Witness Worker Transitions

Dan Dyck
August 15, 2017
Mennonite Church Canada
young man and woman, child
Winnipeg, Man.

Witness workers in Botswana, Philippines, and Germany are transitioning out of their ministries in 2017 and 2018.

Taryn and Nathan Dirks (Niagara United Mennonite Church, Ont.) have served in Botswana since 2012. The couple worked with local Africa Independent Churches’ congregations to establish Bible studies for young people. This led to a prison ministry facilitated by young adults from the AIC churches. The Dirks also helped lead the development of an ecologically sustainable sports and recreation park in the Bontleng neighbourhood to help draw vulnerable young people away from surrounding bars and activities linked to crime and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When progress on the park stalled, they drew inspiration from the story of the Israelites confronting the city of Jericho in Joshua chapter 6, and began a prayer walk around the building site. While walking and praying, they encountered a young boy full of questions, whose name turned out to be Joshua – a name they’d never heard used locally for anyone. Nathan and Taryn have already returned to Canada where they have been itinerating in congregations, sharing stories of the people and ministry they have experienced. Nathan is looking for employment, and hopes to remain engaged in the PULA Sports Development Association, an outgrowth of the Bontleng sports and recreation park, from his home base in Ontario. They leave behind an eight person team to continue the prison ministry. The couple have a 3 year old son.

Christina and Darnell Barkman (Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford) have served in Philippines, since 2012, with a previous internship during 2008-09. They have established Peace Church, a home based congregation in Manila with members coming from a variety of neighborhoods, some characterized by unemployment and poverty. The ministry of Peace Church has led to many opportunities to share about non-violence and reconciliation via radio ministries, regular gatherings in the community, special events, and with leaders from the wider church in the Philippines. Designing and building innovative, storm resistant homes with local, ecologically sustainable materials and labour has enabled the Barkmans and Peace Church to practice hands on peace building during in the aftermath of devastating typhoons. The Barkmans plan to return to Canada in April, 2018, resettling in Abbotsford. Darnell will continue his masters studies in peace building, where he is learning that the ministry of reconciliation is a gift from God. The couple has three children who are all expecting a tiny younger sibling to arrive in late September.

Jennifer Otto (Steinmann Mennonite Church, Ont.) and Gregory Rabus (Montreal Mennonite Fellowship) were originally invited to plant a church in Mannheim, Germany in 2012 at the invitation of and in partnership with the Conference of Southern German Mennonite Congregations and the German Mennonite Mission Committee. However, these plans changed when Germany began accepting a huge influx of refugees from Syria, shifting their partnership to work with the Conference of Southwest Mennonite Churches. Together, they established a community building ministry in the Ludwigshafen Mennonite Church. The couple is fluent in German, and complemented by Gregory’s training in Arabic language, were able to use their linguistic, organization and hospitality gifts to develop Friedenshaus (Peace House), a community centre working especially with refugees. Friedenshaus offers German language instruction, community building events, friendship, and help settling into a new country and culture. Matthew 25:35 has been a guiding scripture for Gregory and Jennifer’s ministry of welcome: “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” The couple plans to return to Canada in June 2018, where Jennifer has accepted a position as assistant professor of Christianity at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. Gregory and Jennifer have a three year old son, who will become a big brother in late 2017.

Marla and Karl Langelotz (Sargent Ave. Mennonite Church) completed a nine month term of voluntary service in June. They served as collegues with Gregory Rabus and Jennifer Otto in the Friedenshaus (Peace House) ministry in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Karl taught German to refugees and immigrants, while Marla supplied hospitality and relationship building. Socializing with newcomers was also high on the task list, including a quilting group facilitated by Marla. Such activities are key for newcomers to practice their conversational German language skills. The couple says it is their worldview that motivated them to volunteer in Germany: “That God so loved the world that he sent his only son … . And that this son modelled the best way to follow God; to care for those in need, on the fringes of society: to show this love in our actions towards all people, not just our friends and fellow Christians.” Now back home in Winnipeg, Marla will return to her pastoral ministry at Sargent Ave. MC, and Karl will resume teaching at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate.

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