Working with Christian Peacemaker Teams a profound experience for alumni

Lisa Martens (CMBC ‘00) recalls what it was like being in Iraq when U.S. forces invaded the country in 2003. She remembers speaking with a man whose house was cracked because his neighbour’s home had been bombed.

‘It changed my thinking forever,’ Lisa Martens (CMBC ‘00) says of her work with CPT, which took her to places like Iraq, Mexico, and Colombia.
‘It changed my thinking forever,’ Lisa Martens (CMBC ‘00) says of her work with CPT, which took her to places like Iraq, Mexico, and Colombia.

“He was a Muslim I think, and his wife was Christian,” Martens recalls. “He just talked about how he believed that the people from various religions should be able to live in peace together, and how his family was evidence of that kind of cooperation.”

Martens is one of the more than 30 alumni, faculty, and staff from Canadian Mennonite University and its predecessor colleges who have worked for CPT. That includes Dr. Harry Huebner, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology, who helped found the organization.

Started in the late ‘80s, CPT seeks to build partnerships to transform violence and oppression around the world.

The organization uses small teams of four to six people trained in documentation, observation, nonviolent intervention, and various ministries of presence to make a difference in explosive situations.

Kenton Lobe (CMBC ‘95), who served with CPT in Haiti in 1994 and in Grassy Narrows in the early 2000s, praises the forward-thinking people who created the organization.

Kenton Lobe (CMBC ‘95) served with CPT in Haiti in 1994 and in Grassy Narrows in the early 2000s
Kenton Lobe (CMBC ‘95) served with CPT in Haiti in 1994 and in Grassy Narrows in the early 2000s

“CPT has a strong focus on justice,” Lobe says. “They were one of the first organizations that was working at questions of privilege, questions of the implications of globalization, and the connection of that globalization to violence in local communities.

“That was their work, and they were providing an avenue for the church to be present in those conversations.”

Rachelle Friesen (CMU ‘07) says that she has always felt part of the CPT community.

“CPT has always been part of my peace and justice journey,” says Friesen, who today works for the organization in Toronto as its Canada Coordinator.

Friesen’s work involves everything from administrative tasks like data entry and writing grant proposals, to reaching out to CPT’s constituency, to organizing training sessions, to supporting CPT workers, to speaking at rallies.

‘CPT has always been part of my peace and justice journey,’ says Rachelle Friesen (CMU ‘07), pictured here with fellow CPTers at a rally in Toronto.
‘CPT has always been part of my peace and justice journey,’ says Rachelle Friesen (CMU ‘07), pictured here with fellow CPTers at a rally in Toronto.

“It’s a big job, but it’s a fun job,” Friesen says.

“What I really enjoy is the opportunity to network with other organizations and with other peacemakers,” she adds.

People who are struggling around the world are all connected, Friesen says.

Whether it’s Palestinians struggling for freedom and liberation, or Kurdish people struggling for sovereignty in Iraqi Kurdistan, or small-scale farmers in Colombia who are fighting the multinational corporations that are trying to force them off their land, or Indigenous groups in Grassy Narrows and Shoal Lake 40, everyone is struggling to exist.

“I find it really exciting that I get to work with an organization that sees these interconnections and is working in solidarity with people to try to resist these multiple oppressions,” Friesen says. “There’s a great opportunity to build relationships (so that) we can undo the oppression that we have within our world.”

‘CPT has always been part of my peace and justice journey,’ says Rachelle Friesen (CMU ‘07), who works as the organization’s Canada Coordinator.
‘CPT has always been part of my peace and justice journey,’ says Rachelle Friesen (CMU ‘07), who works as the organization’s Canada Coordinator.

Martens agrees. She served with CPT in 1999, and then from 2001-2004. In addition to Iraq, the work brought her to places like Chiapas, Mexico; Colombia; South Dakota; and Grassy Narrows.

CPT not only made a difference in the lives of those Martens worked with, but it also made a difference in Martens’s life.

She recalls working for an organization in Winnipeg a few years ago that supports refugees.

“I felt I could do that (job) a lot differently having travelled and been in war zones (with CPT),” Martens says. “I could empathize differently having had some of those experiences myself.”

Working with CPT had a dramatic impact on Martens’s worldview.

“It changed my thinking forever,” she says.

-With file from Christian Peacemaker Teams

Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words – Kenton Lobe

KL03Kenton Lobe, Instructor in International Development Studies, has taught at CMU since 2005.

