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Mennonite youth dip into Aboriginal culture

(L-R) Melanie and Laurel reminisce over their volunteer experience assisting Native Ministries in bringing a vacation Bible school program to Cross Lake, Manitoba. Their friends Natasha and Gabrielle filled out the volunteer team.

September 25, 2002

Winnipeg, Man.—What happens when you immerse four Southern Manitoba youth in Northern Aboriginal culture for a week?

A lot of inspiration, energy, and enthusiasm are released, according to Walter Franz, director of Mennonite Church Canada Native Ministries.

Natasha (12) and Gabrielle (15) of Home Street Mennonite Church, and Melanie (15) and Laurel (15) of Portage Mennonite Church accompanied Franz to Cross Lake, Manitoba to help bring a vacation Bible school program to this native community during the week of August 12 -16.

While the volunteers learned about Aboriginal culture and ways of life in the North, the children in the community learned about God.

Schellenberg said, “At first I felt out of place because we were the only non-aboriginal people anywhere. But as the week went on, I didn’t notice any difference between (us). The people in Cross Lake were very friendly and generally curious about our group, especially the kids.”

Gabrielle reflected that “It’s not that hard to get in a van and go for a week, and how much they (Cross Lake community) appreciated it.”

But not every aspect of the experience was entirely joyful. The youth visited a Treatment Centre for drug and alcohol addiction, and saw young people their own age being treated for substance abuse.

“You could kind of tell which kids didn’t get all the love they needed at home,” said Ruby. “They reacted to this in different ways. Some were extra clingy, and some didn’t seem to want our love…”

When asked where they saw God while in Cross Lake, Schellenberg replied, “… I could tell God was in all of the kids who came (to vacation Bible school). They were really interested in learning about God, especially through songs. Hearing them singing the songs we taught them was really amazing, just to know that we reached them in that way.”

A highlight for Franz occurred when the youth left the kids’ camp in preparation for going home: As dusk fell, the four teens waved farewells from a boat, while their new Cross Lake friends began singing one of the new songs they’d learned, some wading into the water. The spontaneous send-off developed into a call and response song, with the youth volunteers and kids trading off lines and verses with each other.

“A glorious scene, and a wonderful ending to the week,” said Franz.