Abbotsford – snapshots of faith 1
BY PETER BIGGS
TABLE of CONTENTS
SITUATED mostly to the north of the No. 1 Highway some 30 minutes from the Port Mann Bridge, Abbotsford is aptly named ‘city in the country’ and is becoming the ‘hub’ of the growing Fraser Valley. Although Abbotsford is a fast growing population centre, there is no appreciable high-rise downtown section, with subsequent Councils reluctant to approve them.
Access to every area of the city is easy as the city is largely spread east-west and Hwy 1’s four exits providing quick access to every part.
Abbotsford’s 141,397 population (2016 Census) has the third highest proportion of visible minorities among metropolitan areas in Canada (after the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Vancouver). Its largest ethnic group is European Caucasian, at 73.6% of the population followed by South Asian (mainly Punjabi) comprising 19.1% of the population. The Punjabi population are mostly situated in the western part of the city. Abbotsford has been named by Statistics Canada as Canada’s most generous city in terms of charitable donations for nine straight years.
The Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre (opened 2008) is the city’s largest employer. Although only nine years old, it received negative press of late for chronic nurse shortages. In addition it leads BC hospitals in having a frequently overwhelmed Emergency Department.
Home to the University of the Fraser Valley, Tradex Exhibition Centre and Abbotsford International Airport the City’s Official Community Plan ‘PLAN200K’ leaves no doubt that Abbotsford sees does indeed see itself as the ‘hub of the Fraser Valley’.
Y X X (Abbotsford Airport)
The ABBOTSFORD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT provides a convenient alternative to Vancouver and is growing in the routes it offers. The annual Abbotsford Airshow attracts thousands. 477,087 passengers passed through the airport in 2014. abbotsfordairport.ca
Sharon Simpson is on the senior leadership at MENNO PLACE Abbotsford and is a regular contributor to the LIGHT. “Abbotsford has a unique heritage of Christian care of seniors,” she shared. Menno Place is situated opposite the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre and occupies an entire square block with four levels of senior care and accommodation. Demographically the seniors population in all areas is growing. “Menno is always full with a wait list. People tend to move when they are in their 80’s now – the average age in Menno Place is 86,” Sharon shared. Menno Place provides vastly different levels of service to seniors from Independent Supportive Living, to Assisted Living and Residential Care that includes a hospital services. mennoplace.ca The Clearbrook Corridor One great example of collaboration is the ‘Clearbrook Corridor’. One of the facilitators is Pastor Walter Wiens of Clearbrook MB church, it came about in 2015 that four organizations: Garden Park Tower, Tabor Village, Clearbrook MB and Bakerview Church – each very involved in helping enhance the lives of seniors in the same community – gottogether. A number of joint projects have emerged such as last November’s Older Adults Wellness Festival. Clearbrook MB’s website states. ‘Over the years, the Clearbrook M.B. Church has changed with the community around it. Multi-storey condominiums for seniors surround the church. As a result, the church has focussed on ministries to seniors. Its music and style of worship appeal to the older generation.’ clearbrookcorridor.ca
Cyrus Centre for youth
Cyrus Centre Abbotsford was started in 2004. It was purpose built as a ‘drop in shelter’, but in 2007 they extended services to include four emergency beds (recently upgraded to 6). According to Maren Kroeker – Community Development Worker they serve around 20 meals a day. Their presence is critical to those 13-18 as social agencies like the Salvation Army are not able to work with nyone under 19. cyruscentre.com
Abbotsford has a strong historical relationship to Mennonites, who came to the valley in 1929 and although they numbered less than 50, within eight years they had built their first church using lumber from the then dismantled Mill Lake Lumber Mill. A post-World War II influx of refugees swelled their ranks and today the Mennonite community has deeply established roots and numbers in the thousands. Recently The Mennonite Historical Museum has opened by the Clearbrook Hwy exit.
This new initiative is privately funded and has a cafe, library and computer resources.
We spoke to Richard Thiessen – Executive Director (he was Library Director at Columbia Bible College). “We are seeking to engage present and future generations with the Mennonite story,” he said. “to preserve and document the history of Mennonites who came to British Columbia from Russia and Prussia/Poland by maintaining an historical library and an archives.”
A visit to the MCC CENTRE (opened October 2014) on Glady Avenue displays an impressive range of services. The LIGHT met with Wayne Bremner – Executive Director and Melissa Giles – Director of Programs. “MCC is a large Christian organization, active in more than 50 countries, offering relief and development and promoting peace in the name of Christ”, Wayne said.
MCC started in BC in the 1940s in response to refugees coming here from Europe. They offered sponsorships and sent support to Europe, establishing it’s BC base in Abbotsford in the 60s, where Wayne estimates there to be over 50 Mennonite churches within 50 miles. Every year MCC holds an ‘Annual Festival for World Relief’ at the Tradex. Last year they saw 20,000 attendees and raised $1M.
Apart from the large Thrift Shop , Common Place Cafe, Quilt Store and 10,000 Villages Craft Store, Melissa outlined the many aspects of MCC’s ministry that is local. “Every Thursday we provide a BBQ dinner to 60-70 along with clothing as needed. We also host a Sunday 4 pm meal,” she said. They also run ‘End Abuse’ – a 3 phase support program with separate men’s and women’s groups. 2016 saw 161 people take this program. They take this into the Fraser Valley Women’s Prison weekly.