What do you love about your work here?

I love working with students, but in addition to that, I love my colleagues. I have a little neighbourhood at the end of the hall where my office is with two English professors and a colleague in International Development Studies. Paul Dyck is one of the colleagues, and he says he likes to think of this gathering of faculty as a fellowship. That always makes me smile, and that’s borne out of really rich conversations that we have across disciplines here. The size and scale of faculty makes that possible.

What are you teaching right now that you’re most excited about?

Participatory Local Development is a second year IDS class. For their major project, students are instructed to create something that roots itself in, and engages the participation of, the CMU community. In the past, that’s resulted in Wittenberg Radio as well as the CMU farm and community garden.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

I just finished reading Silence by Shūsaku Endō, which was recently adapted into a movie by Martin Scorsese. It’s a story of 17th century Jesuit missionaries to Japan and martyrdom. That one had an effect on me. I just started Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian writer. He writes historical fiction that borders on fantasy.

Where or how do students give you hope?

The most significant hope I get from students is watching the work of the CMU Farm. Two students came to me seven years ago and asked why we don’t have agriculture on our 44 acres here. They put together a proposal, and we worked collaboratively to move that into the CMU context. Ever since then, it’s been the labour of students that has made this farm flourish.

What do you most long for in your work?

I long for the academy to step outside of the classroom walls. We do some of that here at CMU with Outtatown and through our practicum program, but I long for a richer engagement with land-based learning. The CMU Farm is one example, but I’ve had students write papers about the Assiniboine Forest and memory, bridging philosophy and ecology that kind of builds on something right in their own backyard. I often wonder what would happen if we oriented our curriculum and our pedagogy around a 5 km. radius of the university. We could talk about Kapyong and urban reserves, we could talk about rail and transportation of oil, we could talk about wetland restoration on our campus—we could talk about all kinds of things and actually locate these things that otherwise become abstracted.

What saying or motto inspires you?

Whenever I left the house on a Friday night when I was growing up, my dad would always say, “Remember who you are.” Then, when I came to CMBC as a student, Harry Huebner—who was teaching theology at the time—had the same kind of saying. “Remember who you are” is a significant saying that sticks in my mind.

Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words – Dr. Delmar Epp

12 - Delmar Epp (January 2017) 01Dr. Delmar Epp, Associate Professor of Psychology, has taught at CMU since 2000.

What are you teaching right now that you’re most excited about?

Two courses come to mind. One is Psychology of Motivation, which explores the underlying needs that drive a lot of our everyday behaviour. That course comes closest to my own research interests. The other course is The Neuroscience of Social Behaviour, which describes the interactions between our behaviours and brain activity in the course of everyday life. This is really where the cutting edge in my discipline is, and it’s just absolutely fascinating to explore.

What are you researching and writing?

I’ve been working for a number of years at projects having to do with self-protection. My argument is that whenever we feel discomfort or feel threatened, or we feel that we are somehow at risk, we act in ways to preserve and protect things that are important to ourselves—our self-image, our self-esteem, our reputation, or more tangible things we think we’re at risk of losing. One of the outcomes of that motive to self-protect is that when we feel that we’re at risk, we tend to draw away from people who might represent that threat—people who are sometimes different than we are. I’ve been looking at this in various contexts.

What you are reading for enjoyment?

I’ve just begun a book called Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It describes his experience growing up in what is sometimes referred to as the decaying heartland of America—the sense of hopelessness, the sense of risk and loss that many folks experience in that environment, and what this does in terms of their social attitudes and their relationships with other groups of people. I also recently finished a book of stories by Robert Louis Stevenson.

What do you most long for in your work?

For people to appreciate that a psychological understanding of themselves and their interactions with others can be a real benefit in terms of how we relate to one another, how we appreciate one another, and how we understand what others are experiencing. Additionally, I want my students in particular to know that a psychological/scientific understanding is not incompatible with an understanding of ourselves from a Christian perspective. They can complement and enhance one another. I want to emphasize that holistic view.

Do you have any interesting projects underway in the broader community or church?

The third iteration of the Great CMU Psychological Health Survey is about to get underway. It’s something we started back in 2013 in response to some published reports of significant psychological health concerns at larger Canadian universities. We wondered whether we might see similar sorts of issues on a much smaller campus like CMU, particularly one where we invest significantly in ensuring the connectedness and wellbeing of our students through our Student Life program and various other activites. Overall, what we’ve found thus far is encouraging.

