Updated: Jan 14, 2021
Nothing like standing in the middle of a nation! After days of traveling west, passed lakes and through forests, I finally made it into the prairies. Canadian humor jokes that if your dog runs away, you'll still see him running three days later, as it's so flat out here. They may be right!
Manitoba - "where God sits" is a province, rich in spiritual history. Also nicknamed “Mennotoba” this province boasts a large pioneering Mennonite community. Staying with a local historian and his family in the area was a real treat, as was my visit to the Mennonite Village in Steinbach, which just happened to be celebrating pioneer weekend during the time of my visit. It was fascinating to find out how the early pioneers lived, and to see the unique houses they built in the early days, as a means of surviving the harsh Canadian winters. If Winnipeg is nicknamed "Winter-peg", no wonder they literally went underground!
Walking in the footsteps of the Mennonites with this wonderful family allowed me a glimpse into the life of these early pioneers. I got to stand where the Red meets the Rat River and hear about how their ancestors had originally arrived in Manitoba by boat from Russia, and see first hand the process of restoring this unique Mennonite Church. I listened to the words of a Menonite Song which stirred the pioneer spirit in my own migratory heart, as I pondered the words on God's guidance in the painful journey away from the familiar and to a new "home".
Staying with a historian also allowed me a window into the world of research and the process it takes in preserving heritage, from the memorial he and a friend are presently building to the book he has finished on the local area. We drove to points of interest with the help of maps, and down memory lane to the end of the world: The Pancake Curtain. Pioneering was no easy feat, and I take my hat off to these men and women, who had lost so much in Europe, and yet were so willing to rebuild their lives and start again.
And here many years later, this wonderful couple were offering their time and energy to help new immigrants start again through connecting with the land. They had opened up part of their plot as a farming space for refugees from Africa and the Middle East. A true testimony to the heart of the Mennonite Mission, which also includes providing food aid all over the world.
We enjoyed interesting conversations on the challenges facing impoverished communities, both at home and abroad. One of the first revelations I got when working with Foundations for Farming in Zimbabwe, was that our principles of zero tillage sustainability are an answer for refugee camps. How wonderful to see the heart of what it means to be Canadian so actively lived out here through providing refuge to those who have lost so much.
And with all the talk of farming, I was glad to get a taste of the fresh raspberries in the garden. The task proved quite a mission in itself, and with all the mosquitoes out in full force, I braved the summer heat with a head net, gloves and a jacket.
Other interesting faith communities in Manitoba include the Hutterites and the Amish. Although I was not able to connect to either community for any length of time, we did manage to get down to where some Amish had recently moved, and stepped back in time as we chatted with a man on his horse-drawn buggy in search of their renowned fresh baked goods.
While in Steinbach, I was also blessed to meet up with a YWAM friend from my first year in missions. She had staffed my DTS in Capetown South Africa many moons ago. It was lovely to visit her home province, meet her kids and husband, whose Russian Mennonite family still meet every summer for a large camp gathering, and enjoy a day at the local "beach" where Canadians flock in the short summer days. We also stopped by Steinbach Southland Church, situated in the "Bible belt" of the province. Active in discipling pastors and communities across the nation, this church has a proven accountability structure with a huge emphasis on prayer.
Manitoba is a unique province, in that it is the only province founded by a First nations descendant. Lois Riel, the Métis leader who was both a statesman and advocate for his people, originally trained for priesthood in Quebec, when he decided to go into politics. He fought a bitter battle for his people and the loss of their land, eventually being hung by the Canadian government for his patriotism. His goal was to ensure that his people, The Metis, who represented both sides, European and First Nations, would not be forgotten in the Westward expansion of the nation, as the railroad was built all the way to British Colombia..
In many ways, he was like a voice crying out in the wilderness, but only recently have Canadians come to realize that he was so much more than a traitor to Canadian interests. In many ways, he represented the conscience of a nation, crying for unity with diversity. And it is this same cry that is being heard today, through the voice of another Metis man who is leading The Battle For Canada. One of these prayer and repentance gatherings is due to happen right here in Manitoba - A call for ethnic unity and a great spiritual harvest in Canada.
Visiting a historic house connected to the family of Lois Riel, I was fascinated to find out more about the strong religious background he came from. Originally, his mother wanted to be a nun, but according to their memoirs, God showed her she was going to have a family. Little did she know how influential one of her children would be! She also had two daughters who followed after her heart, one who became a nun and the other, a missionary to Saskatchewan.