“MCC has been very active facilitating the recent refugee influx, helping 175 into BC, the majority being privately sponsored by local churches. Overall since 1979 14,000 refugees have been sponsored by MCC to enter Canada”, Wayne said.
MCC is also heping to address the probelm of homelessness. In 2106 they helped over a hundred people with a program that averts evictions with affordable ‘Rent Back’ loans. “We also work with an organization called ‘Raven’s Moon’”, she said. Raven’s Moon locate houses and act as a support to potential landlords in renting to ‘street people’. ravensmoon.ca
Abbotsford Police Department Chief Constable Bob Rich was a presenter at ’TOGETHER’ – an inter-congregational gathering hosted by Abbotsford Pentecostal Assembly and organized by the Abbotsford Christian Leadership Network (ACLN) April 30.
Tim MacIntosh (Chairperson of the ACLN, and Senior Pastor of Heritage Alliance Church told The LIGHT, “We felt it was timely to come together and pray for our city. Who better to help us know how to pray?”
Chief Rich expressed his appreciation for the prayers that would follow. “The Enemy is pressing in. I have in my back pocket a badge. It’s meant to be a shield. The Bible talks about the ‘shield’ in Ephesians 6 right? The full armour of God. But for me many times that shield has not been perfect the Enemy has been able to come in and destroy. So I’ve watched damage take place in Abbotsford.
I’m going to talk about three area…the gang problem, the related and serious drugs problem and what my members face and are going through.
Right now in Abbotsford we are experiencing what we call ‘The Lower Mainland Gang Conflict’ really focused on western side of the city. There are probably around 60 young men, many living with their parents in competing gangs pitched against each other, perhaps driving around tonight, if they see the right person they will try to kill them. We’ve had three homicides this year and I’ve not yet figured out how we are going to stop number 4. We have not found a way yet to convince young people to go in a different direction. So, that is something I ask for your prayers for. We’re holding another forum on May 12 in Punjabi. We ill again try to reach into that community to help them change the course of these young lives. It feels pretty brutal.
The other thing that is happening is that people are using drugs to deal with the pain in their lives. Many times the drugs are laced with Fentenal or Carfentenal and they will kill them, often alone and inside.
He also spoke of the emotional health of his Members. “Most people will experience five traumatic events in their lives that could push them into ‘Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.’ It is known that Police witness and experience over 200. I want to find a way to help my Members get through their careers and be able to retire physically and emotionally healthy,” he said.
The 28th Annual Abbotsford City Prayer Breakfast was held on Wednesday, May 17 at the Conference Centre of the Quality Inn on North Parallel Road.
Hosted by the Abbotsford Christian Leaders Network (ACLN) the breakfast was emceed by Bob Singleton and was opened by singing the national anthem, led by Faith Funk.
Close to 220 people enjoyed breakfast and listened to Vijay Manuel, Head of the Mennonite Educational Institute as he gave a talk on the theme “Faith for Future Generations.” He expressed concern that many people, especially young people, who were raised attending church choose not do so any longer.
Manuel used the example of certain iconic groups or businesses such as PETA or Apple which are able to draw people in because of the ideals they embody, and have, in many ways, become movements for their followers. They have come to represent more than simply their products or philosophies. Most adherents do not need to be pressured into purchasing or supporting their cause or products.
He likened Christianity to a movement which people belong to because they are passionately committed to what it stands for. Working with youth for many years, and being a father himself, Manuel has become aware that young people seem to possess a “hypocrisy meter” which can readily detect when someone is not being true to their word. He stressed the importance of adults being up front with the youth in their lives and not ever saying one thing and doing another.
Manuel also shared his personal faith story and recounted the positive influences of the humble Christians he and his family encountered during their early years in Abbotsford. Manuel is the son of Pastor David and Stella Manuel of South Abbotsford MB church and several years ago was a leader of the popular youth gathering called Doxa which was held regularly at Central Heights MB church. Manuel pursued a career in education, and taught at several schools before being offered the position at MEI.
The Home School Choir and the Home School Senior Choir. led by Betty Lieuwen and accompanied by Veronica Klassen, entertained the attendees, and five older youth, Abigail Friesen, Alex Johnson, Samantha McLauren, Aria La Pointe and Joel Orsted led with scripture reading and prayers for the meal, protection and thanksgiving for the city’s first responders, the school board and trustees and for Mayor Henry Braun and city councillors and officials.
Near the conclusion of the breakfast Mayor Braun. himself a committed Christian, spoke a few words expressing his appreciation for the many young participants in the mornings event. He closed his talk by leading a prayer for the city and praying for God’s comfort for the families of Letisha Reimer, Catherine Schoeman and Julian Osis, three Abbotsford youth who tragically passed away.
Pastor Ron Opmeer, ACLN board member and pastor of Bethel Reformed Church closed the event and thanked everyone for attending. For more information regarding events planned by the ACLN are encouraged to go to churchofabbotsford.com.