What saying or motto inspires you?

The French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry said, “The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best.” That idea inspires the work that I do. I’m always fascinated with the fact that we’re learning more and more about how we ought to understand ourselves.

Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words – Wendy Kroeker

WK01Wendy Kroeker, Instructor in Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies and Co-Director of the Canadian School of Peacebuilding, has taught at CMU since 2011.

What do you love about your work here?

Working at CMU gives us the opportunity to get to know students over a period of time, interacting with them during significant moments of life decision-making. Watching them take opportunities to engage in community events and issues gives me hope for the world.

What are you teaching right now that you’re most excited about?

This past semester, I taught an upper level PACTS course called Cultures of Violence, Cultures of Peace. I wanted to find ways for students to begin to love and appreciate theory. I’m thrilled if I’ve been part of inspiring an activist or the heart of an activist in someone, but as someone who’s doing my own academic work and working in an academic institution, I do want to excite students about theory. If we aren’t grounding ourselves in really thinking through things substantially, how do we move into meaningful action?

What are you researching and writing?

I am currently working on my PhD dissertation. I’m using the Philippines as a case study. I interviewed 36 Filipinos who are deeply engaged in peacebuilding, who come from highly colonial, conflict-impacted trauma environments, and I’m trying to honour their stories by creating some theory out of the patterns of what I’m hearing from them. Although I’m using the Philippines as my case study right now, I will eventually turn the findings from this dissertation project into looking at our Canadian context, and how the learnings from courageous local peacebuilders in the Philippines might lead to creative ways in which we can follow the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls for action.

Where or how do students give you hope?

In November, a group of students went to a Standing Rock protest at Portage and Main. At a certain moment, they all went over the barricades and shut down Portage and Main at rush hour. One student spoke about her experience in chapel. Hearing her talk about moving over the barricades and realizing her own agency—that gave me some hope. It shows me that the things we talk about in class are moving deeper than the surface.

What do you most long for in your work?

I want students to look for opportunities and possibilities where they won’t just be bystanders, but upstanders – people who see a wrong and act upon it. They may not be at Portage and Main, but I want everyone to see possible ways of honouring the dignity and integrity of each person around them and see that there’s some way they can stand with people.

Do you have any interesting projects underway in the broader community or church?

Clairissa Kelly and I have begun a series of exchanges between my students and students in the Peguis Post-Secondary Transition Program. Clairissa and I have committed ourselves to thinking through how we can find ways to, with students, take steps of reconciliation. I invited the Peguis group to join the intro PACTS class in doing the blanket exercise, an interactive learning experience that teaches little-known indigenous rights history. Afterward, one of the participants shared about community experiences of residential schools. Her openness was a gift to all of us around the circle. That was a profound moment.

Articles Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words – Dr. Gordon Matties

10 - Gordon Matties (November 2016)Dr. Gordon Matties, Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology, will retire at the end of December after more than 30 years teaching at CMU and one of its predecessor colleges, Mennonite Brethren Bible College.

What do you love about your work here?

I love my colleagues and the students. I love that we worship together regularly. All of us are involved in a project of formation. We—faculty, staff, and students—are interested in becoming the kinds of human beings God intends for us to be: those who love beauty, goodness, and truth wherever those might be found; who long for healing, hope, and transformation in our world; and who are learning to imagine what living into God’s vision for a new heaven and a new earth might look like.

What are you teaching right now that most excites you?

Because I love movies and enjoy reflecting critically on the experience of watching movies, I continue to appreciate the course Film, Faith, & Popular Culture. I think movies have a unique capacity to offer us windows into the human condition and hold up mirrors of our joys and struggles. We see light refracted through the prism of particular stories into the colorful variety of human experience. Movies draw us deeply into the worldview questions: Where are we? Who are we? What’s wrong? Is there a remedy?

What are you researching and writing?

Recently I contributed an essay to A University of the Church for the World: Essays in Honour of Gerald Gerbrandt. The essay’s title is “Slow Food: Feasting Sustainably on Scripture.” I’m thinking about developing the idea of that essay into a book-length project. It has to do with what we expect to get from our reading of Scripture. I advocate for patient attentiveness, in contrast to the fast food approach to Scripture that assumes there’s always something in it for me on my terms now. It’s a project on biblical spirituality that focuses on ways of becoming formed slowly by Scripture.

