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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.”

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Events News Releases

Planning Well: A Workshop for Worship Planners and Leaders

Workshop to be held January 30 at CMU in Winnipeg

Worship orders—every congregation has one. Many churches have inherited them from past generations of worship planners. Other churches have thrown out traditional worship orders and simply invented their own. But how effective are our worship orders at bringing us into conversation with God and with one another?

PlanningWell“Many congregations invest a lot of time and energy in song leading, worship leading and preaching,” says Christine Longhurst, who teaches worship and music at Canadian Mennonite University. “But far less time is often spent thinking about the worship order itself.”

According to Longhurst, “Without a good worship order, even the most thoughtful worship leading and song leading can have difficulty connecting people with God and with one another.”

Talking about worship orders can be very difficult in some congregations,” she acknowledges. But, she suggests, it is critical work.

“We have to be willing to discuss it,” she says. “It’s important to ask: Does our worship order help bring us into conversation with God, or does it come off feeling more like a program about God?”

“People today are hungry to know God and experience God’s presence,” she adds. “A thoughtful worship order can make a big difference in helping create a beautiful space where that encounter can take place.”

Helping pastors and worship leaders plan worship more effectively is the goal of Planning Well: A Workshop for Worship Planners and Leaders, January 30, at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. The session runs from 9:30 AM to 12:00 PM.

Cost is $35 per person, and $25 for two or more people from the same congregation. Students are $10.

The workshop will explore a range of historical and contemporary worship patterns, and offer practical ideas for worship planners who want to help lead their congregations into meaningful dialogue with God.

Topics will include:

  • Where do our worship orders come from?
  • How did we land up with the order we are currently using?
  • How well does our current worship order bring us into conversation with God?
  • What might be missing?
  • How effectively does our worship order engage people who come to worship?
  • Are there ways in which we could strengthen congregational involvement?

The workshop is geared toward pastors, worship planners, worship leaders, song leaders, and all those who have an interest in strengthening congregational worship.

For more information or to register, contact Cori Braun at Canadian Mennonite University: 204.487.3300 or cbraun@cmu.ca, or register online at cmu.ca/leadingworship.

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Events Lectures News Releases

CMU Discussion Series Explores Young Adults and the Church

Exploring assumptions goal of third Face2Face event of 2015-14 school year

Many young Canadians have stepped away from institutionalized religion, a trend that has been growing for the past 25 years. An upcoming event at Canadian Mennonite University will explore why.

face2facefeb1015CMU’s Face2Face community discussion series continues on Tuesday, February 10 with “You Lost Me: The Church and Young Adults.” The event takes place in Marpeck Commons (2299 Grant Ave.) on CMU’s campus. Admission is free, and everyone is welcome to attend. The event starts at 7:00 PM.

Face2Face is a series of conversations with CMU faculty, designed to engage the community on a wide variety of current events and issues at the intersection of faith and life.

Irma Fast Dueck, Associate Professor of Practical Theology, and Peter Epp, a student in CMU’s Graduate School of Theology and Ministry, will co-host the discussion.

The diverse panel of young adults contributing to the conversation includes Kirsten Hamm-Epp and Lukas Thiessen, who are alumni of CMU, as well as Danielle Morton and Mike Wiebe, who are currently students at the university.

Dueck was inspired to create the event after encountering an increasing number of students who are Christians, but who either don’t belong to a church or are not baptized.

“They’re very committed Christians, interested in social justice, prayer, and everything, but they’re nominally involved in church,” Dueck says.

Epp’s interest in the topic stems in part from his experience teaching Mennonite Studies at the high school level. He witnessed his students getting passionate about the topic as they learned more about it.

At the same time, they didn’t argue with Epp when he suggested that statistically speaking, it’s very likely they would leave the church as young adults.

“I think that contrast with students can get really interesting,” says Epp, adding that his interest in the topic also comes from having close relationships with a handful of friends who have left the church as young adults.

Questions the panelists will explore include: Is the church not listening, or do young adults no longer care? Has the church lost touch with the issues about which young adults are most passionate? How significant is the church’s worship to the participation and involvement of young adults? Do young adults feel any responsibility in keeping the legacy of the church going? What does it mean for the church to be “faithful” in this time and place?

The goal of the event is to explore the assumptions young people have about the church, as well as the assumptions people in the church have about young people.

“I’m just hoping to wade into the complexity of the questions and dispel some of the stereotypes we have around this issue,” Dueck says.

Epp agrees.

“My hope is that people in the church would walk away with a deeper understanding of the complexity of the situation, so that they can better address it,” he says. “On the flipside of that, I hope young adults might be able to step back and consider their own engagement with the church in potentially new ways.”

“You Lost Me: The Church and Young Adults” is the third of four Face2Face events CMU is hosting during the 2014-15 school year. For details, please visit www.cmu.ca/face2face.

About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU’s Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences and social sciences, and graduate degrees in Theology and Ministry. CMU has over 1,600 students, including those enrolled in degree programs at the Shaftesbury Campus and in its Menno Simons College and Outtatown programs.

For information about CMU, visit: www.cmu.ca.

For additional information, please contact:

Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing
kkilbrei@cmu.ca; 204.487.3300 Ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB  R3P 2N2

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Alumni interviews Audio Sunday@CMU Radio

Norm Dyck – Alumnus Reflects on Mission of the Church

Norm Dyck
CMU Alumnus
Executive Secretary of Church Engagement at Mennonite Church Canada (2010)
Interview Date: October 3, 2010

In this two-part interview, David Balzer – host of Sunday@CMU Radio, speaks with Norm about his view of the church and what it means for churches in the West and engage others around the world.

Part 1

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Part 2

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For more information, check out Mennonite Church Canada.