Celebrating a legacy of respect

Deborah Froese
October 13, 2017
Mennonite Church Canada
Two men
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Among the many memories shared at a reunion of past and present Mennonite Church Canada Indigenous Relations workers, several included references to the late Jeremiah Ross (1909-2002).

Ross, a Cree man from Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba, served as pastor of  Elim Mennonite Church at Cross Lake for 30 years. Ross was able to successfully bridge respect for Christ while honouring the Indigenous spirituality of his community.

Even as Ross carried out his role in the church, he served as a traditional elder and continued to make his living as a hunter and trapper. (further information at Gameo.)

“He was a gentle man and highly respected in his community,” says Edith von Gunten, a former co-director of Indigenous Relations (then Native Ministry) with her husband Neill.

Others at the event shared an overwhelming appreciation for their experience, the welcome they received from their Indigenous hosts, and some regrets.

“We were not very prepared,” said Vic Funk. He and his wife Norma served in Pauingassi in northern Manitoba. “We were newly married and full of zeal, but we didn’t know much.” He credited God with teaching them about themselves, about God’s people, perseverance and prayer.

In a presentation, Neill von Gunten cited advice he and Edith received early in their career from Menno Wiebe, who was then their supervisor. Wiebe noted the importance of listening to elders and getting to know the community while remembering that “God is already there.”

Indigenous Relations emerged from Mennonite Pioneer Mission (1948-1973), created by the Bergthaler Mennonite Churches of Manitoba and then administered by the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, a predecessor to Mennonite Church Canada. It was known as Native Ministry from 1973-2012.

About  50 people gathered to rekindle old friendships and spark news ones at the reunion organized by the von Guntens, Vic and Norma Funk, Margaret Froese and Henry Neufeld. It took place at Bethel MC in Winnipeg, Man. on Sept. 16, 2017.