What you are reading for enjoyment?

Besides the excellent articles posted by friends on Facebook and The Globe and Mail, I am reading Barkskins by Annie Proulx. It’s about the early settler and indigenous contact, the beginning of the global lumber industry, and the decimation of the world’s forests. I’m also reading Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity by Katherine Willis Pershey, Rumours of Glory: A Memoir by Bruce Cockburn, The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, and You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James Smith.

Where or how do students give you hope?

So many of our students are activists. They want to live out their dreams and work to change the world. They aren’t afraid of taking risks. They are impatient with thinking without doing.

What saying or motto inspires you?

In my first few years of teaching, I developed this motto: Nurturing the Mind; Minding the Heart; Mending the World. I’ve now got it tacked up on the bulletin board beside my office door. It’s my philosophy of education in a nutshell. I developed the motto after reading Parker Palmer’s book To Know as We are Known: A Spirituality of Education, which I recommend highly.

Articles Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words – Dr. Paul Doerksen

PaulDoerksenOct2016Dr. Paul Doerksen, Associate Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies, has taught at CMU since 2011. His new book is Take and Read: Reflecting Theologically on Books (Wipf and Stock, 2016).

What are you teaching right now that most excites you?

Theological Ethics. I’ve got just under a dozen students who are really bright, articulate, interesting, and willing to really go after questions that are raised by other students or by the readings that we pursue. Every class, it feels like there’s something at stake. That’s exciting.

What are you researching and writing right now?

I’m working on what I hope will be a book-length project on moral patience. The heart of the project is a line from Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics where he writes that God grants us the space and time to become who we were intended to be. That’s a wonderful way of thinking about God’s relationship to humanity, but then I wonder if there’s something in there for the way that humans can get along with other humans. My kids think it’s hilarious and ironic that I’m writing about patience.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

Some of the specific books include Silence by Shūsaku Endō. It’s about a Jesuit priest being persecuted in early modern Japan, and is a take on martyrdom that is absolutely fascinating. Martin Scorsese directed an adaptation that’s finally coming out within the next few months, which I’m looking forward to. I just started reading Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett. It’s really good. And, I’m looking forward to David Bergen. He’s got a new one out that I don’t have my hands on yet.

What do you most long for in your work?

I hope that my work, and the work of CMU more broadly, can be part of encouraging the church and the academy to be faithful Christians. I hope that we appreciate each other’s contributions and understand that we’re involved, at very deep levels, in the same project – namely, trying to figure out what it means to be faithful to Christ.

Do you have any interesting projects underway in the broader community or church?

My Take and Read theology book discussion group continues to be a delight. Thirty people get together four times over the winter to discuss four different books over dessert. It keeps me reading and thinking in ways that are different from the classroom or formal research. My new book is a collection of reflections I’ve written on various books we have discussed at Take and Read over the years. I’m looking forward to being independently wealthy because of the royalties.

What saying or motto inspires you?

The Catholic theologian Gerald O’Collins once said, “Theology is watching our language in the presence of God.” I think about this a lot. We believe that watching our language means not cursing, but there’s much more at stake here than impolite language. All of the Christian life is, in a sense, learning more and more how to talk about God and use that grammar of faith. It doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me. I need to be trained in it and I need to keep working at it.

Articles Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words – Dr. Sue Sorensen

Sue01Dr. Sue Sorensen, Associate Professor of English, has taught at CMU since 2005.

What do you love about your work here?

I used to be a bit of a recluse – I thought most of my friends were in books. I never used to be a people-person, but CMU has sort of turned me into one. The best people I have ever met are on this campus, and that includes students, faculty, and staff. There is a real culture of kindness and gratitude at CMU.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

This past summer, I reread some fiction by A.S. Byatt, who is the British writer I did my PhD thesis on. I also discovered Lydia Davis. She’s an American writer who writes radically short stories – some of them are only a sentence or two long. And for deep pleasure, I’m re-reading A Dance to the Music of Time, a sequence of 12 novels written by a British author named Anthony Powell.

Where or how do students give you hope?

Students at CMU are well read, extremely well prepared, and intellectually ambitious. Beyond that, the kindness they demonstrate gives me hope. I watch the way they help each other with personal problems, the way they help each other with peer tutoring, and a lot of sort of informal peer counselling that goes on here. When students are in trouble, they circle the wagons and help each other out. Over the years, I myself have been the recipient of this kindness and support that students have offered. It’s again that element of incredible kindness, generosity, and compassion that I’ve seen here at CMU.