Very close to the Lois Riel memorial is the worlds first Human Rights Museum. A recently built museum, it was filled with powerful exhibits, giving voice to the atrocities committed against the First Nations , the Holocaust, genocides past and present, and even a temporary exhibit on Mandela. With a heart for reconciliation, it was only apt to join my voice to the interactive wall of visitors who had shared their thoughts on what they felt reconciliation actually is. I even met a Rwandese guide on my tour of the museum. Africa is not the only place that needs healing from the past. It appears that Canada is also waking up to the generational trauma and needs of the First Nations communities as we work towards genuine reconciliation.
My whole journey across Canada had started as a personal reconciliation journey, and I am so thankful for everyone who played a part in helping me discover my roots. And part of that experience included the generous hospitality of a wonderful couple in Winnipeg. Arriving on their doorstop with my first flat tire, I was welcomed in with open arms, good food and lots of great conversation, not to mention the fact that although they lived in the outskirts of the city, they had even seen a wolf in their backyard! From ice hockey to homeschooling and from an intriguing family history to our mutual interest in Quebec, where their kids work with Athletes in Action, and who are the generous donors of the car I was blessed to travel across Canada in, we shared many stories from the heart. And when they blessed me with a visit to cottage country, I was more than grateful! Canada really is beautiful in the summertime.
I got my first taste of water skiing and paddle boarding, and some amazing boat-ride sunsets; not to mention a special taste of water melon and a truly ethnic pastry, cooked by grandma.
I also found out that many Canadian houses of prayer close down part time over the summer, and was thankful for the extended hospitality which allowed me to wait for and join in the first prayer and worship regathering of the Sanctuary House of Prayer.
Manitoba proved to be my first experience on a First Nations reserve. Joining my new friend on a visit to meet her sister, we stopped at a local farm to meet up with her friend on route. Welcomed onto their farm, I got a brief look at the agricultural life of a French Metis family.
Visiting the reserve was a definite eye opener for me. We chatted about farming and seed, pipelines, her ethnic political activism, search and rescue operations for missing indigenous women and the conflicting forces in the spiritual world. I got an introduction to the clan structure of the tribes, was blessed with a meal and numerous gifts on my departure.
We shared a common desire for the healing of the land, and it's people. But how well does Canada care for it's soil? Are all the rolling fields of crops only the fruit of chemicals?
It was here in Manitoba, that a spiritual father, pioneer of zero-tillage in Zimbabwe and founder of Foundations For Farming, was hosted by a man who pioneered zero-till in the province. It was also through this man that funds were raised to buy a truck and to print literature to share this invaluable knowledge on sustainability into 58 co-operatives. It was Canada's blessing to Zimbabwe in the early days of pioneering conservation agriculture.
Canada is extremely generous, providing food aid all over the world, but one has to ask - is food aid the answer to long term poverty? According to Brian, who was at a conference in North Africa a few years ago, he overheard some Ethiopians remark, "We pray for it to rain in Canada, because that is where our food comes from." Maybe the world food crisis would be better served through teaching a man how to fish, and in this case, sustainable farming?
Talking about Foundations For Farming, I was more than excited to visit with a couple who had been connected with our principles in both South Africa and Zambia. Being back on a farm, where much of my childhood holidays were spent with either friends or cousins, was like a breath of fresh air. And who doesn't like climbing giant hay bales out in wide open spaces.
Although I almost got lost, as the coordinates for the farm appeared to be off my GPS grid, once I arrived I was welcomed like family and enjoyed the delightful company of those who were familiar with both of my worlds. Southern Africa and Canada may be worlds apart, but in this moment, these two places collided, and I felt very much at home.
Being both a farmer and a pastor, my friends' dad really did practice what he preached. He has spent years serving in his local community, where there is even a church sanctuary that was built by his Quaker ancestors. So how do farming and faith come together?
Sharing about our journeys, and their pioneering work of zero tillage in their area, I found kindred spirits in my fellow travelling missionaries and itinerant evangelists. With a mutual heart for the First Nations communities, we agreed on the advantage of our African backgrounds. Not only did reserves often feel like Africa, in more ways than one, but there was a real openness to the spiritual world, which could spark many a conversation.
Interestingly, most of the Canadian missionaries I know personally, are from Manitoba. May the Lord bless all those faithful men and women who have answered the call to GO...
With a mandate which includes Luke 9:1 - 6, I'm excited to see what God is going to do!
"(Jesus) gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick... So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere."