came back and was elected chief at the age of 21. Shamanism was the people’s religion, until an Indian preacher came and began holding services. A few people went at first, then one of the most powerful shamans got converted. News spread like wildfire and more and more people came and got converted. Billy Diamond and the band council cut off the welfare of those who got converted. This only seemed to make them happier.

About this time Hydro Québec began planning the huge James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood a large area of their hunting grounds. Billy Diamond became Grand Chief of all the Cree in Northern Québec and negotiated a very good settlement with Hydro Québec. Suddenly he was national news; he travelled across the country, sometimes speaking three times a day, appearing on talk shows and lapping up all the attention.

Billy Diamond was a big man physically and he became a very big man in his own eyes. Too big for his backward little community. He went home to say good-bye and cut his ties. His wife had become a Christian; too bad, she could stay if she wished.

A friend came to tell him that he wasn’t running away from his family, he was running away from God. He began to think bitter thoughts: “How dare these preachers come into my community and take over my people? We were doing okay before without them.”

Then he remembered the 100% alcoholism, unemployment and welfare and how that had changed after the preachers came. He began to get curious and the next meeting he went to church for the first time in his life, sitting near the door to make his escape if things got too uncomfortable. He began to shake as soon as he sat down and as the preacher spoke, the tears began flowing down his face. That night he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, asking forgiveness for his sins against God and for the way he had persecuted His people.

Billy Diamond says he walked into that meeting a drunk and walked out a sober man. He is still living with his wife in that community and manages a local business.

There is the remedy to the Indian problem, the same remedy that worked for me and everyone else who comes to Jesus. It is not something that can be done by bureaucracies. It is not something that starts at the top with a Grand Chief. It starts with the little people at the bottom, but as their lives are transformed by the blood of Jesus Christ, sometimes even a Grand Chief will abandon his pride and ambition to become one of God’s children.

A gentle admonition

[Benjamin Eby was bishop of the Mennonite churches of Waterloo County. The other Mennonite churches in Ontario, in the Markham and Niagara areas, had their own bishops. Nevertheless, Benjamin Eby was highly regarded and he was often called upon by the others for counsel. This letter gives a hint of the reason for this respect. 

Berlin is now Kitchener; Canada West is now Ontario. John Reesor was a minister in the Markham area; Jacob Groff was the bishop.  A counsel meeting is a meeting of all church members to consider matters relating to the functioning of the church.]

Berlin, Canada West, October 17, 1849

Dear Brother,

Last Monday Jacob Weitman stopped here on his way home and told me that there is to be counsel meeting next Saturday regarding the matter about Jacob Burkholder.

Out of brotherly love, I feel impelled to write my opinion, yet with the limitation of whether I have understood the matter fully.

First, I have in mind that Burkholder was found guilty of a fault, whereupon he gave himself up to the church counsel, who laid the punishment of confession upon him. Now, I would ask whether he has done what the church required of him? If he has done so, then the counsel of the church should be upheld unalterably, since the church had acted according to their judgement.

It seems that some feel that the punishment of confession was not sufficient, which I can readily believe that the judgement might justifiably been sharper. However, when the majority of the church was so inclined, then the minority should yield to the majority, otherwise sad confusion can result, which seems to have happened in your case. Out of pure love and a true heart I give you my opinion. Hold fast to the original counsel of the church, firmly resolved, and lay the matter down quietly, embrace each other in love, forgive one another their faults, and be patient with each other, as Christ has patience with us.

Hold fast to brotherly love, for charity is the bond of perfectness. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Finally, we greet you and yours heartily with greetings of peace and love, as well as all dear brothers and sisters in the Lord who receive this in hand.

Your loyal brother in the Lord, to John Reesor, Benjamin Eby.

N.B. When you have read this letter, and believe it to be useful, you may give it to brother Jacob Groff and hold counsel with him. However, if I did not fully understand the proceeding of the matter, and my counsel being therefore unreasonable, then keep this letter at home, so that I with my good intentions might not do harm. My love for Christ and His Word, and for the well-being of the church prompted me to write, so I hope you won’t be offended.

I commit you to God and the guidance of His Spirit.

Benjamin Eby



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