What do you most long for in your work?

One of my wishes is that students recognize themselves as my fellow scholars. There’s not a hierarchy in my mind where I’m the person that gets to spout some sort of expertise and people are going to soak in my alleged wisdom. Scholarship is an investigative journey that we work on together, as peers.

Do you have any interesting projects underway in the broader community or church?

One thing I’m most excited about in the coming months is that some of my poetry has been set to music and will be sung by Renaissance Voices, a Winnipeg choir led by CMU’s own Janet Brenneman. I’ve written a series of poems about the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation for their Christmas program, and CMU alumnus Jesse Krause set one to music. It’s one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had in my life: to know that my words have now been set to music and that I’m going to get to hear fine singers sing them.

What saying or motto inspires you?

Michael Ondaatje once said, “I’m just writing to try to see clearly.” That’s quite true and quite wondrous in its simplicity and its depth. A lot of people think that literary writing is about self-aggrandizement. Really, the best writers are not at all narcissistic – they’re actually looking for lucidity and clarity. I really prize this very simple quotation by Ondaatje.

Alumni Profiles Articles

Getting to Know CMU’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

On Saturday, September 24, CMU President Cheryl Pauls will present the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards to Peter Guenther, Adrienne Wiebe, Ron Toews, and Brad Leitch.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate alumni who, through their lives, embody CMU’s values and mission of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society. The awards are presented to alumni from CMU and its predecessor colleges: Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC) and Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC)/Concord College.

We spoke with this year’s award recipients.

PGPeter Guenther (CMBC ’69)

Working at a prison is an unconventional summer job for a student, but that’s what Peter Guenther did while studying at CMBC.

At the age of 19, Guenther worked at the Provincial Correction Centre in Prince Albert, SK.

“While it was pretty dull and boring standing at various points and being a corrections officer, I saw the harshness of prison and the opportunity to make a difference,” he says.

One older gentleman who worked as a shift supervisor had a big influence on Guenther.

“He’d come talk to me about what was happening, reflect with me on how things could be better, and encouraged me to think of corrections as a career.”

That summer had a profound impact on the direction Guenther’s life has taken. In the years since, his professional career has focused on providing safe, healing, and supportive spaces for offenders.

He has worked as a senior bureaucrat and head of numerous correctional institutions, both provincial and federal.

Guenther possesses a deep commitment to social justice that dates back to his time in high school. His interest in helping the less fortunate was developed at CMBC, where he earned his Bachelor of Theology.

“What struck me and shaped me while studying both the Old and New Testaments was the biblical imperative to help and work with marginalized people,” Guenther says.

After CMBC, Guenther completed a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Saskatchewan and a Master of Criminology at the University of Ottawa.

He worked for 39 years in corrections, serving as the head of numerous correctional institutions including director of the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, warden of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, and executive director of the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon.

Guenther says it was the opportunities to lead and make a difference that he most enjoyed about his career.

He became known as a compassionate, principled, and respected leader who worked to reduce harm, violence, and recidivism.

Highlights from his career include increasing programming for women, and access to mental and spiritual support services for inmates and released offenders.

“It was exciting for me to see offenders complete those programs and move through the system, and eventually be released as law-abiding and productive citizens,” Guenther says. “The whole process of not simply warehousing offenders but treating them was most exciting.”

Guenther’s interest in restorative justice has led to volunteer work that includes service on the board of Saskatoon Community Mediation and the advisory committee for Circles of Support and Accountability, an organization with groups across the country that support men and women who have committed serious sexual offences.

Guenther and his wife, Marilyn, live in Saskatoon, where they attend Nutana Park Mennonite Church.

He is both excited and humbled to be receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award.

“It’s very gratifying to be recognized, especially in this career,” he says. “It’s not the typical Mennonite career, but I’m very pleased and proud of the impact that I’ve had with both staff and offenders.”

AdrienneWiebeAdrienne Wiebe (MBBC 1976-78)

When Adrienne Wiebe recalls her time at MBBC, learning to think critically – and rooting that critical thinking in faith – sticks out.

“I learned that God wants shalom for the world, and that we as Christians are part of participating and building towards that,” Wiebe says. “That set the groundwork for how I approach life.”

Wiebe, who holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Alberta, has sought to participate in building toward shalom via a career in international development.

Following college, Wiebe travelled in South America for nine months. After falling in love with Latin America, she returned to her native Edmonton to do a Master’s degree in Geography. A year of fieldwork in Ecuador followed.

After returning to Edmonton, Wiebe worked for several years with Central American refugees at the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. In the meantime, she married Arturo Avila, a Chilean political refugee living in Edmonton, and they had two children.

From 1992 to 1996, their family lived in a Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala, where Wiebe and Avila did community development work with a small Canadian NGO.

Wiebe’s experience in Guatemala stands out as a career highlight.

“It was really mind-opening,” she says, adding that initially, she went to Guatemala with the idea that she was going to help the people there. She soon realized that the community had been there for hundreds of years, and she was “just a blip” in its history. “Then I got really curious about the history of the community and the nature of the community, so out of that grew the PhD research I eventually did.”

Wiebe did her PhD from 1997 to 2002, with many research trips back to Guatemala, and worked part-time in a hospital as the multicultural services coordinator. This was followed by seven years spent working full-time in research and program development with Indigenous communities for Alberta Health Services.

From 2010 to 2013, Wiebe and Avila served with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Mexico, where Wiebe worked as a policy analyst and educator for Latin America.

Upon returning to Canada, Wiebe spent two-and-a-half years working as a provincial thrift shop coordinator for MCC Alberta.

This past March, Wiebe took on a one-year assignment in Ottawa with Oxfam Canada. At Oxfam, Wiebe works on evaluation and learning related to the organization’s global programs and campaigns on ending violence against women and girls around the world.

“I like the interaction between being an activist in some sense, and working with people and communities to understand what’s going on and how we can make things better, and then learning from that – reflecting on that experience, increasing our knowledge and awareness… taking that new knowledge and putting it into practice again,” she says. “I enjoy that research-action-reflection cycle.”

Wiebe says she feels honoured and humbled to be receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award, adding that she sees her upcoming visit to Winnipeg as a great opportunity to reconnect with her alma mater.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going on at CMU today.”

Ron Toews 01Ron Toews (MBBC ’84)

In the Saskatchewan farming community in which Ron Toews grew up, a godly farmer tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I believe God is calling you to leave the farm and study to become a pastor.” Hearing and responding to God, even when it feels risky, has defined Toews’s journey.

“That shoulder-tapping impulse is something that I’ve carried on,” says Toews, who currently lives in BC’s Fraser Valley, where he works as Director of Leadership Development for the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.

Toews oversees Leaders2Learners (L2L), which connects leaders across Canada to learn together, share and pray together, and exchange resources that they have found helpful in their ministry settings.

Toews’s main focus is to serve pastors and churches by making tools available to leaders that are based upon their needs and ministry contexts.

“Through coaching we help leaders become attentive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings so that their lives can have maximum ministry impact,” he says.

For Toews, who holds an MDiv from the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, CA and a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, his role with L2L is the latest in a life spent serving the church.

From 1987 to 2002, Toews and his wife, Dianne, pastored two churches: Kitchener Mennonite Brethren Church in Kitchener, ON, and Dalhousie Community Church in Calgary, AB.

When Toews was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2000, he began to look closely at his life and calling. He realized one of the things he valued deeply was helping young people in their journeys to become pastors.

In 2002, he accepted a faculty position at the MBBS-ACTS seminary in Langley, BC where he spent five years as Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies.

He eventually ended up in the corner office at ACTS as interim principal, a role he accepted after going away to Africa for a month with Dianne to think and pray about the decision.

They returned to Canada to the news that their 24-year-old son, Nathan, had been killed in a car accident. The experience, Toews later told the MB Herald, “made cancer look like a cakewalk.”

Toews left ACTS after 21 months, and eventually accepted a leadership development role with the BC Mennonite Brethren conference, where he served from 2009 to September 2012.

Toews began working in the current role he’s in shortly thereafter. He enjoys the job.

“No two days are ever the same,” he says. “Helping leaders and churches be on mission with Jesus is a privilege.”

In spite of personal challenges, Toews has remained steadfast in his faith, trusting in God and serving others so that he might “make a kingdom difference.”

He views receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award as a tribute to the faithful farmer who tapped him on the shoulder, and many others who have invested in him and contributed to who he is today.

“Dianne and I give thanks to God for his faithfulness over a life that has taken some twists and turns,” he says. “We give God thanks for his ongoing journey with us.”

BLBrad Leitch (CMU ’13)

At 30, Brad Leitch (nee Langendoen) is carving out an impressive career as an award-winning filmmaker, peacebuilder, and playback theatre actor who approaches difficult topics with empathy, compassion, deep listening, and boundless energy.

“I firmly believe there’s so much overlap between peacebuilding and documentary filmmaking,” Leitch says, adding that both require empathy, curiosity, flexibility, and adaptability.

Leitch is the executive producer and founder of Rebel Sky Media, a film and video production company in Winnipeg, MB. His directorial work has explored topics of peace and justice in Canada, Iraqi-Kurdistan, Israel, Palestine, and the United Kingdom.

Some of his work is currently featured in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and in a permanent exhibit at the Pier 21 Museum of Immigration in Halifax, NS.

“The majority of the projects I work on these days have led to a more explicit merge of peacebuilding and filmmaking, through the topics explored and through the lives of individuals who are modeling what peace and reconciliation may look like,” Leitch says. “The film itself then becomes a kind of tool and resource that can spur the audience’s own imagination for creating peace. This is exciting to me.”

Leitch’s interest in theatre and film was sparked growing up in Fenwick, ON, a community located 30 km. west of Niagara Falls.

He studied filmmaking for two years at the Center for Creative Media, a Christian film school in Texas.

Leitch, who comes from a Christian Reformed background, was appalled by the support for the war in Iraq that he witnessed when talking to Christians in Texas.

He developed an interest in peacemaking that led him to Christian Peacemaker Teams. He was part of a two-week delegation to Palestine in 2008.

While studying Peace and Conflict Transformation at CMU, Leitch joined Winnipeg’s Red Threads for Peace Playback Troupe.

He is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary about playback theatre: participatory, improvisational theatre where audience members share a story from their life and an acting troupe immediately plays back that story using a variety of improv theatre forms.

In the field of peacebuilding, playback theatre is being used as a conflict transformation tool in education, mediation, psychotherapy, and trauma healing.

Leitch is also about to premiere Reserve 107: Reconciliation on the Prairies, a documentary that explores the goings-on in Laird, SK, where Mennonites and Lutherans have committed themselves to finding some justice for the Young Chippewayan First Nation whose land they have settled on.

“I’m very interested in seeing what peacebuilding looks like in a practical sense, and film is a great tool for showing that,” Leitch says.

“It’s something that can be easily missed: That these peacebuilding journeys are long journeys that people commit to and embark on, and they can sometimes be fragile,” he adds.

For Leitch, receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award is both a surprise and an honour.

“It means a lot coming from a community I have so much appreciation and respect for,” Leitch says. “I am grateful.”

Articles Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words – Dr. John Brubacher

Dr. John Brubacher, Assistant Professor of Biology, has worked at CMU since 2008.


What do you love about your work here?

One of the things I appreciate is that at CMU, we have our four commitments: Educate for Peace – Justice; Learn through Thinking and Doing; Welcome Generous Hospitality… Radical Dialogue; and Model Invitational Community. To work at a place that’s seriously trying to make those sorts of things the undergirding aspect of an education is exciting.

What are you excited about teaching in the coming school year?

This winter I’m teaching a course called The Genetic Revolution. I’ll guide students through a series of the greatest experiments in the history of genetics. I’m excited because I’ll be teaching it in historical progression, with the idea being that it will help give students some insights into not just what we know about genes and how they work in organisms, but how we figured it out.

What are you researching and writing right now?

I’m researching little flatworms that are called planarians. You can take one and chop it into 100 pieces, and each piece can regenerate and remodel itself to form an intact worm. That allows us to start asking all sorts of questions about how these flatworms – and animals generally – develop and heal. I’m working with colleagues at the Morgridge Institute for Research in Wisconsin, and I’m helping them with a micro anatomical study of the worms to understand how the cells are arranged in a normal worm, and then how they behave when you cut a piece off the worm. The cells need to migrate around – they need to differentiate and specialize to become different types of cells, and we still have a lot to learn about the basics of cell behaviour in that process.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

I like a little mindless mystery every now and then, so I picked up a commemorative set of four famous mysteries by Agatha Christie featuring one of her most famous characters, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I just started Murder on the Orient Express. But these days, I’m mostly reading for school and watching the Olympics.

Where or how do students give you hope?

There’s a sense of generosity to our students that gives me hope. One thing that exemplifies what I’m thinking of is that every November, students celebrate Tuition Freedom Day, which marks the end of the fiscal year paid for by student tuition, and the beginning of the year made possible by grants and donations from the Manitoba government, churches, and individual donors. Students host a big festival to celebrate the importance of donor and government funding just to keep this place operational. That’s really powerful.

What saying or motto inspires you?

For my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, an aunt of mine cross-stitched them a wall hanging of Micah 6:8: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I grew up with that on the wall and that’s always been one of those things to aim for.


John Ralston Saul: ‘We have to make sure it keeps moving’

John Ralston Saul reflects on Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples

John Ralston Saul’s interest in Indigenous people dates back further than 2008, when he published A Fair Country, the book in which he argued that Canada is a Métis nation, heavily influenced and shaped by Aboriginal ideas.

Not everyone knows that Ralston Saul has been interested in Canada’s Indigenous peoples for four decades.

In the spring of 1976, when the respected intellectual and award-winning writer was 29, he travelled to Inuvik and the High Arctic Islands as an assistant to Maurice Strong, the founding chair and CEO of Petro-Canada.

John Ralston Saul at CMU
John Ralston Saul speaking at CMU (June 14, 2016)

The trip was nothing short of eye opening for Ralston Saul, who had just spent seven years in France, first earning a PhD and then running a small investment firm in Paris. He thought he understood Canada, but in listening to the Indigenous peoples that he and Strong met with, he realized he didn’t.

“(They were) making arguments I’d never heard (before),” Ralston Saul said. “They weren’t talking for or against, they weren’t talking romantically about nature the way southerners do. And I realized that I’d been deeply lied to—that my education had not prepared me for the reality of my own country.”

Since that experience, Ralston Saul has sought to better understand Canadian history and draw awareness to Indigenous issues.

His most recent book, 2014’s The Comeback, calls on readers to embrace and support the comeback of Indigenous peoples, and highlights the need to rebuild relationships with them

Ralston Saul travelled to Winnipeg last month to talk about the book with students in the course “Reconciling Our Future: Stories of Kanata and Canada” at Canadian Mennonite University’s (CMU) Canadian School of Peacebuilding (CSOP).

Ralston Saul came at the invitation of his friend, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, who taught the course.

During his visit to CMU, Ralston Saul also gave a public lecture at the university exploring immigration that drew a capacity crowd.

“What’s happening all over the country at a growing rate is that Canadians who were totally ignorant on Indigenous issues are gradually becoming less ignorant,” Ralston Saul said in an interview prior to the lecture.

He credits courses and books taught and written by Indigenous people with leading the charge.

“I’m kind of the exception to the rule that in the new wave, there aren’t that many non-Indigenous people that are writing in the nonacademic world,” he said.

He added that he has always been careful to write neither to, nor for, Indigenous people. If anything, he is writing to a non-Indigenous audience.

“I use my voice to say, Wake up guys. There’s a life and it’s got the word ‘Indigenous’ written all over it. So, you better wake up.”

Ralston Saul likens publishing A Fair Country to leaping off a “great, big diving board.” Given the nature of the book’s ideas, he thought it could be the end of his career.

Instead, he was thrilled to see Indigenous people embracing it.

He recalls talking about the book with Indigenous young people in Rainy River, a town in northwestern Ontario.

“(That was) very exciting because I think that so much of Canada is in the south, written by the south, for the south, and there’s a real denial of two-thirds to three-quarters of the country,” he said.

Before writing The Comeback, Ralston Saul wasn’t planning to return to the topic of Indigenous affairs. In fact, he had an entirely different book planned.

Still, he woke up one day with the feeling that he had to write something before the 2015 federal election that expressed his belief that rebuilding right relationships with Canada’s Indigenous peoples was of utmost importance.

“I had to intervene in the election as a writer to say that for me, and I think for the country, this is the single most important issue, and people should be voting on the basis of how the political parties stood on this issue,” he said.

He is pleased that Canadians voted in a government that says that it believes that the Indigenous question, unresolved as it is, is the single most important issue in Canada.

“We’ve come a long way, (us) non-Aboriginals,” Ralston Saul said. When it comes to these topics, there’s momentum now. “Suddenly, it’s moving. We have to make sure it keeps moving.”